I was sitting crouched on my sofa, with my chin on my knee and my chest leaning into to my leg, while working on my resume when I felt a piece of extra padding in my bra. I reached in to try to remove the obstruction and realized it was under the skin of my boob. It was bigger than the standard pea- size the self-breast examinations always asks you to look out for. I read up, on many websites, how to tell a cancerous lump from a benign one, always comforting myself with the fact that breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. I would wait a little bit to see if the lump would change after my period or until the new year to have it checked out.
My own GP could not work it in her schedule to see me when I needed her to check my breasts. I waited two months, in hope, the lump would go away only to find out my own doctor could not see me nor could her office suggest where I should go in her absence. I took matters into my own hands and asked my friend, Liz, a social worker, to recommend a doctor or clinic to go to, to have my lump checked. That’s how I ended up going to the Urgency Care Clinic at Women’s College Hospital. The triage nurse looked like she was giving me an “are you serious?” look when I told her why I was there. I gave her a look of desperation and told her I didn’t know where else to go because my doctor didn’t have time to see me and now was the best time of the month to check my breast. She admitted me after taking all my info and vitals.
After waiting a couple of hours, a young female resident came to examine me before calling in the doctor on the floor. She gave me a thorough breast exam and finally said, given my circumstances, she too would have come into the hospital if she found this lump. She got the doctor to come in and he too examined my breasts. He noted the another lump on the other side of my breast which I brushed off as, “my breasts are always lumpy.” He scheduled me to have an ultrasound and mammogram and explained a biopsy would be arranged a week or two later if it was needed. The doctor also told me to check in with triage nurse before I went for my ultrasound, so I could wait for the results afterwards.
A few weeks later, I took the afternoon off from my new job, as an art department coordinator, on another shitty tv show, to go to my ultrasound and first ever mammogram appointment. I went alone because I didn’t know any better and it would be the last appointment I would ever go alone to until after I started chemo. Landau, was my radiology tech who started me with a mammogram. My very first mammogram was painless enough with all the squeezing and compressing of my breasts in every which way to get a proper shot. Landau looked at the images and focused in on a couple of shots. Then finally on the lump I had indicated on my file. Because I could not decipher the hazy black and white image she was looking at, I asked her what she saw. “You seem to have a lot of cysts but I’m not sure,” and then she excused herself to see if she could find the radiologist to help her confirm her findings. As I got dressed, I remember feeling it was still okay, she just wanted to confirm the images were cysts not cancer. In the recesses of my mind, I calmed the notion that, it was always a bad sign if the tech left the room abruptly.
She returned a few minutes later explaining the radiology doctor might want to speak to me after for further tests. We proceeded to the ultrasound room I laid down on a gurney for Landau to begin recording more images. Again, I couldn’t make anything out from what I was seeing. It was all a blur of black, white, and grey but Landau made red pointers with her mouse over certain parts of the screen and on several different images as she moved her wand up and down my breast. When she was done she excused herself again to find the radiologist.
Both of them returned and the radiology doctor explained how she wanted to perform a biopsy on me right away, as she had time on her schedule that day, instead of waiting to do it in a week or two to do the same procedure. The doctor was so nonchalant telling me they needed a couple of samples to send their lab to verify exactly what my lump was made up of, along with placing a clip on my lump to facilitate locating it when further testing with an MRI, which they would also need. I agreed, but part of me wasn’t convinced about any of this coming to any delightful ending. I asked the radiologist, “How would you remove the clip if the lump turns out to be benign?” The radiologist and Landau turned to look at one another and paused for a nano second but she came back quickly enough assuring me tons of people are able to live with the clip inside them as it was so minute. And again, I hushed my subconscious. Hoping. Praying. This would not end badly.
I laid down on the gurney beside the ultrasound monitor once more. Landau swabbed my chest with a local anesthestic while the radiology doctor organized her four or five 18 inch long needles. As she inserted the first needle into my breast my eyes were wide-eyed glaring at the monitor. With every needle, every clipping, every snapping sound made with retrieving a sample, my eyes grew wider, my upper lip inched further down toward my chin, my heart beat faster, louder, as I watched the silently mortified, in fascination. The doctor, looking over at me, thought she was hurting me. I was quiet, when I shook my head, indicating I didn’t feel any physical pain. She promised it would only be a couple of more needles and we would be done as I felt the sharp point moving inside my breast “HURRY!” I screamed in my head while holding my breath.
Landau cleaned my chest, placed two small surgical bandages, where the needles were inserted, on my boob. She helped me sit up and gave me another hospital gown to replace the one stained with my blood before walking me out to some chairs outside of the waiting room. We needed to go back and take two extra mammogram images and someone wanted to speak to me about a research trial for a contrast dye used for MRIs. Landau went to check on the mammogram room when a young blonde woman, who was full of cheerful pep, was introduced to me and asked if I would be interested in participating in their research, how the study would not affect my receiving a MRI appointment in a timely matter, all they needed was my consent, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. For the most part, I held it together while listening to her, but I told her, “This is a little too much for me to take in right now. Could we discuss this at another time?” and tears started to roll down my cheeks. Swooping in, Landau came back just in time to drag me back to the Mammogram room where she gave me brown paper towel to wipe my tears. Though Landau insisted I wait to discuss my results with my GP, I told her I preferred to go downstairs to the Urgency Care Clinic to wait for my results. Just as the the doctor-on-call had instructed me a few weeks back.
I went through the triage nurse again who happened to be the same nurse as I had the first time I had come in. Just like the first time, she asked me why I was there. I told her I just came from having an ultrasound, mammogram and a biopsy and how I was there a few weeks ago, for a lump on my chest, and how the doctor-on-call had told me to come back for my test results after my appointment upstairs. She wanted to know which exam I had first. “Ultrasound. No mammogram… I had a mammogram, then an ultrasound, then we had another mammogram after having a biopsy.” The nurse asked where the lump was and I broke down sobbing telling her they “clipped” me in the biopsy and I wasn’t really sure what the clipping meant… The nurse looked up at me from the chart she was filling out and her no-nonsense demeanor changed. “I remember you,” she said “you came in about 3 weeks ago, about the lump on your breast, right?” I nodded between sobs. The nurse tried to reassure me breast cancer had come a long way especially with reconstruction and all, but I didn’t want any consoling. I wanted my test results. She took out her blood pressure gauge wrapped my left arm in the band and clipped a peg on my right index finger. The machine beeped rapidly almost instantly! Nurse took the peg off my finger asked me to take a couple of breaths to calm down. She placed the peg back on my finger. Again, BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP!!!!! We tried again but I wasn’t calming down any faster. The nurse threw up her arms, it was useless to get a proper vital readings from me at this point.
She let me into the emergency room anyhow and into a quiet room all to myself, where I cried my eyes out, with a small box of what I have come to label as “sandpaper”which I have realized, all hospitals like to call “facial tissues.” I’m not kidding even a little bit on this. My eyes were raw from wiping with their “tissues.” Before work, the next morning, I had to conceal the purple around my eyes with a good layer of base foundation and powder. If there was any lesson I took away, from that day alone, it was definitely to bring my own facial tissue supply for all future medical appointments!
I waited and sobbed for over two and a half hours before I saw the doctor on duty. He told me the results would not be ready for a couple of days and would be sent to my GP but he would have someone from the Breast Centre contact me when results were in.