I wasn't going to write about this because it feels too personal, but a friend reached out after I had checked in to St. Peter's Hospital in Albany a couple weeks ago. I regret that now because a lot of folks messaged and it wasn't really anything I wanted to talk about after. I think I was just sharing an anxiety moment at the time. I was more afraid of being at the hospital during the time of Covid-19 than the reason I had to go. But her own message of fear and asking me to share has me sitting down to write about it now.
I was there first for a breast exam, and the next day a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. I wasn't going to call my doctor at all, but I had been experiencing pain to where it was waking me up at night if I rolled over onto my left side. I do self breast exams but the area was so painful I couldn't press hard enough to get a read on what I was feeling.
Less than a month ago I lost one of my girlfriends of 25 years to breast cancer. She fought so hard and for so long, and it was the day after she passed away I knew I had to call my doctor. I couldn't put it off anymore.
My appointments were scheduled immediately. I had told her I could wait until things are "back to normal" and her response was: "Absolutely not. We do not wait when it comes to breast cancer." My heart dropped a little but I knew despite the health risks, I had to go.
So yesterday morning I went to St. Peter's Hospital Breast Care Center for the biopsies and I was prepared with my Fierce As Fuck bracelet given to me by one of my best friends for moments I need the reminder. The mammogram and ultrasound showed four distinct "masses" or "lobulations" so material would be taken from all four. When I arrived, my temperature was taken immediately at the door and then I went up to the third floor for my appointment. I changed into the gown, face-mask in place, and sat in the empty waiting area until they called me in. My husband was not allowed in the hospital with me.
After only a few minutes, a nurse came to get me and I was brought into the room where the biopsies would take place. I was nervous but the staff was great - comforting, funny, and willing to explain everything down to the minute details. The radiologist came in after I was prepared on the table and I liked him immediately. It's an uncomfortable position literally and figuratively, but he and the two nurses were very kind and thankfully everyone had a great sense of humor.
The first step was injecting the area with lidocaine. It took less than a minute for the area to be completely numb, and even when the doctor had to "go deeper" with the needle, I didn't feel it. It was just a bit of pressure. The next step was the biopsy. The doctor showed me what it would sound like when he was collecting the actual material from the masses so that it wouldn't startle me. That helped a lot. He did three or four and I didn't feel anything at all. The third step was inserting a metal tag (marker) of sorts that will show up on future mammograms and ultrasounds indicating material had been collected from the area in the future. (I asked, it does not show up on airport metal detectors!)
The next step in the procedure room was pushing on the area to ensure the marker was in the proper place. This, I felt more than the biopsies. I did bleed quite a bit yesterday after I was home, and once the lidocaine wore off, it was very sore but nothing a couple ibuprofen and an ice pack didn't help with.
The very last step was a mammogram of the breast to ensure the marker was indeed in the correct location. Thankfully I was still numb!
As you can see, the area was nice and clean immediately after, and the right photo is what I woke up to this morning. It was a little bit shocking but I'm continuing to ice it and it feels fine.
Let me say this if you're still scared or nervous... it was easier (less pain) than many paps I've had over the years.
The worst part of all of this, of course, is the waiting. From the very moment I realized the pain isn't normal, to the biopsies yesterday, waiting has been the hardest part.
I hope sharing this experience will help other women be less afraid of the procedure itself. A couple years ago I wrote about my first mammogram and was pleasantly surprised about how 'simple' it was. It's so important for us to take care of ourselves and early detection can be a life saver, but there is still much work to do and research to take place. Please don't ever be afraid to reach out to your doctors if you're unsure of what you're experiencing or if something just doesn't feel right.
Things are incredibly stressful right now but please take care of your health. Your doctors can help you decide if visiting them or a hospital is worth it during this time.
Be safe and be well.