Koala Bears and Biopsies

Two summers ago at the San Diego Zoo, as we left the Elephant Odyssey and headed for the Outback, my cell phone rang.

It was my doctor’s office, and a chipper Nurse Erin asked, “Hi Jennifer, I was just wondering if you’ve had a chance to book your biopsy yet?”

Um, excuse me? What biopsy?

A concerned Luc dragged the puzzled kids off to see the koalas while I spent a frantic half hour making long distance phone calls back to Ottawa (never mind the data to look up phone numbers online, never mind the time difference, never mind the roaming charges) to find out what the hell was going on.

It’s amazing how an entire zoo can disappear in a second as your entire being tries to focus on what a succession of people on the other end of the line thousands of miles away are telling you. Suspicious spot. Biopsy ASAP. We’ll get you in two days after you get back. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and try not to worry.

Seems my annual breast MRI, which I’d had done the week before we left for California, showed a suspicious spot on my right breast that needed further investigation. And since I’m in the High-Risk Program, “further investigation” doesn’t mean further imaging, like say an ultrasound, as it would for most women, but an automatic MRI-guided biopsy. And soon.

Unfortunately the hospital had left the message on our home machine while I was off on our two-week family vacation to the Golden State. My doctor’s office got concerned when they didn’t receive notification of the biopsy date and decided to give me a shout on my cell, not realizing I had no idea I even needed one.

Hence the crisis by the koalas.

So what did I do, after I scribbled down the details, hung up the phone, dried my eyes, and joined Luc and the kids on the other side of the Outback?

I enjoyed the rest of my holiday and tried not to worry.

Being considered “high-risk” for developing breast cancer leads to some pretty contradictory thought processes:

  • I’m thankful that I’m screened regularly enough (annual mammograms since I was 30, annual MRIs for the past 10 years) that nothing cancerous should ever be in my breasts for very long without getting noticed. But I also hate annual mammograms and MRIs with a passion.
  • I’m relieved every time my tests come back clear. But then I wonder whether they might have missed something.
  • I’m devastated every time another family member is diagnosed (my mom, her sisters, my cousins…). But then again, considering the family history, it’s not really a surprise.

And when you’re called back for a suspicious spot, well, you gear yourself up as much as you possibly can for bad news, while every fibre of your body hopes for good.

Until bad news ends up being no news.

For at my MRI-guided biopsy two days after arrving home from California, the suspicious spot was nowhere to be found.

Which, I guess, is good news.

A huge relief, yes. But it’s also, in a weirdly contradictory way, a let-down. Obviously not in the sense that I wanted them to find something. But part of me also wanted to scream, “Why the f— do you put me through all of these tests, and all of this stress, and all of this waiting, and all of this worrying (because, let’s face it, I may have looked like I was enjoying my holiday and not worrying, but on the inside I had myself sliced up, chemoed and dead), just to tell me it’s nothing!?!”

I know why, of course. Because some day it might really be something.

But still.

I’ve got this on my mind because this morning was my annual MRI. And now I wait (in town, of course) for 5 or 6 days for the results. Hoping there’s nothing, preparing myself for something, and praying that if there is something, it ends up being nothing.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.

And I really would have liked to have seen the koalas.




3 thoughts on “Koala Bears and Biopsies

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