Saturday, April 2, 2011


Biopsy day arrives. The radiologist is right. It doesn't hurt! She takes four separate tissue samples using a large core needle that makes a clicking sound each time it captures my flesh. She comments on how relaxed I am, that I'm "in the zone." Wait a minute. Am I supposed to be "in the zone"? Why am I IN THE ZONE? As I lay on the exam table, I begin to realize this whole thing may be a bit more serious than I have allowed myself to believe. So I formulate a few questions to ask the radiologist when she returns to the room.

But she never does. 

Instead, the technician hands me an ice pack which I am to use 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. She also mentions that I will be hearing the pathology results directly from my primary care physician — not the imaging center. I know this is code for "I'm sorry you are about to go out of your mind with worry while you wait days and days and days until you finally get your results but please don't call us, we can't tell you anything." Suddenly I am scared.

I decide to share my concern with two close friends, one on the east coast, one on the west. Both listen and calm me and tell me they are sure it is nothing at all. We make a pact, the three of us: No news is good news. “I'll call only if it's bad news," I say.

That evening, when my husband comes home from work, he finds me lying on the couch watching TV,  a thick scarf loosely draped around my neck to hide the ice pack still inside my bra. He suspects nothing. (I figure if this turns ugly, there will be plenty of time to tell him something.)

But I'm starting to act weird. I jump when the phone rings. I don't feel comfortable keeping this from him just to save him the worry. So the night before I find out my fate, I share my little secret. He is nonreactive, yet concerned. He says he is glad I waited to tell him. And it would have been OK too if I had waited until I actually knew. (Do I know my husband or what?)  

As expected, it takes days before the phone finally rings. My primary physician, Dr. S., is a very friendly, upbeat man, and I'm certain I'll hear it in the tone of his voice if the results are not what I am expecting. So I am thrilled when I pick up the phone and find his joyful voice on the other end.

Him: "Well, I have your test results!" 

Me: "Yea! I am so glad."  I slide my relieved body into the kitchen chair.

Him: "Unfortunately, it IS cancer." 

Me (long pause): "I was not expecting that."  Uh, wow.

He starts to rattle off preliminary findings as the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My face becomes flush. My hand shakes as I jot down the few words I manage to hear through the verbal assault that is pummeling my brain.

"Invasive ductal carcinoma." (It's the most common type of breast cancer; that's a good thing because the medical community has a lot of experience treating it.)

"Well differentiated." (Sounds bad, but generally means slow growing, so that's also good.) 

"Not a tumor." (It's a mass that looks like breast tissue but has cancer cells in it. That's also good. Still, I can't help but think of Arnold in Kindergarten Cop... It's not a tuma!)

"One inch in size." That's just an estimate. I will need a lumpectomy and a lymph node biopsy to know for sure what we are dealing with. 

I don't remember anything else, except telling Dr. S. that we can talk more about all this tomorrow — because, odd as it may seem, I had an appointment for a general checkup with him the very next morning. An appointment I made three months ago. Before any of this started.

Do do do do. Do do do do. (See Curtain of Dread to continue with my story.)



  1. Renn,
    How did you manage to keep it from your husband? I'm terrible at keeping quiet...

    I like your visual here - kinda reminds me of mine! You can almost "see" the anxiety in your handwriting.

    And the fact you had an appointment previously scheduled for the very next day, that's uncanny.

    Thanks for linking to your post. It does sort of feel as if we're "joined at the hip" doesn't it?

  2. Nancy: My husband lost his first wife to breast cancer. I couldn't bear to put him through the worry of a biopsy if it turned out to be nothing to worry about. That's how I was able to block it out and rest in denial. I really thought it would come back benign. I mean, what are the odds that one man could have two wives with breast cancer? (Apparently not as remote as I thought.)

    Yes, you and I (and a heap of others) are forever joined at the hip. ;-)


Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!