November 26, 2009
Two days before Thanksgiving I was given something else to be grateful for—a benign biopsy! My husband and I rejoiced, breathed normally again, then rushed to tell those who had worried with us. I thought this wonderful news would bring closure to an unpleasant 12-day journey and allow me to write a quick blog entry that would sum it all up. Instead, it’s been the longest and hardest to write. I had been spared the diagnosis of breast cancer but couldn’t shake the fact that many women would not be as fortunate. Their voices were the ones that really mattered. Had my story lost some of its credibility because of my good outcome? My writer’s block forced me to re-examine a lot of things and in the process I realized, in situations like these, all of our stories matter.
After the stereotactic biopsy, a radiologist sent me home with two titanium clips in my right breast (marking the biopsy site), an ice pack, and a large PINK tote bag. The pit in my stomach was immediate. Weren’t they jumping the gun here? I had at least 4 days until the pathology report but somehow I was already in the club. What I now realize is that, after an abnormal mammogram, I had already imagined myself in that club. The period from bad mammogram to biopsy results is the great equalizer. Before diagnosis we are all women waiting. We pray for good news, worry about bad and we don’t have the answer for days. Many of us use this time to think about what we love, value, need or miss in our lives. It can be painful but it can be important and enlightening if practiced in moderation. If you are a worrier like me, distraction can be your best friend during this time. Household chaos, kids, pets, blog deadlines, and the problems of others, helped keep me from obsessing about the “what ifs?”.
My anxiety climbed the closer I got to The Phone Call. I analyzed the afternoon away. Do they save bad news phone calls for last? I prayed for the phone to ring and when it did, I was too frightened to answer on the first ring. The receptionist asked me to hold for the doctor. No problem, what’s another surge of panic? Fortunately, anxiety is replaced with relief and joy when the next word you hear is “benign”. My body had fallen in line with the statistics. I was still a low risk woman.
In light of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new mammogram recommendations, some might say I went through all of this for nothing. I don’t agree. I wouldn’t be happy, but I’d even do it again if my physicians thought it was necessary—if I am allowed. The anxiety I experienced wasn’t constant or harmful and certainly not a reason to take a health risk and skip a biopsy. Sure, statistically I was fortunate but I’m not the only one in this equation. There is another woman out there who won’t be on the benign side of the statistics. Two days ago good news gave me my life back. Bad news can still be good news if it helps another woman save her life. After nearly two weeks of my own mammogram madness, I feel stronger than ever about the power of mammograms and the women who need them. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with titanium clips and a pink tote bag.
This is the third entry in a blog documenting the pre- and post-biopsy experiences of a "low risk" woman.