Biopsies are not “mammograms with a needle”

As it turns out, it’s not as easy as I thought to be open about everything that goes on after you find out you have a cancer gene.  Naively, I thought that since I am young and healthy that the Chek2 positive test result was just some great information that will allow me to be proactive about my health. While that’s true, I’m realizing that anything unexpected is way more emotional than I thought it would be.   I think that’s why it’s taken me a few weeks to post that the radiologist found some calcifications that he thought should get a deeper look. 

I had my first mammogram and breast MRI earlier this month. Both were awkward and uncomfortable and I’m honestly not sure which one I disliked more.  The mammogram’s compression on my small B’s was a little painful, but the maneuvering it took for the tech to get a good image was painful in a different way. After having two children, you lose a lot of embarrassment about people seeing and touching you naked.  But the difference in pregnancy is that you’re creating a life.  You have this energy and power running through you that blocks most self-consciousness.  

With a mammogram, the experience is very different.  Suddenly one of your most beloved body parts is being handled roughly and photographed for flaws and irregularities.  It’s psychologically numbing in a place that has been so physically and emotionally charged before. Perhaps my reaction is stronger than most women’s because I’m pretty confident I’m going to do preventive surgery.  

After the mammogram, the tech took me to the waiting room while the doctor looked at my images.  She told me that I needed to go back in and do three more shots…which I knew wasn’t exactly great news.  So, basically, I got to have two mammograms in one day.  And then the radiologist came in for 90 seconds and told me that I had some calcifications that normally we would just watch, but given my genetic results, he suggested a biopsy. 

I followed the mammograms with an MRI.  I thought this would be the easy part, but as it turns out, lying on a hard table with your arms above your head while a loud machine scans your body at a glacially slow pace is less fun than the smashing of a mammogram.  I was really grateful that I had practiced hypnobirthing with my first labor because I used a lot of those tactics to shut out the throbbing pain in my shoulders as my arms went numb and the noise that sounds like you’re in a car manufacturer.  

So basically, September 15th was pretty miserable and stressful.  I firmly believed that I had nothing to worry about, but it’s hard not to leave such a physically invasive experience feeling a little low that there is more to come. 

And the more to come was not awesome.  The breast specialist said “a biopsy is a lot like a mammogram but with novocaine and a needle.”  I can tell you that is not true…not even a little.  A biopsy is way more like a mammogram mixed with an MRI mixed with a speargun…followed by spiking waves of pain.  

I would not consider myself a wimp about pain.  I’ve endured 30 hours of back labor, recovered from two c-sections, and experienced a surgery in college that should have been done under full anesthesia but was given only local.  I’m not going to say a biopsy is as bad as any of those…but I will say that it is not something to take lightly.

If I were to do it again, here’s what I would do differently.  First, I would not listen to the person who said you don’t need to bring anyone with you.  It’s emotional…and painful enough that it makes driving hard. Second, if they let you, I’d bring headphones and some music.  I think finding a way to enjoy moments of the experience would be great.  Third, I would work out that morning if possible…or have sex 🙂  Do something that makes you feel good and burns off nervous energy.  Finally, I wouldn’t schedule anything else that day and would try to get someone to take care of your kids for the night.  Not being able to hold or pick up your kids for a day is hard, guilt-inducing, and tiring.   

Now, begins the two day wait until I get my results.  If you think of it, please send good thoughts of cancer-free results for me.  

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