The post-diagnosis tests

Mammograms and armpit ultrasound

On the afternoon of my diagnosis, we were back at the hospital for further tests. I was in a daze. I felt suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. First up, I had mammograms. It was a bit uncomfortable but didn’t hurt. Then an ultrasound of my right armpit to check whether the cancer had spread. They told me everything looked good.

MRI scan

I was expecting to know more about what treatment I’d need after the mammograms, but back in that room with the awful curtains, the doctor said I was going to have to have an MRI scan too. Because I’m fairly young, and pregnant, the breast tissue was dense and it wasn’t possible for them to see exactly what was going on from the mammograms alone. She also confirmed that there was ‘no mischief’ in the lymph nodes. I silently added this phrase to the list of things I liked about her: kind, pregnant, ‘no mischief’.

The MRI was as I expected; noisy, claustrophobic, boring. It took around forty minutes and I had to stay as still as possible. When I was a teenager, my dad took up drawing, and he used to ask Mum and Rachel and I sit for him. I was good at it, I remember. I was able to tune out and not move. So that’s what I did, and it wasn’t so bad.

Armpit ultrasound (again) and fine needle aspiration

A few days later, I had a call from a nurse who said the MRI had shown up some swelling in the lymph nodes and they wanted to repeat the ultrasound of the armpit. I felt a bit defeated, then; it just seemed like it was never going to end. I wanted to shout ‘but I was told there was no mischief!’ The nurse asked me to come in a couple of days later. I was due to go to London for lunch with a close friend who was moving to the States the following week. I asked whether I could have the ultrasound on a different day, and the nurse agreed.

I hadn’t cried very much since the day of the diagnosis, but the day I went in for that ultrasound and the results of the MRI, I was a mess. I picked up Joseph for a cuddle before I left; my parents were looking after him while we were gone. ‘Mummy’s sad,’ he said, pointing to my face. I just nodded.

The woman who performed the ultrasound said she needed to do a fine needle aspiration to collect cells for testing. I was nervous, remembering how painful that test had been when they did it the first time, on the lump itself. But it was fine this time.

Next, we saw the doctor again, and she said that the MRI looked good. She confirmed that I would only need a lumpectomy (plus the removal of a sample or all of the lymph nodes, depending on the results of the fine needle aspiration) and not a mastectomy.

This felt like the first positive news in a long time. I’d be able to go in for the surgery as a day patient and recovery would be quicker. We had a date. We had a plan.

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