A few days later I was in the Nellie B. Connally breast center at MD Anderson. (http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/care-centers-and-clinics/care-centers/breast/index.html ), for mammogram and ultrasound.
The dominant feeling for me was that I was there to rule out something, to be told with perhaps an indulgent smile that it was a false alarm, and that I was probably distracting the clinical teams from their real work, of helping all the women around me who were in various stages of their cancer journey. There were plenty of men there too, just not with bar-code wristbands. They were supporting women in their lives who were battling BC, just as I had done 5 years before for my wife.
So little comments like “we do men all the time” from my mammogram technician as she skillfully positioned me into the machine were helpful in alleviating the awkwardness I felt. As I was being imaged I couldn’t help but give a wry smile from time to time, as I remembered the occasional descriptions I had heard of how you get squeezed by these machines, not an experience I ever anticipated sharing.
It was when I was in ultrasound that I began to suspect things wouldn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. The technician doing the imaging positioned me on my back, looking over my left shoulder to optimally position the right breast, and this gave me a square-on look at the monitor. First sign – the lump did not have a smooth round outer edge, like I imagined a cyst should have. Then she found a large lymph node in my arm pit, and took a shot of it and measured it – hmmm, an interesting lymph node. Never a good sign. OK. Deep breath.
As I had entered the ultra sound room a nurse had been busy preparing a biopsy cart. Now an attending physician came in to do the biopsy. I knew her from my work at MD Anderson – in fact I am privileged to know many of our faculty – and she shared with me that she was concerned, I assume having seen the mammograms and now the ultrasound. I understood what she meant. She did the biopsy, and took cells from the lymph node, which were read right away by another colleague, a cytologist, and showed the presence of abnormal cells. Having someone I knew do the biopsy, who was both very professional and personable, not to mention kind, helped me absorb what I already suspected to be true. My wife joined me in the room too, and her hearing it validated it. OK, by all accounts I had cancer. Probably. Later that day I saw my surgeon, who had spoken to the doctor who had done the biopsy, and shared the same view. Still, later that day when I emailed my boss to alert him to this I wrote “In all likelihood…”.