2:00 PM. Monday, February 28, 2022. Miah and I sat in front of my laptop, waiting for Financial-Advisor C to start the conference call. A few seconds past the hour, she promptly started the meeting. I fumbled with my video camera setting, but eventually got it working.
Financial-Planner C asked for our current salaries, 401K savings, IRA savings, monthly expenses, and other pertinent information. She plugged the values into her system and showed us where the numbers landed. “You have enough money going to your retirement. Your extra savings isn’t calculated anywhere. You can do whatever you want with it. I’d like to see you, Lorie, pursue your passions, your music, and do the things that make you the happiest,” she told me.
Miah nodded, “That’s what I’ve been telling her for years!” And then mischievously followed with, “I think I also heard you say I should buy a new Mustang?”
Financial-Planner C smiled, “Well, not exactly the words I used, but you guys need to enjoy yourselves as much as you can. Spend your money how you want. Your finances are looking fine per your current savings and spending plan.”
We then asked if she could recommend someone to help draw up our wills. She offered a legal service in her home city, which is about 2 hours away from us. Because we had a relationship with her, she would give us a referral, and save us about $1000 on the will preparation. We thanked her and said we’d reach out again when we needed help with investment services. I was glad to meet with her so quickly and for such a positive analysis. It felt like a good start to the week.
9:45 AM. Tuesday, March 1, 2022. I checked in with the breast center receptionist and sat in the chair next to Miah. The waiting room was empty. It was much nicer than our visit last month when there was nowhere to sit. I pulled a magazine from my purse to look at while waiting. I offered a second one to Miah, but he declined.
Suddenly, I heard a soft voice say my name, “Lorie?” I looked up expecting a nurse to be waiting at the door.
Standing in front of me was Warrior S.
“Warrior S?” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe it! “Did Peaceful-Comforting-Scientist A tell you about me?” And before she could respond, “You have an appointment here today?!”
Miah was stunned. “You’re Warrior S?” he asked, using her real name.
She nodded and sat down across from us. “I’m here for my 1-year checkup,” she said.
It was incredible. There was no other word to describe it. The Universe had merged our paths so we could connect on this day, at this appointment. I explained I was there for another biopsy and told her my doctor was Surgical-Oncologist-Doctor L. That was her surgeon too! Now I had two breast cancer survivor friends who were both treated with the same surgeon as me!
The minutes rushed by and before I knew it, the nurse called my name. She took me across the hall, into an office, and went over my history and medications. She told me the resident doctor, who would be performing the procedure, would be in soon, and then left me alone. I pulled out my magazine again, trying to stay distracted. I had barely digested what I was reading, when the door opened, and a man-boy entered the room. This twelve-year old was the resident? I know he was probably in his mid to late twenties, but he looked extremely young to me.
He pulled up my chart on the computer and said, “Ok, so we’re doing an ultrasound biopsy on one of these areas today.”
“One of them? I thought you were trying to do both?!” I asked.
“I don’t think we can. The second area won’t show up on the ultrasound,” he described the characteristics of the mass, and how it would be impossible to see.
“Great, so I have to get this biopsy and then another in practically the same spot, before I’m even healed from this one?” I was extremely agitated.
“Unfortunately, yeah, it looks that way,” he said.
“Well, whatever,” I shook my head, disgusted.
He asked if I had any questions before we began. I didn’t. He said the technician would be in soon to take me to the procedure room and get started, and then left, closing the door behind him. Moments later, another knock. A young technician opened the door and announced she was ready for me. Unlike my first biopsy, for this appointment I didn’t pay attention to anyone’s names.
We entered a dimly lit room and she instructed me to change into a gown that opened in the front and lie on the exam table. She left while I changed and tried to find a comfortable position on the table, propping my head with the pillows. The technician returned to take images of the biopsy site. She put the warm ultrasound gel on my skin and began taking pictures. Ultrasounds are not invasive. They are kind of calming, with the dim lights. I lay there patiently while she clicked the keys and buttons, capturing various measurements.
“Ok,” she announced, “It will just be a few minutes. The doctor will be in soon.” She wiped my skin to clean off the gel, and then left me alone. About 10 minutes passed. I looked around the room, trying to practice mindfulness techniques. What sounds do I hear? What things do I see? How does my body feel laying on this table?
And then, a quick knock, as three people entered the room: Man-Boy-Resident, Young-Technician-Woman, and an older woman who introduced herself as the Attending-Physician. In other words, she was the experienced doctor who would be in charge.
