Friday, January 28, 2022. The week prior, we had taken our younger dog, Magic, to the vet for his annual checkup and senior blood panel. Magic wasn't due for his checkup until April, but he'd had a couple accidents and peed in the house (and all over himself) a few times in the past few weeks and we weren't sure why. Magic's birthday is January 27, and this year he was turning 9. Magic's checkup was good, his exam was normal, and his teeth looked fine, but his bloodwork came back inconclusive for a couple things, possibly indicating something more serious going on. It was likely nothing, but his veterinarian wanted to get a second urine sample and run a few additional tests. We finally collected the sample mid-week and ran it over to the veterinary clinic so they could order that additional testing.
Going into my biopsy, Miah and I were already more stressed than usual, because we were also worried about Magic and his test results.
So here it was, the day for the scary procedure. I went for my swim and worked that morning. At noon, I went to the medicine cabinet and took a clonazepam tablet. At 12:30 PM, Miah drove me to the clinic. I didn't want him to go inside; it would be easier for him to just drop me off and pick me up when I was finished a few hours later.
I was glad I had taken the clonazepam. My anxiety stayed at ground level and didn't even once threaten to touch the height of the building I was in.
Nurse L came and got me! I was happy to see her because she had been so kind to me the previous week and I trusted her. I told her I was on anti-anxiety drugs and feeling calm, but I was still very alert. She thanked me for letting her know. She took me to a different room where she asked me to remove my clothes waist up and put on a gown. She asked if I had worn a tight-fitting bra. I showed her my leopard print sports bra.
"Good call!" she smiled and then said, "Ok, so I'll have you change and then wait here for a few minutes. The doctor will be in shortly to describe the procedure and answer any questions you have before he takes you to the room for the biopsy."
10-15 minutes later, there was a small knock on the door, and a male provider entered, Doctor N. He politely introduced himself and sat down, pulling up my information on the computer.
- I asked him if there was any risk of the needle puncturing my chest wall. I was more worried about that than I was of having cancer! He told me there was no chance of a chest wall puncture.
- I asked if he thought the mammogram-guided method wouldn't work. He said he was extremely confident he would be able to get the sample using the mammogram method. He seemed slightly annoyed that I even asked about the possibility of failure and needing to do it via ultrasound instead. I guess whatever they told me the previous week wasn't quite accurate.
Doctor N told me we'd be getting started shortly and left the room. A different nurse, Nurse B came in and led me to the room next door where another different nurse, Nurse S was waiting for us. Nurse B was there to assist, Nurse S was there to "be my person," to provide support and help keep me calm. Part of Nurse S's name was something like mine. I remember making a remark about that. Both of these women had very professional and experienced mannerisms. We chit-chatted about silly stuff as they sat me in the chair, raised me up, wedged me into the machine, and started taking pictures to line up the biopsy site.
Quick sidebar -- A few days earlier, I had shared with my Mentor S that I had a breast biopsy coming up on Friday. Mentor S is a little older than me, so I asked her if she'd ever had one. "One time," she told me, "but when they got me up to the machine and took pictures, they couldn't see the suspicious spot anymore, so they sent me home and I never ended up needing it."
Mentor S's experience stuck with me, so when Doctor N entered the room to do his part, I said, "Maybe the thing they saw last week will be gone now and I won't need the biopsy. That's what happened to a friend of mine."
Doctor N's response was creepy and unsympathetic, "That's not going to happen for you. These calcs are pretty bright and obvious."
The way he used slang terminology to refer to the calcifications, calling them "calcs," and the way he nonchalantly described them as being very bright and obvious, made me feel like a specimen, not a patient.
At this point, my feelings began to shift from worry to dread.
The rest of the procedure went fast. I don't know how many "cores" of sample he took, but it felt like the needle went in and out 10 times. I'm sure that wasn't the case. The best way I can describe it is that the whole thing was "strange." I was completely squeezed into this mammogram machine, with my head and neck at an awkward angle. Doctor N poked me with a needle to inject me with lidocaine and numb me. Then he warned me of a popping sound, "like a champagne bottle," which occurred after he had lined up and triggered the sample-taking mechanism.
