What a biopsy is like. Inside and out.
Many of you know that I had a biopsy recently. It was a very interesting and scary experience, so I’ve decided to write about it in the event that it helps someone else who may go through something similar. Writing about things also helps me to process them. For the record, in case it doesn’t come across in the re-telling, the medical staff at Lynn Sage were amazing. I will warn you that this is a long one with few pictures.
Unless you have an extensive family history of breast cancer, the recommendation is that you get your first mammogram when you’re forty years old. I hit forty and started doing all of the medical things that you’re supposed to do after I had finished up healing my running injury, which occupied a lot of my headspace at the time.
I did my annual gynecologist visit in November and for some reason just … assumed that it would all happen at the same time. Seems naive now that I think about it, but I thought, ‘it’s all lady stuff, shouldn’t all the lady stuff happen at once?’ Being a woman is complicated. They gave me the number to call and get the imaging appointment.
I went for my first mammogram in December, which was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. The woman doing my imaging knew that it was my first time and did a really good job of explaining things to me and answering any questions that I had. After we were done, she said, “now, usually when you get your annual mammogram, they’ll compare the images to your previous ones. Since this is your first one, they don’t have anything to compare anything to, so don’t get freaked out if they call you back to have another check. They just don’t know what they’re looking at is all. They have nothing to compare it to because… well, it's your first one!”
I left feeling pretty good about getting it all done. When they called me back several weeks later to come back for additional imaging, I wasn’t alarmed. I figured that it was just what the lady said, they just needed to look at things again. I made my appointment figuring if it was anything really scary they would have had me in immediately, not several days later.
There was a differently lady doing my imaging this time around. Once we were in the room, she quickly showed me one of my images from before and showed me a clearly visible cluster. “We just want to get some closer looks at this spot in the left breast. Looks like some calcification, but we just need to be sure,” she said. I won’t say that I was alarmed at this point, but there was a feeling of … oh… there’s an actual thing there that we need to look at… Oh. Probably no big deal. (I will mention that one of my maternal aunts had a bout of breast cancer in her fifties - she’s fine now - so my genetic history is not completely squeaky clean.)
I will say that the second mammogram was MUCH more uncomfortable than the first. I’m not sure if they had to squish more to get the picture that they needed or what, but at one point they had the squish machine angled so that I could see how many pounds of pressure they were putting and it was close to 13!! Ow. Then, after we thought I was done, she had to come back and get me for another picture because somehow my gown had been caught in the last one. I was sore for a very long time.
After that I was waiting for a short while. They told me that the doctor would look at my images immediately and that someone would come and talk to me before I left. Meanwhile I was texting with one of my aunts and my mom about what was going on. I was told I could get dressed and then shown into a room to wait for the doctor. While I was in the room, I heard the doctor talking to someone just outside the door and I heard her say “I’m just going to talk to her about the biopsy.”
I experienced a visceral reaction and had to talk myself out of immediate tears. Which I was able to do. No reason to cry just yet. Don’t even know what this is about. Probably nothing. Etc. By the time the doctor got into the room I was poker-faced. She told me that there was a spot of calcification that they needed to check out because they couldn’t say definitively that it was not ‘something.’ It’s possible that it had been there forever, but they needed to be sure. Did I have any questions?
I asked the practical questions about doing my job and she said I was to specifically avoid doing activities like kickboxing and yoga for at least 48 hours after the biopsy. I told her I could try and schedule it before my days off maybe. I can’t remember what else was asked or answered, but I know that it was a very short ‘meeting.’ I remember her saying not to be too worried about it although she knew that I probably was. “I’m not worried,” I remember thinking, “everyone keeps saying that this is not unusual, I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
I texted updates to my mom and my aunt and they began asking questions and my mom began googling what a calcification was. When I went in to see the scheduling lady, she was very chipper and friendly. She was an active person herself and we talked honestly about what I might be able to do right afterward. It made me feel a little better. “Can I run the day after?” “See how you feel.” “When can I start lifting weights?” “Nothing for the first two days, but you should be fine by the third.” The first available biopsy was Friday February 1st, I chose the afternoon appointment so that I could finish my workday, then have a couple of rest days with no lifting.
For the next two weeks, I tried to forget about it. There was nothing I could do at this point. I had scheduled the appointment and worrying about it was going to be the opposite of helpful. I also had a lot of other things going on that I will elaborate on in future entries. I was great for most of those two weeks and didn’t even tell many people that it was happening. I actually never intended to. Two days before, I started gradually freaking out.
I was freaking out in a very controlled manner. I had a lot going on the week before and I channeled my nervous energy by really throwing myself into those things and being overly anal about them. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that I was trying to exert control over events that I might actually be able to influence. I may have even known that on some level at the time, but I couldn’t stop myself.
I didn’t talk about the biopsy much other than to ask Dean if he had thought about what we might do in the event that it turned out I had cancer. We had a brief, very practical and non-emotional conversation about practical work-type things and then dropped it. I believe I mentioned plans to move my workouts around to accommodate the recommendations to take it easy the day after. We thought we might go out to dinner afterward if I felt up to it, or order in. Do something kind of like ‘yay, that’s done.’ My mom talked to me a day or two before and asked if Dean was going to go with me. I said he was going to be at work and she asked if he would meet me afterward. I thought about it and realized that he only worked a block or so away and that it was possible that he could meet me. So we planned on that.
