Biopsy: Digging to China Through My Breast

Well, that was extremely unpleasant.

First there was the wait, from Thursday to Tuesday, going through stages from: “I certainly don’t have cancer, they’re just being careful” to: “Ohmigod I’m going to die!”

I spent a lot of the weekend working hard in the garden – a very good distraction. Saturday afternoon Enrico and I went to the bookstore to look for birthday presents for his mother. As usual, I gravitated towards the comics (aka graphic novels). My eye was caught by Il Cancro Mi Ha Resa Piu’ Frivola (originally titled Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics), by Miriam Engelberg. In other circumstances I probably would have liked, if not exactly enjoyed, this book. The first few pages described exactly what I was going through. I flipped to the About the Author blurb in the back. She died last year. No, don’t want to read that now.

On another shelf, my eye lit upon: “The Big Book of Breasts” (a book of photographs – the book, and presumably the breasts inside, was indeed big). Then Non C’e’ Paradiso Senza Le Tette (“There’s No Heaven Without Tits” – about a Colombian girl who wants breast implants so she can be a mistress to drug dealers. ?!?). I fled the store.

Sunday night we went out to dinner at Lanterna Verde, as an early celebration of Ross’ birthday – we’re running out of weekends with her! I was feeling pretty good Sunday. Friends had sent in encouraging information: only one test in one hundred turns up positive. Another friend backed this up, and she’s got a lot more to worry about as there is a strong history of cancer in her family; I have no such history. As yet. My mother is having a (probably ovarian) cyst removed next Monday, and won’t know whether it’s benign until it’s out.

Monday I went to the office, also a good distraction. Had an interesting lunch that day, too.

Tuesday morning I got up early and worked on Sun stuff. Then it was time to go to the hospital. Ross came along for moral support.

The Radiology department was nearly deserted, and we spent only ten minutes in the waiting area, then another five or so inside the changing room, where I was increasingly uneasy at all the preparations I could hear. This was sounding less and less like a quick in-and-out with a fine needle.

Sure enough, the mammogram machine was set up with a whole different set of torture devices. This time there were two clear plastic platforms, each with a rectangular hole, one above and one below. My breast was carefully arranged and squashed (not quite as painful as last time – my period has come, so the pre-menstrual tenderness is over – but not comfortable, either), and an x-ray taken for positioning. The doctor entered x, y, and z coordinates on the machine, and attached to it two pieces of metal which she explained were needle guides. (I think this is called in English a stereotactic biopsy.)

The z coordinate – depth – was set to 14.8 millimeters. They’d be drilling one and a half centimeters into my breast. I guess the gap under the plastic platform my breast was resting on was in case they came out the other side!

The nurse swabbed iodine on the part of my breast exposed by the upper rectangular opening. The doctor injected a local anesthetic, which burned as she worked the needle around to cover all the areas she expected to work in. Ow, ow, ow. The technician was again unsympathetic: “Does it really hurt that much?” You should have heard me when I was in labor, lady. I am not heroic about pain, and I don’t care who knows it.

The doctor and nurse were kinder. They kept asking questions to distract me: “What kind of name is Deirdré Straughan? I’ve never heard it before.” I was relieved to chatter away, though even I was only half-aware of what I was saying. They touched me as they bustled back and forth, gently on the shoulder, as if to acknowledge that I was a scared human being they were doing things to, not just a lump of meat. That was reassuring and comforting.

My right arm was stretched around the machine as before, and I was panting with discomfort and stress. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a big, thick needle coming at me, and promptly squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t feel the needle going in, or at least it wasn’t painful. But the loud chunk! as it bit off something inside was startling. That needle was withdrawn and another one put in. This time I was braced for the sound, but still didn’t like it. “It’s just the noise that bothers you, right?” asked the doctor.

She took x-rays again, I think while the needle was still in place (I didn’t look). Then I had to wait, maintaining my position, while those were developed. I leaned my head against the machine. The nurse pressed hard on the wound with a wad of cotton held in medical forceps, I suppose to stop it bleeding, so I couldn’t see how big the hole actually was. I’d seen a scalpel at some point, don’t know whether they used it.

After examining the x-rays, the doctor evidently decided she hadn’t quite got what she wanted. One more needle, one more chunk bitten out of my tissues. Then, finally, it was over. My breast, with a round red hole in it, was released from the machine. The nurse helped me over to an examining table nearby (“Don’t bump your head on the machine”), cleaned off the iodine, closed the wound with three little strips of tape, and put a big bandage on top of that. After I had got dressed again, she gave me an ice pack to place between my bra and my t-shirt. I probably looked pretty funny walking around Lecco afterwards, clutching this big lump to my chest.

