Stereotactic Biopsy

August 4, 2011

So, friends, today is the day after the first biopsy.

Fortunately, thank goodness, I woke up relatively free of the pain I felt yesterday.  I didn’t expect it to hurt so much!  Is it strange that I didn’t expect it to hurt?  I guess I really am naïve in ways.

Here is what I read after the biopsy:

“What to Expect During a Stereotactic Biopsy:

Your breast will be given a local anesthetic, so you should not feel anything other than some pressure.

Your breast is numbed, and you are positioned for stereotactic mammography. Some compression is used to keep your breast still. Several pairs of images are taken. A small cut is made in your breast skin, so the needle can enter your breast. Your doctor or radiologist uses the image-guided needle to target the breast abnormality. More images are taken to confirm that the needle is in the right place. Using suction or special blades, fluid or tissue is collected for examination. If you’re having a surgical biopsy, a wire will be placed at the location and depth of the tumor to guide your surgeon.”

Hmmm.  Apparently it wasn’t supposed to hurt.  I was given a shot of lidocaine (or something to that effect,) but maybe they didn’t wait long enough afterwards, or maybe it wasn’t enough, or maybe it wasn’t in the right place, or maybe I’m extra-sensitive in that area. Who knows?

It hurt like a son of a gun.  If I had been allowed to move, I know I would have jumped and called out, “That hurt!”  It’s certainly what I was thinking.  I didn’t say anything because 1) I knew it was really important not to move, and 2) I figured the thing was already in and that was probably the worst part.

The table I was on was not designed terribly well, in my humble opinion.  I thought it might have been more like a massage table, with a cradle for your head.  Instead I had to turn my head to the side, and turning to the left was more comfortable for me.  The doctor and two technicians were on my right,  so they were unable to see my facial expressions.  If they had, I’m sure they would have been asking more “Are you all right?” types of questions.  (They did ask a couple times, but I just kind of muttered “yeah.”  It seemed better than bursting into tears.)

After the procedure was over and I got up off the table, my emotions kind of caught up with me.  There were two technicians/staff members there.  They were extremely kind and concerned.  I explained through my tears, “I didn’t expect it to hurt.”  They seemed kind of upset.  They said it wasn’t supposed to hurt; that they know this is hard enough and they want it to be as painless as possible.

By the way, if you ever get this procedure done and you are the squeamish type, I would strongly suggest you ask beforehand that they throw away all bloodied gauze pads, etc. and hide the specimen before they ask you to sit up.  It was rather disconcerting to see evidence of my blood scattered around.  Besides the gauze pads, there was something on the counter that looked like a round disk container.  It had inside what I can only assume was the bloodied tissue removed from my breast.  Those who don’t do well with the sight of blood could easily have fainted about then, is my guess.

Here is another description of the procedure:

“The breast is compressed and held in position throughout the procedure.  A local anesthetic will be injected into the breast to numb it.  Several stereotactic pairs of x-ray images are taken.  A very small nick is made in the skin at the site where the biopsy needle is to be inserted.  The radiologist then inserts the needle and advances it to the location of the abnormality using the x-ray and computer generated coordinates. X-ray images are again obtained to confirm that the needle tip is actually within the lesion.

Tissue samples are then removed using one of two methods.

  • In a core needle biopsy, the automated mechanism is activated, moving the needle forward and filling the needle trough, or shallow receptacle, with ‘cores’ of breast tissue. The outer sheath instantly moves forward to cut the tissue and keep it in the trough. This process is repeated three to six times.
  • With a vacuum-assisted device (VAD), vacuum pressure is used to pull tissue from the breast through the needle into the sampling chamber. Without withdrawing and reinserting the needle, it rotates positions and collects additional samples. Typically, eight to 10 samples of tissue are collected from around the lesion.

After the sampling, the needle will be removed.  A final set of images will be taken.  A small marker may be placed at the site so that it can be located in the future if necessary.

Once the biopsy is complete, pressure will be applied to stop any bleeding and the opening in the skin is covered with a dressing. No sutures are needed. A mammogram may be performed to confirm that the marker is in the proper position. This procedure is usually completed within an hour.”

