I'm not going to lie, I was completely unprepared for my first biopsy. I thought I was going in for a simple skin check, like I have every year of my adult life. Then my doctor asked, "Have you always had this mole?" and handed me a mirror. She pointed to one of the many marks on my back and I knew, instantly and from the look on her face, that something was wrong. "I want to do a biopsy," she said. I had no idea what I was in for, and learned firsthand how scary and nerve-racking it is to wait for biopsy results.
Prior to that day, my only "experience" with or knowledge of biopsies came from Grey’s Anatomy. I never thought that I would have to have one (let alone five), and I can tell you, dear reader, that real life is nothing like television. The actual procedure itself was no big deal, except for the fact that the nurse accidentally left the specimen container in my line of sight. (In case you didn't know, it's surreal and creepy AF to see a piece of yourself that's been cut off your body.) Let's just say it was a good thing I was already lying down. And as my doctor stitched me up, I pondered the idea that a part of my body could be actively trying to kill me.
I thought the sample would be sent to some nearby lab, and that lab would process it immediately, and I would know my fate, one way or another, in minutes. Maybe hours. But I was wrong. I had to wait three to seven days to find out the results. And that, of course, meant enduring three to seven days of worry, panic, and regret.
When the call finally came that I had a stage one melanoma, a diagnosis that would require surgery, the real panic set in. Fortunately, and because of that biopsy and early detection, the surgery was successful and the doctors were able to get it all. In the end, I only have a few scars to remind me of that moment in my life. A moment when a run-of-the-mill doctor's appointment turned into a potentially life-threatening situation.
Since that first biopsy, I’ve had four more. You would think that it would get easier, but you would be wrong. In many ways, actually, I think it gets worse with each subsequent test. Always, always, there are so many things that go through my head while I wait on the results, including the following:
Each time I've gotten a biopsy, the doctor has been so matter of fact and calm about it while I freaked the you-know-what out. I mean, how exactly do they expect you to stay calm when you might have cancer? I told myself not to panic until I had the results and could make a plan, but that was easier said than done.
"No News Is Good News"
Your mind plays tricks on you when you are waiting for life-changing news. I mean, if it were serious, the pathologist would mark my results as urgent, right?
"What's The Worst Thing That Could Happen?"
I always have a tendency to imagine the worst case scenario. Like, I am the person who sees a white van and immediately thinks there's a kidnapper inside, or who hears a report of e coli on the news and throws away all of the lettuce in my fridge. So, from the moment I learned I needed a biopsy, my brain went to the worst places imaginable.
"What If I Have Cancer?"
My story is a happy one, relatively speaking. While I did end up having cancer, thanks to early detection the doctors were able to treat it early and get it all, with clear margins. I was able to go on with my life, with semi annual skin checks to make sure I’m in the clear.
I still worry every damn time, though.
"Should I Tell My Kids?"
The first time I had a biopsy, I didn't tell anyone except my husband, my mom, and my sister. I figured it wasn't worth the worry, especially if it wasn't serious, and I didn't want to scare my children (or anyone else, for that matter). I regret that decision, though. I think my parents had the right to know.
Now, I am open and honest with them about what cancer is — like weeds growing in our garden — and why things like sunblock, eating well, vaccinations, and regular cancer screenings are so important.
"I’ve Got To Update My Will"
Making a will was something I knew I, like, needed to do, but I just kept putting it off. A potential cancer diagnosis has a way of forcing you to get your sh*t in order, though.
"Should I Call Them?"
As someone who hates talking on the phone, and has major anxiety making calls, I loathed the idea of calling and/or even talking to the doctors, or checking in on the status of my test results. Shockingly, however, I answered every call that week. I even wondered if I should call them. I mean, what if my results were sitting on a desk somewhere.
"I Want My Mom"
Having a biopsy is one of those times when you just need emotional support. I called my mom from the parking lot to tell her what was going on, because, even when you're a mom, sometimes the only person who will provide you with comfort is the person who brought you into the world.
During that phone call, I discovered that my mother had had a few biopsies over the years, too. I had no idea.
"What If I Die?"
Facing your mortality is hard, and in those moments when I felt like I could possibly be dying I immediately regretted everything — things I hadn't done, things I've done, things I've said, things I haven't said, plans I haven't made, people I haven't seen, places I haven't visited, and experience I haven't had with my children.
It was eye-opening and heartbreaking to view my life as if it was potentially ending, instead of beginning.
In our culture, we have a tendency to blame cancer on the patient, probably to protect ourselves. I think it's easier for many of us to believe that cancer doesn’t happen to people who make good choices. That’s not really how it works, though. I know that. Rationally, I am aware that I didn't do anything wrong. Still, when I was waiting for those test results, I blamed myself.
The thing is, everyone needs to have regular cancer screenings at doctor-recommended intervals, especially if they have risk factors. No matter how scary it is to get a biopsy or wait for the results, it’s the only real way to catch cancer early so it can be treated effectively. If we go around believing that it could never happen to us, we're putting ourselves in harm's way.