Since I started writing about breast cancer on my blog, I’ve had the good fortune to hear from some lovely women who are in the midst of their own cancer scare or cancer experience, which of course starts with diagnostics.
On any given day, there many women (and some men too) are waiting for a breast biopsy appointment. While I was handed a mountain of patient education pamphlets over this past year, nobody told me how a procedure or test actually feels. Here’s my take on my own breast biopsies, with the important caveat that everybody’s experience is different – because of differing personalities, way to cope with stress, type of biopsy, health care environment and health care professionals. This is a personal insight into the way I felt last year this time.
1. Waiting Sucks
The waiting really is the hardest part. When the day of your biopsy comes, you put your head down and get it done. But waiting beforehand can be excruciating. Acknowledge that it is hard. Be kind to yourself. Use whatever distraction and comfort methods work for you. For me, it was long walks, movies, Netflix, baths and sleeping. A beautiful healing book I read during this time was Birds Art Life by Kyo McLear. Looking back, I realize that it was torture to wait but somehow you just do it, one day at a time.
2. Nuts + Bolts of a Breast Biopsy
I’d recommend getting a ride there and back. I was anxious during the drive there and afterwards I was sore and bandaged up. Make sure you ask the staff how long you are scheduled for so your support person can go for a walk during your biopsy and not be stuck in the waiting room.
There is no shame in taking your doctor beforehand about anxiety medication. There was no sedation with my biopsies (I had two done at once). Ask your GP about a prescription. For me, it was Ativan. All it does for me is take the edge off my anxiety and makes me feel ‘ok’. I don’t like taking pills, but I’ve also learned the hard lesson this year that I don’t have to be strong all the time.
Here’s what I wrote about the mammogram tech at my biopsy: “The tech there is matter of fact but kind. She rubs my arm when I get the freezing – I think her kindness is what made me cry. When I was distorted under that mammogram machine, she brushed my hair out of my eyes. I think she must be somebody’s mom.” May you have a kind mammogram technologist and radiologist assigned to you. You can ask them to explain what they are doing during the procedure to help with your anxiety.
The whole procedure is weird. I had core needle biopsies. One biopsy involved being positioned in the mammogram machine and being squished and the other one was guided with an ultrasound. Ask what kind of biopsy you are having. They give you a needle for freezing before they take the biopsy. That pinches. Then there’s this strange ‘box’ that has the core needle in it and they press it down on your like an old-fashioned hole puncher and it extracts the biopsy. It makes an awful noise.
I looked down during the biopsy extraction and wish I hadn’t because I was bleeding a bit and this made me woozy.
I thankfully kept my eyes closed most of the time, did some breathing like I was meditating and pretended I was on a beach in Hawai’i. Breathing and visualization has helped me a lot through this whole damn thing.
I walked out with bandages on each biopsy site – which were basically little ‘pokes’, not scars. My arm was sore for a couple of days from having been in one position for so long.
They likely won’t tell you any results at the biopsy, but you may get hints from the radiologist. Ask them how long before the results will come in and who will call you. For me, my pathology results came back in 7 days and I got a call about my diagnosis from my family doctor, who had to give me the bad news that I had breast cancer. I hope you are in the 80% of women who have benign results! Again, waiting for results is a horrible time too. My most important tip continues to be: BE KIND TO YOURSELF. This is a very stressful time even if it isn’t cancer – don’t minimize that.
It is a strange thing to wait for a breast biopsy (or any diagnostics) and then the results. You don’t belong anywhere – like to a patient community – but you are suspended in an awful purgatory. I didn’t want to talk to friends who had breast cancer about it because I was worried if my results had come back benign, that might have upset them. I realize now that I’ve had breast cancer, I’m happy to talk to anybody during this awful waiting, whether they end up with breast cancer or not. It does help to connect with folks who have been through similar experiences.
I’ll write more about All the Feels in future blogs…