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Wednesday, May 29, 2013
The Diagnosis is in the Details
Five restless days passed between the initial diagnosis of breast cancer and the prescribed needle biopsy that would determine my fate. My mind whirled with questions and lots of uncertainties. And, as one might expect, fear would rear its ugly head when I wasn’t paying attention. More interestingly, I mostly felt anger leading up to the biopsy appointment on May 6. Anger can be a dangerous emotion unless you use it as a weapon of “mass” destruction, which I had every intention of doing.
It was finally Monday morning - biopsy day. I arrived at St. Vincent’s
promptly at 8:00 a.m. An unfamiliar technician retrieved me from the waiting
area and directed me to the procedure room.
She was a little too perky considering what I was about to endure, and she
talked way too much. Did she not realize
that the rest of my life would be impacted by what happens in this dark,
sterile chamber? I thought to myself, maybe
she did understand and her cheery
disposition and chatty behavior was just her way of putting me at ease. Well, it wasn’t working. Breast Center
For the second time in two weeks, I took my top off, laid on a gurney and exposed my right breast to two strangers – Perky Patty and a tall, silver-haired radiologist, who talked in a monotone. He explained that he would locate the mass via an ultrasound then deaden the targeted area with local anesthesia. I could feel the sting of the needle as he injected a Novocain-like solution into the side of my right breast. It wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, I have experienced worse sitting in a dentist’s chair. Then he went deeper with the needle to deaden the area directly adjacent to the tumors. At that moment, I would much rather have been in the dentist’s chair.
When Dr. Monotone was convinced that I couldn’t feel him maneuvering within the breast, he extracted a section of the smaller lump, since it was the hardest to reach. I could hear the loud click of the instrument used to remove the tissue. Then he moved to the larger mass, where I heard the biopsy instrument click three times, meaning he took three pieces of tissue to review under the microscope. He talked me through each step of the procedure and was able to put my type A, high-strung personality at ease. I would give him two thumbs up for experience but his delivery needed a little work.
When Dr. Monotone completed the procedure, he told me the results would be available in 24-48 hours. Seriously? Two more days of waiting to learn if I have breast cancer? With so much progress being made in cancer research and other forms of medicine, surely the medical brainiacs could discover how to process pathology results faster.
I returned to work after the biopsy, which took about an hour. My office support team anxiously awaited my arrival and pelted me with questions about the procedure. They wanted to know when I would get the results; would I be a candidate for a lumpectomy or mastectomy; and, did I know which surgeon I would use. As they were asking me questions, I could see it in there faces; they were scared for me. But in many ways their reactions were comforting. Gal Pal Gloria (Glo) was especially concerned about me, considering her ongoing battle as a sufferer of fibrocystic disease. She told me numerous times during the days leading up to the biopsy that it could easily have been her awaiting results, instead of me. Glo is my dear friend and confidant and I have no doubts that she will provide whatever support I might need as the treatment plan begins.
During the first 24 hours of the waiting period, every time my cell phone rang at the office, Linda, another member of my support team, was standing at my door seeking some sort of indication that it was the doctor. At one point, I had a short meeting in a neighboring office. Linda retrieved my cell phone from my desk and kept it with her until I came out of the meeting, just in case the breast clinic called. I’m blessed to have such caring colleagues.
It was day two when the call finally came. Within seconds of hearing my cell phone ring, Glo was standing at my side. The cancer diagnosis was confirmed; however, it wasn’t lobular cancer as Dr. Mustache first thought. I had invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common type of breast cancer. The pathology report rated the mass as Grade 3 – Stage 3. (So much for lucky number 3!)
Dr. Monotone explained that the high grade resulted from the mass being fast-growing and the stage 3 rating was because of the large size. The tears flowed freely as I tried intently to listen to everything the doctor was telling me. The last thing he said was, “I’m sorry.” I wonder how many times a day/a week he says those words, "I'm sorry." Must be the toughest part of his job.
Gloria stayed with me until I composed myself then left me alone to call Don. When I heard his voice, I couldn’t say a word, but he knew. Then he made a statement that I will remember always. He said, “Wéll get through this together and I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Now, that is love
I was totally unaware that several days earlier, Don retreated into his doctor mode and called a former UAMS medical school classmate, the current chief of the oncology department at the med school. He agreed to see me on May 9 – the day after my biopsy results were revealed, which meant tomorrow was the day.
And so it begins…the journey to wellness.
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