The days between finding out the results of my mammograms (bilateral BI-RADS category 4 microcalcifications = suspicious for malignancy) and the biopsies done yesterday, I behaved very unlike me. I did not eat to soothe my anxiety. In fact, I had almost no anxiety until the day before when I started feeling what I can only described as “scared”. When pressed by my spouse to talk about it, the feeling came from being out of control of a medical situation, having my body touched, being exposed. All normal things that most people in a patient role experience, but some of us have more issues than others about our bodies. I am one of them.
For years I spent my life with my head cut off from the rest of me – literally. Probably explains why it was so easy to gain 100 pounds during my medical residency as I lost what little contact with my physical self that I had from vigorous sports. To keep the numbness going, I started binge eating after 36 hours of work (ah, the good ol’ days). Then bingeing became a way of dealing with stress in general.
One way I tried to control my life was through knowledge, understanding, problem solving. Free kindergarten did not exist when and where we lived when I was 5, so my Dad started teaching me to read and do math at a very young age. I quickly learned that the world seemed much easier to control if I could wrap my little brain around facts and put them together. Makes for a school-smart kid. Doesn’t necessarily help make one a complete person. He also taught me to play football, baseball/softball and from there I took off on every sport I could participate in. Great stress reduction to move one’s body. My family was extraordinarily loving. Still I split my head from my body.
Fast forward to last week when faced, literally, with my mammograms while talking with the radiologist. All the things that I know, that I researched and taught others to do when faced with medical decisions flew out the window. I didn’t ask enough questions. I stammered around trying to act like a doctor and a patient, trying to keep the detachment in my brain from the obvious physical abnormalities staring at me from the radiology view boxes. After calling Sue and realizing how totally numb that I felt, I went to Starbucks with iPad in hand to research the radiographic findings and get a little soothed from some mocha and caffeine (my one sugar treat). I couldn’t do it. I wrote the last blog post instead. I talked to my Mom (um, she’s dead, so it was a one-sided conversation). Then I steeled myself for the binge urge – it never came. Emotions never came until Sunday night when that feeling of being out of control hit hard.
Segue to yesterday at the radiologists’ office – an amazingly woman-centered environment. With Sue in tow, we arrived early. Suddenly Sue (who had her own breast cancer scare 4 years ago) tells me that the doc doing my biopsies went to the same medical school that we did! Why should that be so comforting? She might still be a jerk – many physicians are. She was wonderful – answered what questions I had and more that I hadn’t thought of; thoroughly explained the procedure; and then spent the entire time (it took 2.5 hours because, well both sides and it takes time to position, repeat pictures, etc.) talking with me as a human and a colleague. We yapped about medicine, Tucson, Texas, public health. I stayed in my head entirely. This time being able to disconnect from the neck down was very adaptive. Only today when I took off my sports bra did I realize how much time my breasts had spent under compression. How stiff one can get from lying like a pretzel wrapped around a machine for a couple of hours. How much pain you can ignore until the stress is gone. Ow, my neck hurts. My shoulders hurt. My boobs – fine as long they stay supported. My emotional state is good also. I don’t feel numb but am eager/anxious to find out the results by Thursday and move on from there.
For anyone who has to have a breast biopsy in the future let me reassure you that the procedure (stereotactic vacuum assisted core biopsy) is relatively painless compared to the old days of sticking a 14-gauge needle in and poking around.
This post has been more stream-of-consciousness than usual. Good for me, not so good for the reader. If you made it to the bottom of the post, I promise not to do this again – until the next time that I do. 🙂