“Benign”- \bi-ˈnīn\ - adj- of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life ; especially : not becoming cancerous
So the begin the tale, I must begin with a prologue to set the scene. Before Grumpy Guy became a “turnaround” specialist, he was a sales representative for a medical imaging company. His territory was New York City, and so he knew some of the best doctors in the country. We lived in the area when it came time for me to start having annual mammograms, and it just so happened that one of his clients was a doctor who has the reputation of being the best in New York, the best on the East Coast, and probably the best in the country- Julie Mitnick, MD, and her cohorts at Murray Hill Radiology. So it was there that I went. I can say that their care of me has been extraordinarily attentive over the almost 15 years I have been going there-annually- for my mammograms and sonograms. But I get the feeling from talking to other patients that they treat every patient with as much care as they treat moi.
So every year, when it’s time for the annual trip to New York City with CruiseGran and the Louisiana Ladies, I go up a few days ahead, and have all my “films” done. Well, this year, Dr. M just didn’t like the looks of one tiny (I mean a one millimeter ) area. Now, with most patients, it would be a “let’s look at it next year and see what’s happened”—but since CruiseGran had breast cancer at 46 (and, 25 years later, after a lumpectomy and radiation, is still outrunning all of us put together) Dr. M wasn’t taking any chances. Well, it wasn’t just Dr. Mitnick—I had four of the five doctors in her practice consulting—so they tweaked schedules, rearranged patients, and managed to squeeze me in (which, by the way is quite a hilarious statement in a practice devoted to mammography and breast sonography…) and I had a stereotactic core biopsy of the area.
No, it wasn’t bad. The worst part was having to lie perfectly still for 20 minutes on my stomach with my left breast through a hole in the table and in a vise (that description is for men and any women who have yet to have a mammogram- any woman who has had one knows exactly what I am talking about here). Some lidocaine, and one big “SPPROOIIINNNGGG” noise later (they don’t warn you about the noise…that may be the only thing I’d change in their procedure protocol) and the worst is over. Didn’t find out how big the needle that they have to use is until later. Much later. Not as big as the thing they use to drill oil wells, but pretty close. They turn on a machine that sounds like a cross between a jet engine and a Hoover canister vacuum, and about five minutes later, the sample taking is done. They place a metal “clip” in the area to point to the area sampled (more on that later) - and you're finished. Some steristrip bandages and you’re back cruising Fifth Avenue window shopping. With the admonition “don’t worry until I tell you to worry.”
Next day, the doctor calls. It was still the “don’t worry” speech, but accompanied by “nothing malignant, but something atypical” and it should be surgically biopsied. And a repetition of the “don’t worry speech”. I listen to doctors. I don’t worry. Call me naïve, but I don’t worry.
Grumpy Guy, on the other hand is freaked out. No, he sounds calm, but I can tell he’s freaked. Sweet guy…he really is. He goes into- and don’t get pissed, honey, but this is a perfect description- “Al Haig mode”. Remember when President Reagan was shot, and VP Bush was out of Washington, and the Secretary of State Al Haig made the famous “I’m in Control” speech? If you do, you’ll understand-if you don’t, you won’t. Moving on…..
Back in Middle-Of –Nowhere, I get to the business of Thanksgiving. Little do I know that GG has pre-informed doctors and has readied the powers that be to anticipate surgical scheduling at any moment. Oh, no no no---I gotta get through Turkey Day. I didn’t get around to seeing our family doctor the first week in December. Then I found out how GG had everyone on standby. His best friend in Atlanta had even researched doctors up there and had my recovery all readied. I love friends.
Anyway, so a few phone calls later, and I have a consultation with the most marvelous surgeon in these parts- Dr. Karen Yeh. Seriously, anyone needing a top-of-the-line breast surgeon, Dr. Yeh’s your girl. Again with the scheduling and “geeing-n-hawing”, paperwork and pre-op stuff, and I have my date with a sterile surgical suite all set up for Thursday a week ago.