The weird thing is, I don’t even know for sure which procedure was used.  The thing, whether needle or VAD, was only inserted once.  I did find that out from the technicians beforehand.  Once again, communication could have been better.  Here I am an educated, somewhat intelligent, not-terribly-shy woman, and apparently once again either I didn’t ask the right questions or the clinicians didn’t give me enough (in my opinion) information.  This is looking to be a pattern.  What is this about?  I guess I need to learn how to communicate more clearly myself.  I need to start telling these people that the more information I have, the better.  I am not liking this finding-things-out-after-the-fact stuff.

Oh, and by the way, “inserting the needle” is quite a euphemistic way of describing it.  It felt rather like a machine punched something through the skin.  That’s why it hurt.  It didn’t feel like a fine needle; it felt more like the thing that punches holes in your ears when you get them pierced, but much bigger and scarier and in a very tender place.

Here is one more site:

“Vacuum-assisted core biopsy

The Mammotome®is one type of vacuum-assisted core biopsy(VACB). For this procedure the skin is numbed and a small cut (about ¼ inch) is made. A hollow probe is put in through the cut and into the abnormal area of breast tissue. A cylinder of tissue is then pulled into the probe through a hole in its side, and a rotating knife inside the probe cuts the tissue sample from the rest of the breast.”

I confess that when I read this a day or so prior to the biopsy, I couldn’t quite deal with it.  Instead I quickly focused on the other method thinking surely it’s THIS one, not the scary rotating knife.  Ugh.  Just thinking about it is scary.  (Huh.  I wonder if these procedures explain why I’ve had several knife dreams in recent years.)

Now you may be thinking, ‘Cindy, if it’s too scary, maybe you really don’t want more information beforehand.’  But I do.  If I had known more exactly what was going to happen, I could have prepared my body and mind for it better.  And I could possibly have asked more questions about the lidocaine – or whatever it was they used to supposedly (but unsuccessfully) numb me.

I’m beginning to understand why my one friend who had this procedure took a heavy dose of Xanax beforehand.

Unlike with my primary care physician, Dr. William Kracht (he’s excellent), I haven’t been invited to call in if I have questions or concerns.  I mean, yes, if I’m bleeding or in acute pain today, I’m supposed to call.  But I guess it’s my job to communicate that 1) I want as much information as possible, and 2) the procedure freakin’ hurt!  I could wait until the doctor calls with my results in 3-5 days, or I could send an e-mail to the office.  I think I’ll do the latter, because depending on what the results are, I may forget all about addressing this matter.

So, friends, that’s how I feel about the procedure.  How am I feeling otherwise?  I confess, this normally optimistic person is not feeling so optimistic today.  Why?

  1. The technicians didn’t know I was scheduled for yet a second biopsy.  I thought I caught a glimpse of surprise/concern.  I guess that’s more unusual – to have two biopsies, one on each breast.  Double cause for concern, I guess.
  2. I was able to obtain the x-rays from my 2006 mammograms and I now have them in my possession.  Somehow or other, just because of the crazy timing of my getting these films (they arrived at the doctor’s office only a couple days ago) and the fact that I’ve changed doctors twice, etc., I didn’t really get to talk to my doctor about how these films compared to the mammograms taken in June.  But now I have a CD of the June mammos and ultrasound as well.  So this morn I looked at everything. Granted, I’m a complete novice at this, but I could see a big change between the picture of my right breast five years ago, and the picture of it two months ago.  Sigh….

Now is a good time to say my affirmations I guess, eh?  I don’t especially feel like it, I confess, but I did just reread something I’d written recently.

Each day I look at ways I can change and grow.  I ask myself, “How can I be a better person?  What do I need to do differently to be the most vibrantly healthy and alive person I can be?”  Each day I take more steps in the direction of greater good, greater vitality, greater physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  Each day I embody that which I wish to become.  Each day I live in such a way that, when the time comes, I can let go knowing I have done my best to be and do all that I am meant to be and do.

Okay.  It was important for me to reread that.  And I just read it out loud, too.  (I’m realizing I think I need a shorter version that I can say, like a mantra, all day long.  I’ll work on that.)

