August 9, 2011

Core Biopsy

Well timed, I read an article yesterday (You can still be a great mother, even if you can't breastfeed) that describes one woman's experience with breast cancer. The author shared a sentiment that helped me to make sense of my own feelings and find a place for my fixation to preserve my and Merritt's nursing relationship. She wrote: "When you're diagnosed with something really devastating, there's only so much you can hear. For me, it was that I couldn't breastfeed anymore. All I could think of was, 'what will I feed my baby?'"

Thank you to everyone who researched information for me, offered your contacts or your breast milk, and empathized with my torment over the last few months. If you want to catch up on the whole story you can read more sequentially here, here, here, and here.

All along I had hoped to know some thing that might illuminate what is the right thing to do in this situation. An impossibility, I found. In the end, there was no single piece of evidence that made the decision clear or easy. And I loosely debated right through dinner last night, as Andy and I devised a game plan for today.

Despite not finding the answer to whether or not I should proceed with a core biopsy, what I did find was my own confidence to persevere whatever side effects might come from the procedure. I've read accounts of women who nursed through milk fistula, for days, weeks, even longer, until they healed completely. I've read stories of moms who weaned as a result of a fistula, but who managed to nurse their baby effectively from just one breast. I've also read lots of happy endings where a core biopsy resulted in neither a milk fistula nor a cancer diagnosis.

When I spoke to my boss last week, who is both a physician and a public health expert, she encouraged me to trust my doctors--if the folks at the Betty Lou Ourisman Breast Center think that a biopsy is necessary, it is ok for me to put myself first and take care of what needs to be taken care of. She was confident that whatever might come after would be something that I could weather. I finally felt it too.

So, today when the ultrasound showed that the tumor continues to grow and that the cells inside are just as heterogeneous as they were a month ago, I consented to a core biopsy.

There were several things done to minimize the risk of a milk fistula, and to remain sensitive to my intentions to feed Merritt. I can share details in a later post for any of you who may be going through something similar and who might find it helpful.

Otherwise, the procedure was smooth sailing. Post op instructions dictate no heavy lifting for at least 48 hours--that includes the kids, I was told, but not much I can do about them!--and ice and compression for the first 24 hours. I nursed Merritt on the affected side five hours after the biopsy without issue. The wound is dressed with Tegaderm, so I really can't tell what's going on under there but, so far, there is no indication of any milk leaking or moisture. Fingers and toes crossed.

I have follow-up next Wednesday, which will hopefully mark the end and not a beginning.


  1. i'm really moved by your writing (powerful) & keep returning to your blog / sending well wishes from the west coast ~

  2. I... I'm so glad you went ahead with the biopsy. I am always thinking of you and your family, and am right there with you looking forward to an end next week.

  3. Good luck hon. It is so scary but we will all be pulling for you on this journey. Either way

  4. Good luck with everything from here forward. You made the decision I probably would have made as well - but I completely understand how hard it was/is. I hope you have good news next Wednesday.

  5. praying for good results...for everything. -Angie


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