by Debbie Kerr
This is the third post in a series about the stages involved in determining whether or not there is a cancer diagnosis and how these stages can relate to games.
A callback can be a good or bad thing. When it’s related to getting a job, it’s good. When it relates to health, your immediate thought is that it’s bad. So, when you are waiting for test results and you hear the words, “We’d like you to come back for more tests,” your heart begins to race. It doesn’t matter whether you are new to the cancer experience or have heard the request before; you dread these words. In fact, if you were playing with your race car set, you’d feel like you just spun out of control before you rounded the first turn.
How to Play
There’s some debate about how exciting it is to pull a trigger that controls how fast a race car goes around a toy track. The ability to steer is not required because part of the car fits into a slot in the track and, other than when your car is airborne, you have to follow the slot in the track.
The only skill you need is to know how fast to go around the turns. Go too fast and you introduce some excitement as your car flies off the track. Now your race is to see how fast you can get to that car and put it back on the track before the person you are racing passes you.
If you are racing on an oval, it’s the same thing over and over. Once you get the speed right, it’s pretty easy (and boring) going around the track. If you are playing on a figure -8 track, there is the possibility that you could crash or be crashed into when criss-crossing the middle part of the track. With a more irregular-shaped track, like the one in the picture, you have some variety and the challenge of finding the right speed for each section of the track. Your odds of flying off the track are much higher and the level of excitement goes up with each passing turn.
So, while you want the excitement of an irregular-shaped track when playing with your race car set, when it comes to a callback, boring is good. You want an oval track.
Lap 1: 3D Mammogram
I felt confident that I could complete the first lap with no problems when I saw the technician I had less than a week ago. She was friendly and gentle…at least as gentle as you can get when you are required to compress someone’s breast. This time, however, because it was a 3D mammogram, the imaging process was different. It was like a panoramic x-ray you might have had at the dentist’s off. The first image is taken in an arc over the breast and the second image is an arc but under the breast.
Because the arm of the mammogram machine was moving differently for the 3D mammogram than it did for my original mammogram, it meant that, in addition to my usual spot-on arm and feet positioning, I had to learn some new head-positioning requirements. Get the position wrong and you could have the excitement of a head-to-machine contact, similar to the crash in the criss-cross section of a figure-8 track.
Having completed my imaging, I went back to the waiting room where I overheard the technician tell her supervisor that, for some unknown reason, my first image would not save. A little while later, knowing that technology is not always your friend, I returned to the room so that the technician could get me into position so that she could repeat the over-the-top scan of my breast.
In racetrack terminology, I guess I had gone the extra mile.
Lap 2: Focused Ultrasound
Although I didn’t have the same technician, I got to have the focused ultrasound that the previous technician could only dream of. Even though this was a focused ultrasound, no one had told me where the focus would be. I didn’t know where the problem area was when I had my first ultrasound, and I still didn’t know. I watched closely. My suspicion was that the problem would be on the inside of my right breast (basically, the left side of my right breast) because that was the lumpiest part of my breast.
As I watched, I could clearly see that my suspicions were totally wrong. The focus was more on the top and right side of my breast. Part of me wondered what would have happened if, as part of the first ultrasound, I had told the technician to focus on the left side of my right breast.
The experience was clear and simple. It was like an oval track. It was pretty uneventful until I was told that the radiologist wanted to do a biopsy next. It was like being on the track and instead of having the same turn as the last time around, this turn was a little sharper. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had been down this road before. I had, during my Snakes and Ladders days, expected that there would be a biopsy in my future.
The Wait (sort of a pit stop)
I actually felt calm as I sat in the waiting room until it was time for my biopsy. I spent the time sending text messages to people to give updates. One of the people, a co-founder of Dense Breasts Canada, told me to ask the radiologist if there was any spiculation. She explained it to me, but I still spent the time looking it up on the internet. Basically, if there is spiculation, it means the shape of the cell is not clear. It looks like one cell is sort of blending into the next cell like it would if there was cancer and it was spreading to another cell. It seems that you can still teach a former-cancer patient a new term.
Extra Lap: Core Biopsy
Although I completed Lap 1 (3D mammogram) and Lap 2 (focused ultrasound), there didn’t appear to be a clear winner (yes or no to a tumour/cancer).
When I went into yet another room, the nurse and technician were very reassuring. They apologized because they thought I was probably feeling overwhelmed. I think they were a little surprised when I said, “This is nothing.” I told them I had been through this before and, compared to the amount of information that comes your way with a cancer diagnosis, this was comparatively tame.
I was told to get into position again (hand under your head to get the breast fully exposed). I told them that I referred to this as the Playboy pose. I’m sure the technician smiled behind the mask she was wearing for COVID-19. My suspicions were confirmed later when I started moving my legs to take some pressure off my back. The technician commented that, by moving my legs, I was really getting into the pose. I hadn’t noticed that I had done that. I guess I’m a natural.
I had to wait a little bit for the radiologist to arrive. You see, this was no ordinary day. It was breast assessment day, which meant the radiologist had been reading a lot of mammograms and ultrasounds, as well as doing biopsies. I commented to the technician that I hoped the doctor didn’t get a cramp in her hand after doing this procedure so many times. The technician smirked again (at least I think she did under her mask).
The biopsy started shortly after the radiologist arrived. It began without much fanfare. The nurse told me there would be a pinch. I was told not to move. Again, this was not new to me. I had two core biopsies and an MRI biopsy when I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. So you won’t be surprised that I didn’t flinch and I didn’t move. Same track, different corner.
As I lay on the table, I was told that the lump ruptured and that it was likely just a cyst (no cancer). My samples would be sent to pathology to confirm.
As instructed, I asked if there was any spiculation. The radiologist told me that she didn’t see any. Well that was a relief. I not only used spiculation correctly in a sentence, but its absence was another good sign that my cancer had not returned.
At this point, I wasn’t sure if I had won the race, because I had not quite crossed the finish line. I didn’t know yet if I had the right to do a victory lap. All things looked good, but I still had to wait 7 to 10 for the test results. It was quite likely that I would play a bit of Snakes/Chutes and Ladders in the meantime. On the bright side, this was a Wednesday and I had a lot of activities happening on the weekend.
The finish line is so close.
Watch for my next blog post to see if I will be doing a victory lap.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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