I am a pretty private person and will only disclose information with a small few I trust. However, it has been five years since my second diagnosis with breast cancer, and I felt compelled to share my journey because I’ve made it a lot longer than I thought I would.
Every day for the rest of the month, I will share what I recall, what helped, and what didn’t. My only regret was not sharing during both of my journeys. When I was in therapy, I learned that sharing was healing for me. And I hope by sharing my story, I can help someone else going through a similar journey.
I was first diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), on May 15, 2015, at 41 years old. I had my annual exam with my gynecologist and told him I felt a small, pea-sized lump under my right armpit close to my breast. He confirmed what I felt and said it was probably nothing but still wanted me to get a mammogram. I got an appointment the next day, and with much squeezing, because my itty-bitties measured as A minuses (in size), the technician couldn’t find or see anything during the mammogram. But I told her where I felt the lump, and she also felt it, so she brought out the ultrasound machine.
That’s when I first saw it, my lump. On the ultrasound, it looked like Pluto floating in the galaxy.
I joked and asked her what my lump looked like on a scale from 1 to cancer. She looked at me and said she didn’t know, but I was probably getting a biopsy next.
Disclaimer: My story is not meant to scare. This was just my experience. Oh, and I was teaching technology to over 400 elementary school-aged students and driving two teenagers around to their after-school practices while this was going on during the end of the school year.
My biopsy was scheduled for the following week. When I got there, I was told that I was going to have a physician guided/student-led biopsy. Since I didn’t know what to expect, and as a teacher, I felt that was fine at the time, I said sure — big mistake, huge mistake on my part.
First of all, they need to put grip handles on the bed so patients can brace themselves when the pain hits. Secondly, don’t put the monitor in my view. Finally, it’s 2022 (2015 then). Can the biopsy be less painful?
Let’s just say I grabbed that bed super hard, watched the (yes, I am exaggerating) two-foot-long needle enter my right side under my armpit, and started sweating profusely.
Then I watched that same needle go past my lump, cried a little as it was pulled back, and then watched it enter my lump to take its sample and leave a metal clip.
I left the room shaking in pain, that biopsy was painful, and I have a pretty good threshold for pain, but at least I now knew what to expect. Because in a year, I would have two more biopsies in the exact same spot.
I was told to wait for the results. If I remember correctly, I had that biopsy done on a Thursday afternoon after work. I’d be getting that phone call first thing Monday morning on my way to work at 7 a.m.
Bianca Haines is a patient advocate.
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