I have WHAT? Part 2 – Biopsy


A breast cancer cell.

(Please click here for Part 1 – Discovery.)

It was after Christmas when I went in for the needle biopsy. My friend J, a critical care nurse, accompanied me. We sat in the corridor outside the ultrasound room until I was called in. J was ready to come in with me, and I really wanted her to, but it was not allowed. “She’s a nurse, please let her come in.” I was pretty much begging, but they said there wasn’t room.

I took off everything above the waist, got up on the table and was placed in position by a young woman. I soon found out she was a young doctor being trained in the procedure.

The head of the department, a professor, came in and began to speak to the young doctor without addressing me. He spoke to her sotto voce. I was trembling with anxiety and my eyes were filled with tears. “Could I have a Valium or something, please? I can’t take this.” The older doctor addressed me for the first time. “NO!” I was shocked at his vehemence. “I’d rather have a scared patient than a sleeping one.” “Five milligrams of Valium won’t put me to sleep, but it will help me hold still.” “I said no.” Charming man.

I was expecting a fine needle biopsy (FNA), so I was unpleasantly shocked when I saw the “gun” for the core needle biopsy“Gun?” I squeaked. “What was she expecting,” the young doctor asked her professor. “Probably an FNA (1),” he replied. He turned to me. “We don’t do those any more. Core needle gives a better sample.” At least he was talking to me.

The younger doctor first did an ultrasound of my left breast and then injected a local anesthetic to the site she was going to biopsy. It hurt. I cried soundlessly, not in pain but out of fear. I was afraid to have the procedure, afraid not to have it. I was afraid to move. I wished J could have been there to talk to me or hold my hand.

Guided by the ultrasound and the directions of the professor, she jabbed me several times. I didn’t count – more than one, less than five, I guess. The two doctors were talking about the sentinel node; she had never seen an axial lymph node biopsy before. “Do you want me to do it,” the professor asked. He gloved up.

“Do you want a new needle?” “No, just wipe that one down with alcohol.” I was pretty much appalled at that and wanted to say something, but I was also paralyzed and speechless with anxiety. If J were here, she’d tell them to change it, I thought.

“We can’t give you local anesthetic for the lymph nodes, but you won’t feel much.” I felt the needle go in, and I felt it moving around inside of me, and then I felt something warm pouring down my side and back. Have they warmed the antiseptic, I wondered. What a weird sort of consideration from that guy. Then he spoke. “Don’t panic at the massive bleeding.”

Massive bleeding??? “I… I’m not panicking.” “I wasn’t talking to you.” And he said something I couldn’t hear to his young colleague.

Finally, it was over and a bulky dressing was applied. I was sent out to wait in the corridor for half an hour, to be sure I didn’t bleed any more. I sat down next to J and was grateful for her presence. I remember chattering at her, but I don’t remember what I said. A nurse walked by and told us to check the dressing for bleeding and if it was dry I could go. I got J to go to the restroom with me and asked her to check it. It was dry and we left.


(1) Fine needle aspiration biopsy illustration at healthcentral.com.

Next: You have cancer.

16 thoughts on “I have WHAT? Part 2 – Biopsy

  1. Pingback: I have WHAT? Part 1 – Discovery « Telling Knots

  2. Oh dear Lord! Fear, indignation, anxiety and anger (not necessarily in that order) are just some of the feelings I experienced while reading this piece.

  3. Absolute disgust at the suppposed proffessionals treatment of you as a ‘whole ‘ person -this must have surely contributed to your fear. What an horrific experience to have started your journey with. May you never encounter such rude, arrogant, people again – problem is there are way to many of them in the medical profession, and they are not confined to your nation.
    Blessings and prayers

  4. How that man is allowed to treat patients is beyond me. How he is allowed to teach other doctors is astounding.
    I’m so sorry!

  5. The comments here and privately have been so validating. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so very much.

    Writing these posts is really hard. In order to get the detail I want and to express the feelings so that other people can try to walk in the shoes of a person living with cancer, I have to go back to these memories more vividly than I have in years. It is very difficult. At the time, I was just numb, I think. I’m only feeling it now.

    You are each and all an important part of my walk of self-knowledge.

  6. It’s very hard to read about your experience. The essence of caring and sensitivity has been lost by many in the medical field. I asked my husband who is an anaesthetist of his impression and this is what he said “Completely unethical behaviour.” My daughter went through a breast biopsy two years ago which was very painful, and she is loathe to talk about it perhaps because of the difficult memories. What can we do to change things?

  7. Pingback: I have WHAT? Part 3 – You have cancer. | Telling Knots

  8. Pingback: I have WHAT? Coda: Mastectomy | Telling Knots

  9. Oh my gosh! That doctor was a complete jerk. Curse words are in my mind, but I don’t want to put them in my comment. Horrific experience. I’m so sorry you had to endure such a nasty time. My biopsy was pretty horrific, too. Cancer sucks.

    • Thank you for reading. Yes, it was dreadful. I only saw my breast surgeon three times, for a total of about 40 minutes, so his personality didn’t make much of an impression on me.

  10. This reminded me a lot of my first biopsy. I didn’t have a student doctor, but the doctor who did it sounded a lot like that professor. She also did not numb me up very good and I had to lay in an awkward position on a hard narrow table.
    When I got to the breast surgeon, she said there were things they had not checked in the biopsy that she needed to know about the cancer. They needed another biopsy and she had time that day. I was terrified of going through that again. But, she numbed me up very thoroughly, invited a family member to come in to “keep my mind off it” (my daughter went in and was seated where she would not actually see anything), and I was made as comfortable as possible in something like a giant padded easy-chair.
    I am not going to say it was pleasant, but there was a night and day difference in attitudes and in concern for me as a person, my fears and my comfort. Afterwards, the doctor said she had heard many different topics used to distract the patient, but my daughter and I were unique. It was the first discussion of Bach’s music she had ever heard during a biopsy.
    There is absolutely no excuse for your biopsy experience and my first experience. None whatsoever! And my second experience is the proof.

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