The worst part of the surgical biopsy, I kid you not- was waiting until the whole damn thing was over at 6pm to eat or drink anything that day. We arrived at 11am to be admitted to University Hospital’s Day Surgery (again, great place to have to hang out, hospital wise—really wonderful, caring nurses and technologists). At noon, I’m in radiology having my “wire’ placed. As this is an area not readily visible or palpable, the radiologist uses the “clip” referenced above, to place a needle to the site using, yes, another vise-like grip of the mammo machine. Lots of lidocaine- nothing hurts. Once he gets to the correct location, a wire is fed through the needle and the needle is removed, leaving the wire as a guide for the surgeon.
I am the only biopsy patient to ever want to have a picture of a syringe sticking out of her breast, they tell me. No, I didn’t get the pic (although it would be GREAT for next Halloween, I’m sure) but I DID get a picture of the implements used. This is when I was told how big a needle was used for the core biopsy. You still don’t want to know.*
So I leave radiation with a long piece of wire hanging out of my boob. Yes, I know- too much information- but I thought it hilarious. Back up to day surgery, where I get a nice bed, with blankies, and a TV with a gazillion channels on it. To wait until my scheduled surgery time of 3pm.
The usual pre-op routine—IV in the hand-which made knitting uncomfortable, so I napped; nurse marking me on my left side so to avoid confusion (like this wire sticking out wasn’t indication enough...I wondered if I should draw a smiley face or write something witty to entertain the masses); and before I knew it, my lovely anesthesiologist was filling me full of nice fentanyl to make me twilighty. Yep, I was awake, but didn’t give a damn about anything. God knows what secrets I revealed. Well, I haven’t been arrested yet….. They put up a drape so I couldn’t see what was going on, which is a good thing-considering the way I was feeling, I probably would have tried to do the surgery myself….
An hour later, I was back in my room, having my IV removed, and told to go get something to eat. The twilight sedation had not lessen my hunger, so GG was kind enough to speed me through a drive-through fast food establishment, and then was careful to keep any articles of loose clothing and appendages away from my mouth until I got my snout out of the trough.
Home again, and into bed. Lots of nice, lovely sleep, courtesy of Tylenol 3 with codeine. The weekend was a blur. Not really the most effective use of the penultimate weekend before Christmas…but hey, you play the hand that’s dealt you.
So the waiting began. Thing about having surgery on late Thursday afternoon..pathology doesn’t even get the samples until mid-Friday. So results won’t be returned to the doctor until Monday at the earliest. Monday came and went, with the doctor’s office telling me it would be sometime late Tuesday before Dr. Yeh could call me with the results.
“The waiting is the hardest part”- isn’t that what Tom Petty sang? Well, it’s true. “Don’t worry” sorta goes out the window by “Day Four” of waiting. One minute, everything’s great, the next minute, I’m trying to decide whether to let my hair grow out grey after chemotherapy (well, it worked for a while with Elizabeth Taylor, didn’t it??) One minute, what’s for supper, the next “who will take care of the kids when I’m gone?”
Well, finally Dr. Yeh calls, and “Yeah” is what we said. Everything totally benign. Hot damn and hallelujah. I was glad the kids were at home at the time- the four of us had a giant “group hug” and there was rejoicing—for about a minute. Then back to our respective corners, to continue life as normal.
But this odyssey has taught me a few things. Here’s my top ten….
- Don’t worry-it does no good.
- Find doctors you trust and listen to them.
- It’s okay to let people spoil you. Or spoil yourself, if necessary.
- Friends- female or male, close by or long distance- are the most wonderful things God ever created.
- 30% is a way different number pre-surgery and post-surgery.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Never underestimate the power of a good-fitting sports bra.
- Hearing a fluid-filled breast slosh around can cause your children to fall into fits of hysterical laughter.
- Attitude is EVERYTHING.
- LIFE IS GOOD!!!!
*Ok, if you’re really curious. It’s a size 9 bore needle…about the same circumference as your ring finger…..