Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend we knew that Tuesday was going to be a biopsy. A breast biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure to take pieces of a tumor to determine if it is cancerous or not. That was a three day weekend. The longest and fastest three day weekend ever.
Tuesday morning came.
My husband drove to the hospital. We had driven past it a multitude of times, always remarking how pretty and pastoral and serene it seemed. This was the first time going in. He drove in and asked where we should park. Then we both saw it, there was a building with a huge sign reading Breast and GYN Cancer Pavilion. We looked at each other and parked in front of that building. He joked that this was the worst game of Let’s Make a Deal ever and would like to choose a different building, he knows what is in that one.
He doesn’t remember the long pause walking in like I do, we just walked in. He remembers the lady giving us water and telling us where to go, but not as warmly as I do. He also says the elevators are freakishly fast, even to this day. He also liked that the doctor talked to us for a while before the exam.
This is the point where our accounts differ considerably.
We went to the room to get the biopsy. According to him we sat there for about a year waiting for her to come back. The room was small and uncomfortable and there was a lot of equipment in it, he wondered if it was a storage room with a dual purpose.
The doctor came back in and started putting things together explaining as she went. He says the doctor pulled out a huge needle, the biggest he had ever seen. He felt when a needle is that size it should be called a pipe, that it is no longer a needle at all. They jammed it in me about 8-10 inches and collected samples.
It sounded like a sewing machine, but different. They collected samples in jars that were carefully sealed and labeled. They did this in quite a few places. Showed him on the ultrasound where she was sampling and tagging. She was putting tags on the tumors for a future MRI so that they would be able to find the spot again because there was going to be swelling and inflammation that could make it difficult to find later.
She explained to him that this was all going to get her the best information for diagnosis and the more accurate the diagnosis, the better the treatment plan. She assured him that this was caught early. She reassured him that she knew what she was doing and that he could trust her that they were going to be working together to get through this.
After about a day of sampling she was finally done. He remembers looking at me and ‘waking me up’ so that we could go back to the original exam room and finally get out of this smothering and small room. That is when he noticed that his hands were sweating profusely from holding mine during the procedure.
Back in the exam room he helped me change back into regular clothing. He was sure all of the bruising was going to be painful and asked the doctor for advice on what to do about it. She handed him the cold pack to be used later if we can’t get to ice and a few packages of over the counter pain pills. He missed that she had given me an ice pack already and showed me how to place it for maximum effect. He doesn’t really remember anything between that conversation and being back in the car.
He recalls asking if I wanted lunch as he looked at the clock in the car, it was reading 9:25 am. He looked at me and said that it was still too early for lunch. He said that he was surprised since we had waited so long in every room—and what did I think about the needle? He was taken a little aback by me not recalling any of that, he was a little worried. He told me all about it, physical details, doctor commentary and his thoughts and feelings at the time, all of it.
Each time he tells the story we waited a little bit longer and the needle is a little bit bigger and it went a little bit deeper and it look even more time. By the time we have grandchildren it is going to be a heck of a tale.
He isn’t normally like that. He typically tells a story pretty much the same each time, except this one. He typically tells just the observable facts, not his thoughts or feelings on the matter, except this one. It is strange that this story gets a little more colorful each time he tells it, not much, just a little more colorful. He does that with the traumatic events in our daughters’ lives as well, thankfully they are few and far between. He only has a handful of experiences where the stories grow just a little bit each time he tells them, almost like he is reliving it and somehow exaggerating it makes it easier.
It is easy to forget that the people who love and live with the person with cancer aren’t just bystanders at the scene– they are in it too, in a very real way. It is taking a toll on them as well. There are resources for caregivers and family as well, not as abundantly as you would hope, but they exist and are growing.
I imagine any critical illness takes its toll on all those who love the person with the diagnosis. When describing this I say that cancer entered our family, our family dealt with cancer. That is why we want to create Survivor Sherpa, to help carry the load for the family along with the person in treatment so they can deal with healing from cancer so they can all thrive after treatment.