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.