I recall him needing to take more sample or maybe that was him placing the clip. I told them that it was hurting me. Maybe they gave me more lidocaine? Maybe I said, "can you just get it over with and do what you have to do as quickly as possible?"
In any case, a few moments later, Doctor N announced we were finished. Nurse B cleaned off my skin and taped me up with Steri-Strips.
- The "clip" is a tiny metal tissue marker inserted into the area where the biopsy is done. This marker will show up on mammograms or other imaging tests so the exact area can be located for further treatment (if needed) or follow up. You can't feel or see the marker.
- Steri-Strips are thin adhesive bandages often used by surgeons as a backup to dissolvable stitches or after regular stitches are removed.
Nurse S walked me back to the room where I had left my clothes. I sat in the big, soft, recliner chair. She gave me a small icepack and told me to hold it over the biopsy site until Nurse L returned. I think I sat like that for over 20 minutes. I started to feel a throbbing pain.
Nurse L returned to check on me. I explained that the biopsy site was starting to ache, but that because of my chronic migraine and pain issues, I had tramadol at home, and I would take a dose in a few hours, after the clonazepam had worn off and it was safe to do so.
She gave me a sheet of after-care instructions, including the after-hours phone number to call if I had any concerns. I then asked her if I would get my results electronically or verbally. She told me the results would come electronically first, followed by a phone call.
"Really?!" I asked. "If it's positive and I have cancer, they send that result via email?!"
She nodded, "Unfortunately yes, but we do always follow-up with a phone call, so it's up to you if you want to login and look at the result when you get the notification email. Otherwise, you can wait until we call you."
I decided I would look as soon as I got the email. Even though I was worried, I am in general a very anxious person, and told myself that was the cause of my worry - not a psychic premonition that I have cancer. I know the odds were slim that I'd have a positive result.
Saturday, January 29, 2022. I woke up and couldn't get warm. My teeth were chattering. I covered up with 3 blankets. I eventually went back to bed in the middle of the afternoon, turning my heating blanket up to high. I took my temperature - 100.3. I slept that whole afternoon and evening, skipping my grocery planning for the next week. I always plan the following week's meals and write the grocery list on Saturday evenings so I can shop on Sunday mornings. But this week, I was too sick to do so.
9:00 AM. Sunday, January 30, 2022. Miah told me not to worry. He would do the planning and shopping for the week, and I could keep resting. I was out on the living room couch by now, but still covered in multiple blankets. I took my temperature again - 99.6. I checked the biopsy site. It was still covered in Steri-Strips and I couldn't see the puncture hole, but none of the uncovered skin looked red or swollen. So why did I have a fever? I called the after-hours support phone number.
A nurse called me back and listened as I explained my symptoms and Friday's biopsy procedure. She replied, "I think you may have caught an influenza type illness or something. I think it is just a coincidence and has nothing to do with the biopsy."
I was furious. It seemed incredibly odd to me to not be related to the biopsy. But if it was just a coincidence, then my reason for skipping my 2021 mammogram had been fully validated. I had stayed away to avoid catching a respiratory virus. Now here I was, finally going in, with the pandemic still underway, and I end up catching something!?
6:00 PM. We ate a dinner prepared by Miah: salmon steaks, jasmine rice, and green beans. He also made a second trip to the grocery store to buy me two different kinds of ice cream. My sister-in-law, Jenni, texted me and said, "I'm sorry you guys are having this rough time and you have to go through this. I'm glad Miah is taking care of you."
I felt a little better and enjoyed eating my ice cream and thinking about how lucky I was to have my caregiver husband.
Monday, January 31, 2022. The next morning, my fever had subsided and I was able to work. But I did have to skip my swim. I kept checking my phone all day, but received no test results for me or Magic.
Miah was quiet. He gets very quiet and focused when he is really worried about something.
We finished our Monday and got ready for bed. I reassured him that, "Honey, sometimes life is like this, don't worry, everything is gonna be fine."
But we both had troubled sleep that night.
End of 4 - Biopsy #1