Somehow, I never quite get used to it. The hours between the biopsy and the results stretch out longer than just about any other hours. My mammogram this time was supposed to be biopsy needle free, breaking the trend that I have lived into: 2014: Mammogram with needle (cancer #1); 2015: Mammogram clear; 2016 Mammogram with needle (first biopsy said no, second biopsy 6 months later said no, but it was cancer #2 all the same); 2017: Mammogram clear. And now, 2018: what happens to the pattern? Mammogram with needle in my good breast. Now: waiting for the doctor to call back.
Tanya, my breast doctor this time, was kind and capable. She was on the fence about whether to biopsy the tiny little dark spot on the ultrasound. She stared at it, rubbing the ultrasound paddle back and forth. She talked with me about it. She compared it to last year’s ultrasound. She asked my surgeon Stan to come in (odd how good it was to see him). They decided on an FNA which I knew by now was a Fine Needle Aspiration—a smaller-needled biopsy. I sat afterwards in the ultrasound room, hands wrapped around the obligatory sweet milky tea that they offer to stave off the shock of the biopsy. This year I didn’t cry. I was shaking, but not as nauseous as last time. They didn’t think it was cancer, and they have always been right. In the past, when they tell me they’re worried, it’s cancer (of course, it’s always been cancer). They’ve never said, “I’m really not worried about that,” as they said this time. I flew back to my beautiful house in Paekakariki, to my insanely fluffy dog, to my friends and my fireplace. And I waited. “I’ll give you a call Wednesday,” she said.
And so, starting at about 2pm today, Wednesday, I began to get anxious. I carried my phone with me everywhere and jumped at every tone. But none of the tones were my doctor. I rang and they told me she had left for the day. The biopsy results are there at the office, but no one is around to give them to me. Maybe tomorrow.
This all makes me think of a few things. First of all, how much we hate not knowing. Michael at dinner said, “I wish we had found out today—it would be so much easier!”
“It would be so much easier as long as the biopsy is negative,” I reminded him. “I’m not sure it’s better to know you have cancer for an extra day.”
Second, how fast a life can change even as the body stays the same. If it’s cancer again, it didn’t just start on Monday, but Monday was the day that my life started to deal with it. If it’s not cancer, this body just stays the same and I go back to who I was, mostly. The answer exists even as the knowing does not. The answer doesn’t change when the knowing changes. But wow, the knowing changes me.
Finally, it makes me think about perspectives. This is the most important thing in my day, one of the most important things in my life. A positive biopsy means my life spins again—surgery, radiotherapy, more time sick and tired and cancerous. It might shorten my time on the planet. But my biopsy isn’t the most important thing in Tanya’s day or in Stan’s day. Today they would have seen patients much sicker than me, and they would have dealt with their own families and their own personal trials and joys. How often is it that something I do is the most important thing for someone else and I don’t notice? How often do I forget to answer an email that matters (lots—and I’m so so sorry) or return a phone call from a friend or a client? How often do I miss that something from me could have been the most important thing in the day of someone else? How could I miss that less often?
Last week my friend Doug died. Today on the other side of the world, his family and friends are grieving as his massive absence becomes more and more palpable. That’s the most important thing to them—and to so many others who have loved him. In every town around the world, there are pains and joys and discoveries that are the most important thing to each of them. And me, I’m just waiting for the doctor to call, hopefully tomorrow, to let me know that this year I don’t have cancer after all.
P.S. Now it’s tomorrow, and they called at long last, and I DON’T have cancer in my good breast. Not even the precancerous cells that past “clear” biopsies have pointed to (which eventually became cancer). So I’m breathing again. Let’s hear it for a fully clear, needleless mammogram next year!