When a woman’s mammogram confirms a lump must be further scrutinized by a biopsy, it’s difficult to squelch the imagination and stop oneself from conjuring up countless worst case scenarios. Women are particularly adept at imagining the worst and anticipating a biopsy can be pretty darn frightening. I think it’s more the idea of needles and malignancies that is terrifyingly unsettling. Just the terms core needle biopsy, fine needle aspiration, vacum-assisted breast biopsy, incisional biopsy and excisional biopsy sound pretty darn daunting.
While I cannot pretend I was not terrified before my biopsy, I did perhaps surprisingly discover my biopsy experience itself was not that bad. I would not have had to be so anxious about the procedure itself.
Whoever came up with the idea to open up “breast centers” devoted to this type procedure was a genius. My mother had a biopsy at the Fairview Southdale Hospital Breast Center in Bloomington, MN and mine was done at the Hers Breast Center of Luther Midlefort Hospital in Eau Claire, WI. Both of these facilities go out of their way to make the procedure as easy as possible on a woman.
At the Hers Breast Center there was beautiful stained-glass artwork in the windows, coffee simmering and relaxing music and lighting. The nurses and technicians wore regular clothing and even the changing rooms exuded warmth in the deep-colored rich wooden cabinetry. Femininity, kindness, respect and compassion seemed to be mixed right in with the decor. There was respect and empathy without pity. Breast center staff members understand women, breasts, cancer, fear and anxiety. They know they have no control over what the results of a biopsy might be, but they can control the procedure itself. I don’t think I have ever been treated as kindly and gently as I was that day.
I had an ultra-sound guided core needle biopsy. Once changed into my pink flowered gown, I was instructed to lie down on a narrow table that felt like I would roll off if I moved around or even blinked an eye. I was covered with a warm blanket which immediately relaxed me and I noticed the procedure room was also dimly lit and filled with pictures of flowers, seashells and other nature stuff. The only discomfort I felt was a slight stinging as the local anesthetic was injected, which thankfully took effect immediately.
“I’m going to take the first sample now,” my radiologist calmly informed me mere minutes later. Immediately there was a popping sound, sort of like a nail or staple gun shooting off. That’s when the sample was cut, sucked up, collected and saved to be analyzed. It sounded way worse than it felt. Five or six samples the size of tiny grains of rice were taken and each time I jumped a bit even though I knew what was coming. The jolts were startling and unexpected, but not painful. “Be sure you get enough,” was my comment. “I don’t want to come back.”
I watched the whole procedure on a computer screen observing my new enemy, the shadowy looking clump of darkness, that would determine my future. Ten or fifteen minutes later the procedure was over. After a short recovery which included plenty of time for instructions and questions, my husband and I were on our way home.
If you find a lump, don’t put off a mammogram or totally freak out about a biopsy. You can at least rest assured your experience will be made as easy for you as possible. Try not to let your imagination drive you crazy!
Have you had a biopsy or do you know someone who has? If so, what was your experience like?
PREPARING FOR A BIOPSY
1. Reveiw your mammogram results with your doctor and look at the area in question.
2. Biopsies are not emergencies, so plan it to fit around your schedule (NO, this is NOT an excuse to put it off!).
3. Understand the different types of biopsies and learn what kind you are having and WHY.
4. Ask how long it will take to get results and how you will receive them.
5. Plan to have someone drive you if at all possible.
6. Get all of your questions answered before signing any forms.
7. Plan to do little when you get home, you’ll need rest and ice.
8. Try not to imagine every possible worst-case scenario and remember you WILL survive a biopsy!