2 The Biopsy

This was just the start of my journey but nonetheless, confronting and traumatic to a degree.

I went to the radiology clinic and had a variety of mammograms, on both breasts, from every possible angle. There was then a period of waiting before I had an ultrasound on the left breast – they had found something and were pinpointing it’s location. I then had to wait again for a doctor to become available to do a tissue biopsy.

So I was laying on  my back, in a robe, while the male doctor, who could have used some lessons in bedside manner, used the ultrasound probe to find the area he was looking for. So, lots of gel over the breast and running the probe back and forth over it. He asked the nurse what the first indication was – she said ”an inverted nipple”. He said “It doesn’t look inverted” – and at this moment I realised he was a bit of a twat – and I said as calmly as I could – “That’s because you’ve just been rubbing the ultrasound probe over it”. Did he not know how nipples work? Honestly his opinion was irrelevant anyway because there was obviously something there.

I asked what they had found and they said it was an ‘area of calcification’. I asked what caused that, and the doctor said, ‘That’s what we’re trying to find out’ – so I knew immediately it could be cancer. (Sure enough, when I googled it at home, cancer was one of the causes. But I told myself it probably wasn’t cancer and was able to stay calm until I got the results.)

The biopsy consisted of shooting a metal tube into my breast, then removing it with the tissue inside. They gave me a local so it didn’t particularly hurt, but it made a loud snapping sound (like a big stapler) that made me jump every time. ‘Try and stay still,’ the doctor said. ‘I can’t help it’ I said (thinking, you twat). They shot the thing into me six times. About half way through the blood started to run from the wound. The nurse kind of mopped it up but in the meantime some of it ran down to the back of my neck and pooled there. It was not a pleasant sensation.

During the procedure my gown moved around and exposed my other breast. I covered it again but it was the first instance where I’d have to bare my breasts to complete strangers.

So they slapped a dressing on me and mopped up some of the blood, and gave me a flannel to clean myself up properly. I felt wrung out. A massive bruise came up in the next few days that hung around for about a week. I took the dressing off that night and had a bugger of a time stopping the bleeding from the wound. In hindsight I should have kept the dressing on for a few days, but had received no instructions to this effect. I’ve been left with a small scar there.

To add insult to injury, a few months later I got an overdue bill notice from the clinic. I rang up (as I had paid on the day) and the lady on the other end discovered it was a problem with the claim from Medicare, not me. Problem sorted, I thought.

Until next month, when I got another overdue notice. I rang again. Explained the situation again. Hoped it was sorted this time.

The third notice came while I was doing chemo. I scrawled across the bill, “This is a problem with Medicare, not me! Check your file!! I’m doing chemo I don’t need this crap!” (or something to that effect). It worked. I haven’t heard from them since.


Weird things that are now normal

Since going through chemotherapy and enforced menopause, my body does not behave in the same way it used to! Here are some things that will take some getting used to.

  1. Having a hairy face. All the hair on my body has grown back well, including the soft, light downy hair on my face. When the light catches it from behind it can look like a beard! I’ve taken to trimming it with scissors. Guess I’d better watch for the moustache next.
  2. Having to get up in the night to pee. No matter how much I avoid liquids in the hours before bedtime, I will wake up in the night with a nagging bladder – usually around 3 or 4am. I try to ignore it – until the point I’m fully awake and can’t ignore it any longer. This makes me feel really old!
  3. Sensitivity to heat. As well as the regular (but mild) hot flashes, I find the hot weather difficult to cope with now – I used to love it. I’ve been getting sensations of prickly heat over my arms and legs this summer, which makes them feel itchy.

Not the worst things that could happen, and of course being alive is worth it! But I literally feel like a different person now. Or the same person in a different body.

1 In the beginning

2017 was shaping up to be a great year. As a high school teacher, I had 4 classes teaching my favorite subject, Biology. These classes were with the older students who were generally keen to learn and easy to manage. I had also recently come into a small inheritance from the sale of a family property.  I was able to clear a lot of debt – accumulated from 10 years of single parenthood – and have some savings left over. I was planning to take my long service leave at the end of the year and take a dream trip to Europe with a girlfriend.

I had a sense that this year was going to bring something new and different, that there was going to be some change involved. I have a strong faith in God and secretly wondered if this was the year I was going to meet someone I could share my life with. I hadn’t dated for a few years but trusted God had someone in mind for me. Had the time finally come?

Well as it turns out, no. It was around March that I noticed my left nipple had become partially inverted. I waited a little while to see if it would correct itself, as I know sometimes these changes are only hormonal. When it didn’t, it was off to the GP, who sent me for a days worth of tests including mammogram, ultrasound and tissue biopsy.

I got the phone call from the doctors office when I was between classes one Wednesday afternoon. The receptionist in a very calm and friendly voice told me the doctor wanted to see me straight away. I said I didn’t have an appointment and she replied that was OK, they would fit me in when I got there. My mind went into shock for about 5 minutes. I knew it wasn’t good news. Somehow I managed to collect myself enough to teach the next class – although in quiet moments, my mind went back to worrying.

I went straight to the doctors after work. She told me I had cancer. She had the mammogram and showed me the tiny white dots. And that was literally all she could tell me. She needed to see me urgently to get my permission to refer me to the Breast Clinic at the hospital. They would be able to tell me more there.

The next two weeks before the Breast Clinic appointment were two of the most stressful weeks of my life. The emotional rollercoaster was exhausting. My teenage daughter was living with me, and I kept the news from her, wanting to spare her the worry that I was going through myself. I had gone straight from the GP to my girlfriends house who had been very reassuring and pragmatic. It was really hard to stop my brain going galloping off to a worst case scenario. I probably was not the best teacher in those two weeks!