The doctor took my cell number and said she would call me as soon as she had results, probably next Monday. In the meantime we’re all going to Roseto to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. We’re not going to tell herr about this.

I was exhausted last night. Anesthetic and kindness aside, what I went through yesterday would in any other context be called torture. In the aftermath, I feel bruised inside, both physically and emotionally.

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21 thoughts on “Biopsy: Digging to China Through My Breast

  1. Alice Twain

    Your message made me contract my arms over my own breasts in protection. I am anxhiously waiting for news and I know how you must feel, about the same way I felt while I was waiting for my blood tests for cancer markers after I was diagnosed a large, lumpy and odd-looking couple of cysts (names are Teresa and Antonella) in my right ovary. As largely expectable all turned out well, and so I think your exam will turn out. I am anxihous but confident, so you must be. 8-*

  2. Gina

    Thank you for sharing your story. My mom has gone through this several times, and thankfully there is still no cancer. She rarely shares any details whatsoever with me about the process, and so I found your story very interesting. Best wishes to you, and do keep us updated if you dont mind.

    gina

  3. Sarah Galloway

    Dear Deirdré,

    I don’t believe in prayer… but “I’m praying for you” in my own agnostic way. I’ve got the lumpy breast syndrome too and can relate. Had to have a similar test, and before I got my all clear results I was so distracted I accidentally walked out of a store (doing some retail therapy) with a purse. No one noticed!

    Don’t take up crime, I do hope you get the all clear today.

    Love, Sarah

  4. kath

    A friend went through the same thing last year. She was diagnosed 12 months ago and one month ago she was declared cancer free. She is very healthy and feels better than ever. You might want to check out the graphic novel “Cancer Vixen” by Marisa Acocella Marchetto. I haven’t read it, but it is recommended by those who have read it. Sending you positive energy! k.

  5. Pia

    Thinking of you and hoping all will be cleared up soon. Be as peaceful as possible.
    Pia

  6. John Francini

    Deirdré,

    I hope that this all turns out to be nothing, but regardless, I’m thinking positive thoughts and vibes!

    John

  7. Roberta

    phew! so glad to read this update! I went through something similar last year, when after noticing a “nocciolino” (actually, I had noticed it months previously, but was hoping it would just go away if I ignored it…) I went through the mammography, then the ecografia (which showed it was most likely a fibroadenoma), then the agoaspirazione just to be safe, repeated in 3 different spots… then waiting a week before the results… which were good, just need to keep it checked every 6 months. A big hug, Deirdré!

  8. Charlie Blank

    Kathy and I were both worried about you and are glad you passed your test OK….Beedle

  9. Anju Shrestha

    Dear Deirdre,

    Thank you for sharing your story. It really opened my eyes as I have never heard of the clinical examination details of breast cancer before. I just wanted to say that I have had many disturbing experiences in hospitals but this just has to be one of the more painful ones.
    It’s gory and unsettling and I am SO glad that you have the all clear from the doctor now.

    Anju

  10. Michelle

    Deirdre,
    I hope you get good news (sounds so trite but I mean it). It seems as we get older, there are just more health scares. I’ve had two “bad” (in terms of results) pap smears and one very intense cervical cancer scare. I know it’s like waiting on pins and needles to get these results but it sounds like you are being well taken care of. I’m thinking of you.
    Michelle

  11. Sara

    So glad to hear all is well. Maybe it was a “combination” of all those gods and a few “non” gods that did it…

    I found a small glimmer of feel good when I had my mamogram when we were checking out – as well as biopsy of course – my recently discovered lump… The women in the waiting room were all overly kind to me, and then all was explained when one of them said “you look too young to be here for just a regular check up, there must be something to be concerned about?” Ergo their concern for me…

    As I was in my mid 40s, I was quite flattered

  12. Laurie

    Dear Deirdre, I missed the beginning of this story and am so thankful that it ended as it did. My SIL in Milan is going through treatment right now so this is very much in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers right now. sending love!

  13. Robert Benedetti

    Glad to hear all is well. No one should have to go through this torture. I am a non practicing Catholic, but have been thinking of your pain. Maybe it’s made me go back to thinking of God. Kind of sucks that you have to have a catastrophy to bring you back to your beliefs. Quando vieni in America, se tu hai un po di tempo, chiamami. Sono vicino di New York. Sono dentista.Ti ricordi quando Rosella ha perso il wisdom tooth e vi ho scritto. Roberto Benedetti 2017410513.
    Cell. Buona fortuna

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