The day of the biopsy was a full work day, in addition to other things, so I was busy enough to put it out of my mind at least while I was working. It was after I was done and heading to the hospital that I started to getting emotionally upset. It’s here that I’ll mention that I was due to start my period the day after the biopsy. I hadn’t considered this when I was scheduling it, just took the first available day. It was also during that crappy vortex week in Chicago, so I had not been on my bike in two weeks. Less exercise, worse period. At least, that’s how it usually is for me. I had done my best with my diet and indoor exercise, been good on my Vitamin D and used my Happy Light, but my hormones were low, I had very little filter and all of the feels that I had pushed away were now able to take over.
I will reiterate that the staff at Lynn Sage were awesome. Even though I was probably one of the worst versions of myself; scared, emotional, laconic, they were nothing but friendly and warm. I was also already uncomfortable in my body due to water retention and was not looking forward to feeling worse about it.
The doctor I met to explain things was different than the previous ones. She also, unwittingly, further exacerbated my emotional state by telling me that I should not even attempt exercise for five to seven days. “They usually say two or three, but I just like to extend it to the full five to seven. We don’t want any tearing or risk of infection.” I asked again about work and she told me to do as little as possible and wear a very tight, supportive sports bra. No lifting, no yoga, etc. If you’re someone who is used to, and enjoys, daily exercise and movement, you’ll realize how upsetting this was. It was like sandpaper on already raw emotions.
Now, the biopsy itself. If you haven’t had one, this is how it went for me. You get on a table, face down, with your boob sticking through a hole. They raise the table up so that they can work underneath you. There was only lady who was by my head the whole time, basically patting me and letting me know what was happening. She also handed me kleenex because I had tears going the entire time. Then they squish your boob and kind of stretch it out and clean off your skin. They take another x-ray so that they know where they’re going, then you get an injection of local anesthetic. Then you get the actual biopsy. They take another x-ray to make sure they got a good sample, they put in a metal ‘marker’ (a very small thing that will show up in your next mammogram to tell them that this area has been checked, or if they have to go in and remove anything, gives them a clear picture of where to go) then you get released. One lady kept pressure on the area for a few minutes, then you go into another room and get one more x-ray. This part is fuzzy for me for some reason. You get a big thing of gauze put on and they hand you a bag of ice packs and you get dressed. You’re supposed to wear a really supportive bra and you’re supposed to wear one to bed. I think you’re supposed to stick one of those ice packs in your bra on your way out, but I didn’t. Then you get let go.
They tell you that they’ll let you know in two business days. Since it was a Friday I wasn’t supposed to find out until Tuesday, maybe Monday afternoon.
I was out an hour before Dean was due to be off work. I decided I just wanted to get home. I felt really gross (oh, yeah, you can’t shower for 24 hours, no bathing or full submersion into water for 7 days) and uncomfortable.
I was so emotionally raw from both the biopsy and the other things that were going on at the same time, that I did end up posting on social media. I usually tell myself that looking for a ‘feelings band-aid’ through this medium is not effective or helpful, but this time, I am glad I did it. Not only did I have a lot of people posting support right on the platform, but I had several people reach out to me directly (one friend even came over and brought wine) and tell me their own stories so that I felt less alone. I even heard from people that I hadn’t heard from in a very long time, which was nice. That’s what social media should be for.
The days immediately after weren’t great. (I did start my period on time.) Again, other things going on weren’t going to let up just because I was feeling crappy and emotional, so we dealt with those. I did take it easy on Saturday other than going for a walk that morning, but Sunday it was 45 degrees, so I tried to run. I didn’t get very far before I stopped and walked. Not only was I starting to feel uncomfortable, but there was a lot of ice on the ground. If I slipped and fell, that would be the worst. We went to the store at one point and I picked up a 2 liter or something with my left hand and realized right away why we weren’t supposed to do any lifting for a few days afterward. It was very weird asking Dean to move things around or carry things when normally I would have just done it myself.
Monday was a long day of classes and I definitely exercised my cuing muscles and used advanced students as demo when necessary during yoga classes. During kickboxing I eventually just decided to level with my students and tell them that I wasn’t going to be fully extending with my left arm. Some combos, I just turned around and mirrored them and did it on the right twice. By Wednesday I was fine.
Everything is still technicolor down there and I was still sore for several days, but it was diminishing and getting better, so no cause for alarm. Best of all, the results came in Monday afternoon and the biopsy sample was benign. I posted about that as well, since so many people had reached out with support.
The relief I felt afterward was so apparent that I decided to write about it. I didn’t realize how upset or freaked out I was until after it was all over and I was NOT upset and freaked out. I think I was also really trying to not make it a big deal. Anyone I did tell, I was like, “this is happening, but I’ll be fine.” I’m not saying that was the wrong or right way to handle it, but that’s definitely what I did.
I’m super happy and lucky that mine turned out okay, but if there is anyone out there who is going through this kind of waiting period and wants to talk, I’m happy to answer questions. I’m also happy to just let you talk about it. Or just give a (gentle) hug.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening.