Just to be clear, I was not the victim of a violent crime. What I had done to me on Friday was a stereotactic biopsy of my right breast after my abnormal mammogram the previous week. This is what I needed to get done for my second opinion from the surgeon, who I still have not met.

stereotactic biopsy is considered a non-invasive procedure (more on that later) in which they compress your breast with the mammography machine before using a needle to take samples of the suspicious tissue so they can send these samples to the lab for testing. I suppose it’s less invasive than going in surgically and cutting out a chunk of your breast to see what’s going on in there, but they are still jabbing a needle into your breast. If you’ve ever been punched in the boob, you can sympathize with what I will be describing here.

I’d asked my mom if she would drive me, and she arrived with my grandma and my sister-in-law in tow. They were to be my entourage for the event. All of the people at the imaging place thought this was great that I had so much support. (If they only knew about all my Facebook well wishers!)

I got a more stylish half-gown this time.

Half-Gown Selfie Before My Biopsy

They took me back to the mammography room, where Ruth had friends with her this time. There was another nurse/technician named Karen, as well as an observing pre-radiology student from a local college. (“Want to observe a stereotactic biopsy?” they said. “These are quick and easy,” they said.) And then there was the doctor who was performing the biopsy, whose name I cannot actually remember. He was nice though. He and Ruth have apparently worked together for 23 years. And he said I’m only a few years older than his daughter. That’s when I pointed out that my friend Amanda is even younger than me, and that she was probably at that moment getting chemo for her breast cancer, which is what convinced me to see my doctor about my lump in the first place.

Because I promised people a picture of the very comfy chair I was promised:

The Comfy Chair, lit in purple glow

I confess…it looks more like a chair you’d see in a haunted house than something very comfortable. The chair itself wasn’t actually particularly comfortable, but the super squishy pillows they stuffed between my and the chair to get me properly positioned made it super comfy.

So they sat me in the chair, got me adequately propped up with pillows, and began trying to position me. This involves leaning forward, placing your exposed breast on the platform, letting the technicians move your breast around, sitting back while they adjust the machine, and starting the whole process all over again. Oh, and I forgot to mention the part where they bring the squishing mechanism down really hard to see if they can get a good picture of where your suspicious mass is. And as much of a wuss as I am about pain, I tend to be quite stoic when medical professionals are nearby. Of course it was the most painful position they finally settled on for the best access to my lump. I’ve never known anyone horrible enough to give me a purple nurple, but I think I now know what that feels like.

They asked me “Are you okay?” about a million times. Maybe a million and a half by the time all was said and done. They did not ask me if I was okay in the first minute and a half of my breast squishing torture as they were examining the image and doing calibrations. Which is just as well. As Ruth had told me it would happen, I “got used to” the sensation after a minute or two, and the discomfort was bearable. I was, however, lamenting the fact that I’d forgotten to take my Valium ahead of time.

Here’s the mammography machine, which looks all pretty when illuminated in the pink light it gives off:

Mammogram Machine lit in purple light

I just sat there “chilling” for a while both before and after the doctor entered the room. I don’t know how long it took before he came over and gave me the lidocaine. Damn, did that sting! They warned me it would feel like “little bee stings on your breast.” That about summed it up. It took a minute or two before the stinging sensation went away, and then I only felt pressure from whatever they did next. Then I felt pain from the needle, so I got more lidocaine. Something about the way he went in – I didn’t need to know the specifics. Once the lidocaine was in there, it was all better.

From that point on, my breast felt no more pain from the needle getting into position, from them taking the six samples with the little vacuum suction thing, or from them placing the little breast cancer ribbon shaped metal clip they installed to mark the spot for either surgical reference or so they know to ignore the area in future mammograms. The biggest discomfort after the lidocaine did its thing? My jeans.

Wear sweat pants. If you’re getting one of these things done, wear sweat pants, yoga pants, whatever kind of pants you have that are made from soft material that won’t irritate your crotch area after you have to sit forward – and absolutely still – for any extended period of time. My jeans didn’t bother me until well after the needle was in place, so there was nothing I could do about that freaking seam that suddenly felt like it was cutting into the other most sensitive part of my anatomy. Biopsy day is no time to worry about fashion or appearances. Go for comfort.

Then they were done, and Karen was getting me all cleaned up and Steri-Stripped. No stitches needed – just sterile adhesives. There was a little conference around their monitor on the other side of the room, and there was some uncertainty about whether or not they got good enough samples. Hardware issues. They went in for the shortest distance from skin to lump, but because of the mechanical limitations of the machine and the only acceptable route the computer had told them to use so that the needle wouldn’t go too far and come out the other side – it may not have been ideal. The doctor said that, if they needed to go back in, I could come back another day if this had been too much, or they could just do it now. I said I’d prefer to just get it over with if it had to be done.

So the pre-radiology student got to walk me to the bathroom while the rest of them went into the viewing room to “review the tapes.” I didn’t really have to pee, but I did need to readjust my jeans to get that seam out of the way. It helped.

And they did need to go back in for another sample. Better to make sure you have a good enough sample now than have it come back as inconclusive and waste everyone’s time, including the surgeon’s, only to bring me back in another week or so. The route they chose the first time was a distance of 3 cm. The new route, which would be vertical, was 12 cm. Although once everything gets squished in the machine, it’s less than that. There were still some mechanical issues. This time, the part of the machine that holds the needle in place was in the way. But this attachment is apparently something relatively new, so Karen and Ruth told the doctor how to do it “the old way” which a different attachment that just required a little more “subjectivity” on his part. Even so, the sampling process went much faster this time. I barely felt anything.

Karen apologized to me repeatedly for putting me through all of this torture twice, saying she wanted to buy me dinner and alcohol. They all proclaimed me a very good patient. Brave, even. Really, my stoic face goes on when I have to do something that I know is going to be horrible but I have to do it anyway. I think that’s something medieval mothers used to teach their daughters about before their wedding nights, unless that’s just apocryphal. And I’m quite the whiner, but you know it’s bad when I’m quiet and not whining. I felt no need to tell any of them this. But apparently I did look much paler and worse for the wear after the second sample was done, because Ruth commented on it.

But Karen asked me what kind of candy I liked, and I told her chocolate and peanut butter. If she’d been a cartoon character, I would have seen a light bulb go on over her head. She said she’d be right back before disappearing from the room. When she returned with my goodie bag, which included my instructions for the next few days, it contained Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kats, and Hershey Bars. It contained other sundry items, like a pen, an emery board, and a tube of lip balm, too.

Goodie Bag They Gave Me After My Breast Biopsy

It was Karen who described my ordeal as “multiple stab wounds and getting punched repeatedly in the chest.” Because they had to go in twice, there is a greater chance of bleeding. I may end up with a hematoma over the weekend. (Despite this post getting published on Saturday, it’s being typed up immediately following my procedure on Friday. But so far so good on the hematoma front.)

Was it sore afterward? What do you think? But they did give me a boob-shaped ice pack to put in my bra – 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off – which helped immensely. Actually, they gave me two of them, so I could keep one in the freezer while the other was in use.

Four out of six pieces of candy were gone before dinner. And despite the pain and discomfort, I would do it all again. Once you find a lump in your breast, you need to know if it’s benign or if it’s trying to kill you. Or else you’ll go crazy.

My results should be available by Tuesday, but although I’d like to know good news as quickly as possible, part of me thinks it might be best to wait until I see the surgeon on Friday in case it’s bad news. I haven’t decided yet. Then again, I’d have more time to process things if I found out ahead of time, so I could be slightly less emotional and find it easier to listen if we have to talk about “treatment options” at my appointment.

We’ll see. For now, I appreciate all of the support I’ve been receiving from everyone. You are all awesome.

Read my Big Fat Medical Update for more details.

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