I started to panic, worried about pain. “I have a long history of chronic pain. I really don’t want this to hurt me,” I whimpered.
“Thanks for telling me. We’ll make sure to get you extra numbed for this,” Attending-Physician said. I asked if they were only able to biopsy one of the masses and she confirmed that, yes, they were only sampling one mass today. The other one would need the MRI method.
Attending-Physician instructed Young-Technician-Woman to move the table around 180 degrees, so I was facing the opposite wall. She wanted Man-Boy-Resident to be facing me and the ultrasound screen simultaneously. Man-Boy-Resident was performing the procedure while Attending-Physician was observing. Man-Boy-Resident fired up the ultrasound machine and located the target. Then came the numbing shot. I didn’t flinch for that. I’ve had so many shots of pain medicine over the decades. Shots don’t bother me. That kind of pain is fleeting and temporary.
We waited. Attending-Physician wanted to give it plenty of time to numb me. Finally, she said they were ready to take the sample. This procedure went down a lot differently than biopsy #1. Man-Boy-Resident inserted a syringe while simultaneously observing the ultrasound screen. I don’t remember where I focused my eyes, but I know I didn’t look at the screen. I think I stared at the wall, counting the seconds. I felt pressure and pulling, but no pain. Man-Boy-Resident announced, “Ok, I’m ready to take the sample now. You’ll hear a noise when I turn on the vacuum device.”
I heard a new sound, but it wasn’t scary or loud. It wasn’t jarring and upsetting like the champagne cork pop during the mammogram-guided stereotactic biopsy. It sounded like a gentle whirring, like something mechanical. I felt nothing. Man-Boy-Resident said he was done taking the sample and then I felt more pressure as he inserted the marker clip. Finally, he removed the needle and held gauze to the puncture site. Then he taped me up with Steri-Strips and a bandage.
Next, I needed mammogram imaging, in a room across the hall. “Oh great, this is going to hurt,” I said to the technician, a different woman now.
“It’s ok, we do this more gently than a screening mammogram. We just need to check for that clip,” she reassured me.
After she was satisfied with the mammogram image, she walked me back to the procedure room to change back into my clothes. “Open the door when you're dressed. The nurse will be waiting for you,” she said from the hallway and closed the door.
I put on my leopard print sports bra and shirt. Out in the hallway, Nurse S was waiting for me. I remembered her name because I spent the next 10 minutes with her, talking about my chronic pain history and how I was worried about being in pain from this biopsy. Nurse S had sympathetic eyes, but her words were not helpful. “Well, maybe you won’t need the pain medicine. It’s a new procedure for your body.” She gave me an icepack. “Keep this on for at least 20 minutes,” she instructed and then left me alone to rest.
I hadn’t taken any clonazepam to calm me for the procedure. I didn’t want to have it in my system and need to wait six hours before I could take the stronger pain medicine. I sat with the icepack on the biopsy site. The throbbing pain started up again, just like last time. I reached for my purse and water bottle and took a dose of the pain medicine.
Nurse S returned and said she was going to schedule my MRI biopsy. I waited as she called the medical imaging research center and spoke with a scheduler. “The soonest available is March 29th?” she looked at me as she replied to the scheduler, “We really need something sooner than that.” The scheduler gave her a number for a supervisor who could authorize a schedule change. “Ok, book the 29th for now,” she said and hung up.
I’d been resting for 45 minutes at this point, so Nurse S said I was ready to go. She walked me to the waiting room, where I found Warrior S and Miah talking. Warrior S had finished her appointment and was telling Miah all kinds of encouraging information. I asked her how her appointment went, and she said everything was good. “Great! Let’s walk out together. What level are you parked on?” I was excited she was still there.
“Top level,” she said. Same as us!
We left the breast center and strolled through the hospital jungle together. Even though my biopsy site was hurting, I was too distracted to care. Warrior S was with us, and it was such a blessing. She told us about her diagnosis, tumor characteristics, and treatment. Her attitude was especially positive. We huffed and puffed the five flights of stairs to our cars and then separated with a hug.
“I never expected to be leaving the hospital in a better mood than when we got here!” I told Miah, as I clicked my seatbelt.
“I know, right?!” he answered.
We returned home, astonished, and grateful for the unexpected encounter with Warrior S.
Wednesday, March 2, 2022. The breast center nurse called with the updated MRI-biopsy appointment timeslot. They had gotten me in at a different location on Thursday March 10. “Great,” I said sarcastically, “By the time I get the third biopsy, I won’t even be healed from the one I just had yesterday.”
“I know, that’s too bad. But maybe the week in between will help some,” the nurse said.
