When I woke up on the morning of April 9th, 2015, I immediately called my doctor’s office to see if my results were available. They weren’t. I puttered around at my table until the phone rang at 12:14 pm. It was my OBG. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I answered the phone. She wasted no time delivering the scariest, arguably worst, news of my life. In under 90 seconds, I’d been diagnosed with cancer. My innocence was shattered in a matter of seconds. The color in my face was first to go, followed by the life-force draining out of my body. I was light headed and in fight or flight. Time was standing still. Blinking my eyes several times, I wondered: had I heard her correctly? Shaking, confused and bewildered, I called my boyfriend Doug and whispered into the phone, “my results are positive for breast cancer.” He asked, “you’re joking?”
Two weeks prior I was lying in bed feeling my sore and swelling breasts as my period approached when I found a grape sized lump on my right side. I was unconcerned and scheduled my slightly overdue annual. My OBG did not appear worried stating statistics were in my favor and what I felt was likely a fibroadenoma. She wrote me a script for a mammogram and prepared me for the possibility of an ultrasound. She encouraged me not to worry and sent me on my way after I shelled out $165 for a less than 15-minute appointment. When Doug offered to go with me to my next appointment, I confidently thanked him for offering and assured him I’d be fine–women get mammograms all the time. As Vivian in Pretty Woman said, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Regrettably, it was my mistake, and there was no shopping spree to follow.
I suppose I was slightly nervous about the unknown, but after squeezing both my breasts pretty hard to simulate the pain potential of said x-ray, I reasoned I’d be okay. My experiment proved fruitful, and I did not experience pain that some women speak of after having a mammogram. During my exam, I tried to read the tech’s face while she was taking images of my breasts. Nothing. Her poker face was solid. Once she had taken all the pictures she needed, I retreated to the waiting room to learn the radiologist wanted to get an ultrasound. At this point, even though my doctor had prepared me, I started to panic. As the tech scanned my breasts, I carefully watched her body language in another attempt to determine what she was seeing. Striking out again, I waited on the table, feeling exposed, for the tech to come back in and tell me the radiologist wanted to do a needle biopsy. The doc was only in on Monday and Tuesday, and it was Tuesday. I could either have the biopsy right then and there or come back next week.
Waiting another week for results sounded like torture, so I opted to have the biopsy on the spot. The techs mouths were moving, but what they were saying didn’t register. Were they talking to me? I found myself answering yes and no as I dialed Doug. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to have him there with me. Why did I go alone? As I was on the phone, the techs were shoving papers in front of me to sign. Did they know I wasn’t present? Physically I was sitting in the exam room in a chair, but no one was home. Could someone please slow down to make sure I know what’s happening? I had no idea what I was agreeing to or not. During the call to Doug, the techs told me my procedure would be over before he arrived.
They treated this outpatient procedure as no big deal, and I’m confident saying neither of them had ever had one. As my friend and GiveForward co-founder, Desiree Vargas so eloquently put: “Biopsies are not “mammograms with a needle.” The best way I know how to explain what it feels like, beyond Desiree’s account, is it’s like having dental work performed [on your boob]. It’s not that the pain is excruciating, but it is terribly uncomfortable and awkward. Upon completion of the biopsy, I was told the radiologist surgically inserted a piece of titanium into the biopsied lump. Wait a second! Did anyone inform me this was going to happen? I’m not sure I want titanium in my body. It was too late.
Once the biopsy was over, tears streamed down my face. I felt violated, scared and alone. The pain was over, but I was shocked, confused and in a world of fear. The techs said I was strong. A phrase I’d become very familiar hearing over the upcoming months. They said a lot of women did a lot worse than I did. So… Couldn’t they have waited ten minutes for my boyfriend to get there for a little moral support, well aware this procedure left people feeling uneasy? Instead, as a consolation prize, they sent me on my way with the cutest little pink heart ice pack.
With the heart tucked into my bra to alleviate pain and swelling, I somehow found myself at my boyfriend’s staring out the kitchen window aimlessly as I dialed one of our friend’s who had been through breast cancer twice. I put on my best “everything is fine” voice and left a message. She texted me back later, “Honestly, they are so proactive with any kind of spot they find, just about everyone I know has had a needle biopsy.” I wanted to believe this so badly, but something about the radiologist’s demeanor left me lacking confidence that everything was going to be fine. Doug also assured me I’d be okay. I wanted to believe them both and did my best to manifest a positive outcome. Totally I thought, attempting to convince myself and block the radiologist’s cold and disconcerting bedside manner out of my head. I’d be fine. I had completed another 100-day ski season, been upping my yoga, decreasing my sugar, and was what appeared to be a very healthy young woman. Of course, I’d be fine.
Two days later my doctor called, “I’m sorry, your results are positive for breast cancer.” She asked me if I needed anything. If I needed anything? I needed my results to be negative. She asked me if I was going to be okay. Okay? No, I’m not okay. Cancer? At 33? Are you kidding me? We hung up. In less than 90 seconds, I received information that would forever change my life.