The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Creative Non-Fiction: What to Expect When You're Expecting Breast Cancer: Anatomy of One Procedure by Katie Snyder
By Katie Snyder
I have large, cystic, dense breasts. By large, I mean bra size 32HH--a real size, though it sounds fake. It's a hard size to find bras for. Even when found, they consist more of hoists and pulleys than anything attractive. But I digress. Back to the point: I gave up self-checks long ago because I was so lumpy I could never tell anything. For decades I relied on annual mammograms--impossible during Covid.
When I mentioned the mammogram conundrum to Sammy, she ordered me to check myself. Tonight in the shower seems like as good a time as any.
Oh. My. God. There's a golf ball in my right breast. I start shaking. I quickly check my left breast; is there anything like that in there, too? No…I leap out of the shower, half dry myself, and run dripping into the bedroom, where Jay is already asleep. I wake him up and order him to feel my breast. Yes, he feels it, too. It's 10 p.m., but I call Sammy, who doesn’t answer. I try unsuccessfully to go to sleep. I’m too freaked out; there is way too much adrenaline. At midnight, Sammy checks her messages, hears mine, and calls me right back.
She wants clinical details. Does it feel smooth? Jagged? Hard? Soft?
How the hell do I know? I have no comparisons. Sammy wants me to hope it's a cyst. Cysts don’t usually get that large, but it could happen....My body knows better; it's still full of adrenaline and doesn’t believe her, though she points out that women at my age don’t get the really deadly breast cancers. Thus, between June 20 and July 9 I feared the worst, but I still had reason to hope for the best.
It's core needle biopsy day.
Guess when the new year starts for medical residents? Yup, July 1. So my "senior" resident has been on the job for exactly one day. As he witnessed me signing the Agreement to let LTH (Local Teaching Hospital) use my biologic material for Science experiments, I asked him how many samples the biopsy collected. The answer: two. Did he know what he was talking about? Reader, he did not.
Enter the apparatus: I anticipated a fat needle for large samples, but in real life the so-called needle was more like the love child of a tiny vegetable peeler and an apple corer--shot from a crossbow.
I lay on my left side, problem breast uppermost.
The weapon...er, corer...comes at the horizontal victim from the side rather than the front. There is otherwise a danger, given the length of the needle, that they might accidentally puncture my lung. The location of the lump was never in doubt, as there is still a bruise from last week— no need to draw a circle around it.
Several shots of lidocaine later, it began. Initially all I felt was pressure as the needle made its way through me to my cancer. Then there was a loud click, and I was impaled by a bolt shot from the needle. Ouch. Picture a long, fat needle, where the last ¾” is a flat piece that extends out the end of the barrel of the needle. At the click, a piece of similar length shoots out of the barrel, curved just enough to form a quasi-cylinder with the flat side, carving through my lump like an apple corer. This is why it's called a "core" biopsy. It is withdrawn and my sample placed in preservative.
Digression: now that the measurements of my cancer have been right sized, I need a new analogy. It is smaller than a golf ball. I looked up which fruit measures 3 cm, and the internet tells me it's a grape, but I rarely see grapes over an inch in diameter. So visualize a jumbo grape. Embedded in a melon the size of a large cantaloupe. It's not much of a stretch to imagine a corer in that context.
The doctor prepared for a second assault. Thanks to extra lidocaine, this one didn’t hurt, despite the identical, disconcerting mechanical click as the bolt shot home. But wait, what are you doing? Again? Yes. The standard is five samples. Well, residents are still in training.
I draw a veil over the remaining three shots, and move on.
The next step was to shoot a titanium sesame seed into the hole left behind, so someone can track me wherever I go. Well...they claim it is so someone can track where the cancer was if it should disappear with treatment.
The resident applied pressure to prevent bruising, then a nurse helped sit me up, to walk me to the next procedure. Wait, what? I’m not done?
No, now I need a mammogram to make sure my tracker didn’t get dislodged. So, what about all that pressure to stop the bleeding? Won’t the wormhole just get opened up again from the pressure of the mammogram machine? Yes, indeed. I showed them, and bled all over the machine.
A doctor was summoned to re-Steri-Strip me. Then I had to be cold packed and have my chest bound, like in the old days before brassieres.
They sent me home with instructions not to use my right arm for a whole day, not even to hoist so much as a jug of milk. The puppy has been banished, and I have remained horizontal for hours, waiting for my body to recover.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.