You might as well plan to read all the Twilight books or finish up your PhD while awaiting a final diagnosis for breast cancer.
In my case it took two months between the day I discovered a Milk Dud-sized lump in my left breast (July 1) and the day I had surgery to remove it (Aug. 31).
Heck. It took 16 days to get an ultrasound; 18 days to get the lump biopsied, and 20 days to get the first results.
If that sounds bad, well, it was relatively good. The Milk Dud was benign.
I would, however, have to undergo surgery, since the papilloma, etc., were considered pre-cancerous conditions.
As a further precaution, I was scheduled for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The procedure involves sliding you face down on a medieval wrack inside a submarine like capsule so that powerful magnets and radio waves can uncover evil abnormalities hiding from mammograms, ultrasounds and CT scans.
Huh? (Oh, did I forget to say that the clinician threatens you with Six Years to Life if you breathe for the next 30 minutes or happen to suffer from claustrophobic panic attacks?) Don’t move a hair, in other words.
A “contrast” MRI was ordered in my case, meaning that a type of dye was injected intravenously so that tumors and such could absorb the dye and show up (or contrast) more effectively.
The MRI was necessary, I was told, to make sure that all was right with my right boobie, meaning Salander, and nothing more showed up on Lisbeth.
(I named the twins “Lisbeth” (left) and “Salander” (right) because I was convinced The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had the best chance of beating the big “C” to smithereens.)
While I have nothing but respect, admiration and gratitude for the gracious and sensitive way I was treated in every single instance at the Vasek & Anna Maria Polak Breast Center and Torrance Memorial Hospital, I need to get some things off my chest. Oops!
Better stated, my way of coping with the insanity of my personal journey happens to be humor, so bear with my preferred form of expression. I mean no disrespect.
That said, get ready to fill out the same forms, answer the same questions, and freeze your upper torso off in those backless/frontless/formless hospital gowns until you run screaming through the waiting room in a blind rage.
And if you think the medical profession is as concerned as you are about getting your test results to you, I have a bridge I want to sell you. Following the MRI, I was told that someone would call with the results right away.
Since I’d already heard the Milk Dud was benign, I didn’t have sense enough to worry—very much.
“The right breast is fine,” the hospital said when the “someone” finally called three days later. “But there are two more suspicious areas in the left breast. You will need at least two more biopsies. Possibly a third.” The first available appointment, she added, was next week.
Two more biopsies of poor black, blue, yellow and purple Lisbeth? Possibly a third? Not until next week?
Let me pause on the topic of biopsies, needle core biopsies, to be precise. Picture victim sitting in a recliner. She is dressed in one of those couture gowns, one sleeve of which has been dropped so Lisbeth stands out, shivering in the cold.
Hovering over her is a honey-voiced M.D., holding an electric biopsy tool (think long, thin screwdriver with a little scalpel on end that withdraws fluid and flesh).
On the other side of victim, the clinician searches for “suspicious” areas on Lisbeth with the ultrasound mouse while watching the monitor. She finds one culprit, a small black button, and snaps its photo, then finds culprit No. 2, an elongated bit of black hamburger. Replay photo session.
Another fallacy: you won’t feel a thing.
As the M.D. prepared to administer a local anesthetic, I observed Lisbeth on the monitor. She looked angry, like a dark, stormy, undulating sea.
True, the hypodermic eventually deadened (if I dare use that word) Lisbeth—a teeny, tiny part of her, at any rate, until the second, third, and fourth shot. Each time, keeping an eye on the offending area, the M.D. aimed the screwdriver at a point of entry on Lisbeth and shot it into her.
I saw it all like a TV show, repeated numerous times on the monitor, the impact no less dramatic than a scene from Damages.
It happened fast, the electric CLICK signifying the scalpel had ripped out tissue, which was then deposited in a little plastic pill box with my name correctly spelled (for once).
Remember Dustin Hoffman, whose character, Babe Levy in Marathon Man undergoes dental surgery minus anesthetic, the sound of the drill raging in his ears?
Although I had the locals, every click of the screwdriver resounded like a 357 Magnum going off in my ear. To add insult to injury, after the M.D. inserted tiny clips to show where tissue was extracted, I was made to endure several mammograms.
Uh-huh. To record the areas for posterity. As if I ever could forget.
“Be sure to bring someone with you at time of results for support,” the Care After Biopsy instructions said. Since my daughter had accompanied me for the “first results,” I went alone for the second.
“Did someone come with you?” the R.N. asked as she led me to her office from the waiting room, where I had been enjoying a detailed description of how Katie Holmes broke the divorce news to Tom Cruise in People.
Why is it you get that sinking feeling when a question is asked you have already answered in the positive in your head?
I sat down in her office, decorated with cheery little messages about how cancer can’t defeat optimism, as she perused her Katharine Blossom Lowrie file.
Being me, a grumpy reporter, I cut to the chase. “OK, let me have it.”
I quickly forgot the diagnosis of “sclerotic papilloma with focal atypical ductal hyperplasia” when I heard “invasive and in situ ductal carcinoma.”
That was the day my life changed forever. And not all for the bad.