I didn’t think it would. The bottom of my breast was still bruised from the first biopsy. Now the top was bruised from the second one. I knew I was in for a painful March. My body heals very slowly when injured.
I hadn’t slept well the night before. I kept waking up in throbbing pain. It was worse than the first biopsy. I decided to act. I messaged Primary-Care-Provider-Doctor A, explaining the pain medicine prescribed by Surgical-Oncologist-Doctor L wasn’t strong enough. I wanted a couple more tablets at a stronger dose, to have on hand for next week’s procedure. She wrote back, concerned that I needed such a strong dose for a minor procedure, and that most patients take Tylenol or ibuprofen and that’s it. But I’m not most patients.
I worried about what this meant. Was I being unreasonable? Was I drug-seeking? It didn’t feel like it. I wasn’t looking for an escape. I didn’t want to hide from reality. In fact, I wanted the opposite. I wanted my concentration and focus to be as close to normal as possible. I didn’t want to miss any more work than I needed to. I wanted to create as many sing-out videos as I could. I wanted to sleep soundly and wake up refreshed and clear-headed.
Primary-Care-Provider-Doctor A said she was going to check with a pain specialist and would get back to me when she had more information.
Thursday, March 3, 2022. My phone showed a new email notification.
Subject: New Test Results
I was getting good at using the health system app. I copied my password from my password manager, logged into the health system app, and tapped the Test Results icon. The results of Monday’s biopsy were displayed:
I shouted to Miah in the other room, “the biopsy was benign.”
“Oh good,” his mood lightened. “Some positive news for once.”
Friday, March 4, 2022. I woke up at 5:00 AM. I couldn’t go for my swim because my biopsy site was still healing. I had to wait for the incision to completely close. So, I woke up early not to swim, but because my second single, Paint the Town with Red / Three of Cups, was being released to all streaming platforms today. I needed to follow my marketing plan and update my website and social media with the song release information. It was a little clunky, but I managed to get everything posted and shared to my satisfaction.
The song release wasn’t the only exciting thing on my agenda that day. I’d been managing a software upgrade project at my job for the past 11 months, and we were finally doing the production cutover work this weekend. The upgraded system was going live on Sunday. I had to work Friday night and all-day Sunday to perform the verification steps and release the system to end users. My team had spent months planning this final work, and our efforts were about to materialize. I was going to see this through. Cancer wasn’t going to stop my software upgrade.
That evening, I locked the system from end user access, and began the checklist of cutover steps. I finished my portion exactly as planned and went to bed feeling excited about my new song release and dreaming of a smooth go-live on Sunday.
Sunday, March 6, 2022. I bent over to blow dry my hair. The room began to spin. Not a little dizzy-spell kind of spin. Full blown, drunken-college-night spin. I grabbed the wall and stood upright. Vertigo.
I’d been diagnosed with vertigo from inner-ear crystals in Summer 2019 after experiencing dizziness for about 2 months. It had only occurred during certain movements, such as when I closed the window curtains in my bedroom, which was odd. What was it about that activity that made me dizzy? The curtains are taller than me. I had to look up and reach. When I did, I turned my head slightly to the right. That movement triggered the crystals in my ear and signaled to my brain I was off balance. Eventually, after a couple months, the vertigo went away. This morning’s dizziness was worse than any curtain-closing vertigo ever was.
I didn’t have time to deal with vertigo today. I had a full day of work ahead. So, I remained standing upright and finished drying my hair. I got dressed and put on my makeup. I told Miah I was feeling dizzy, but maybe I was just dehydrated.
I drove to the office and arrived at my planned time. For this effort, I couldn’t work from home. There was physical paperwork to complete and multiple people involved with the verification process. I parked my car in the underground parking structure and took the elevator to the second floor. The building was empty. I’m sure a few lone security officers were around somewhere but I didn’t encounter any of them on my walk through the quiet corridors. Dashboard-Designer-Ship-Steering-Manager R was waiting for me in the conference room I’d reserved for us. I plopped down my bag and began setting up my laptop for the day. I’d brought my Bluetooth speaker so we could listen to music as we worked.
We got started and cranked away at verifications and configurations for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. Quality-Colleague J and Quality-Manager E joined us, and it was a party. Information-Security-Colleague E joined us via Teams meeting. We ran into some bumps at the end, but with the help of our vendor, settled on a solution. Finally, at last, the upgrade was live. Our efforts were complete. I drove home, happy about our accomplishment, forgetting for the time being, about the vertigo.
End of 8 - Biopsy #2