So what steps can I take today?  I could:

  1. Go outside and meditate for a while.
  2. Make myself a good, healthy meal.
  3. Write an email and send it to the doctor’s office.
  4. Give some TLC to my breasts.  One friend advised aloe as a safeguard against the radiation I received yesterday.  Another advised frankincense and lavender essential oils – both very healing essences. (Thank you, Pam, for gifting them to me.)
  5. Take a bath.  Bunn’s health food store shared that a customer fighting cancer takes  baths using ½ cup sea salt and ½ cup baking soda.  I KNOW salt water/the ocean is very healing and I’m sure Epsom salts would work well, too.  I’ve been getting messages to detoxify my body, and this is one way I can do that.
  6. Take my just-acquired Chlorella tablets, again, recommended at the health food store to help the body detoxify.* (Thank you, Mike, for buying them for me.  And WOW, I just read up a bit about chlorella and am eager to try it.  See below.)
  7. Drink some nettle tea.**  My friend, Basta, harvested her stinging nettles for me a couple months ago and I have dried them.  (To make a tea, fill a jar half full of nettles then add some boiled water to fill the jar.  Let steep, then drink.)  See below for the traditional medicinal benefits of nettles.

* Chlorella.

  • Did you know that a phytochemical found in chlorella can actually rebuild nerve damage in the brain and nervous system? That’s why chlorella is being used in the recovery of patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’sdisease.
  • Were you aware that both chlorella and spirulina can actually reverse cancer in the human body? Both of these superfoods have been clinically shown to demonstrate stunning preventive and curative properties when it comes to all sorts of cancers.
  • And finally, did you know that these superfoods also contain a high content of essential fatty acids such as GLA that are routinely missing from the diets of most Americans and yet are critical for healthy brain function?
  • One group of patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation actually quadrupled their two-year survival rates by taking a single dose of chlorella!
  • One ingredient found in spirulina protects against arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and cardiovascular disease — all at the same time!
  • These two superfoods (chlorella and spirulina) can protect you from pesticides, PCBs, and other environmental toxins that are simply unavoidable in today’s food supply.

** Nettles.

  • For over two centuries, nettles have been used for medicinal purposes. They have beneficial influence on various body systems, including the lungs, kidneys, skin, and blood. The herb has been recognized for its ability to stop bleeding, relieve mucous congestion and water retention, and improve skin irritations. It is considered to be an excellent blood purifier.
  • Nettle tea has been used to help increase the milk flow of nursing mothers. As a gargle, it is useful for mouth and throat infections. Applied externally, the tea is said to help relieve acne and eczema.
  • Dried nettles make a useful poultice to encourage scab formation on a small sore. The dried leaves, burnt and inhaled, are said to relieve bronchial and asthmatic problems.
  • Nettles are rich in iron, silicon, and potassium. They are very high in vitamins A and C. When dried, nettles are 40% protein. The dried plant makes a nutritious addition to soups, stews, or casseroles.

(Hmmm.  If it increases milk flow, maybe I should just double check with my doctor(s) to make sure.  I’m assuming it would be a good thing, but I guess I should double check.)

For those of you new to “health food” and herbs, I truly believe that there are plants on this planet for every ailment known to humankind.  Our diet in this country has become so pathetic.  So many of us eat stuff that can barely be called “food,” it is so processed.  In addition, the way grains and produce is now grown in this country is a sin.  The land and the crops are heavily dosed with toxins aimed to inhibit “pests” and “weeds” but which are also building up alarmingly in our bodies – bodies which haven’t had the evolutionary time to learn how to combat them.  In addition, meats are fed these toxified grains and then also given hormones, etc. to boot (which are NOT good for breasts!)  So the upshot is, eating healthier (ie, organic and non-GMO) foods and taking herbs, which are nature’s medicine, can counterbalance the discomfort (aches and pains) and disease (more serious imbalance) that may be affecting our bodies.

I do plan on listening to the messages I’m getting (from multiple sources) to detoxify.  I suspect this will be very, very important for me.

Okay, friends, thanks for listening to me again.  Writing this has helped me;  I now have a plan of action.  Hopefully some of this will help you, too.

Blessings galore,


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