Biopsy Is A B***h But I Make It To Karate Kid

There is something about Gleneagles offices that are so … gloomy. Maybe it’s the ’80s teakwood-marble-soft lighting decor of most of the clinics. I’ve been here too many times, I think.

But I have to say I have only met great, caring doctors in this place.

Dr Hoe Ah Leong turns out to be the older version of Prof Tham. He shakes my hand and Kevin’s when we enter. His smile is reassurance itself.

“Did you bring your mammogram films?” he asks.

Nope. Left everything at KKH.

“Okay, no problem. Let’s have you lie down and I’ll do an ultrasound.”

Second ultrasound. But instead of the scary silence of the previous one, Dr Hoe encourages me to look at what he is seeing. He shows me how the tissue pattern changes from what looks normal, to what is a dark area that’s clearly abnormal.

He takes some screen shots, and then I get dressed and he explains everything.

I love it when doctors don’t assume you know everything because you should have Googled it already (aren’t you worried about your condition?!). Dr Hoe takes out his note pad and starts explaining how breast cancer begins, drawing diagrams along the way that clearly illustrate his points. He should teach, or write a book.

Breast cancer begins in the milk ducts. The very part of me that fed my three babies is now the hothouse of cancer cells that are multiplying. As long as the cancer cells remain inside the ducts the cancer is considered non-invasive (DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ or Stage 0). When the cancer multiplies to a stage that it eats through the walls of the milk ducts, that’s when it is invasive (Stage 1-4).

Invasive, bad. Non-invasive, not so bad; hopeful, even.

How we would find out the stage of the cancer, “or if it’s even cancer,” is to do a biopsy.

Dr Hoe asks me how I discovered the growth.

“I had a pain.”

“That’s… unusual.”

Pain is almost never associated with breast cancer. Usually if there is pain, the cancer has developed into a serious stage, and I would be able to see visible signs on the breast. For some women the tumour grows and bursts the skin of the breast. For others, there is discolouration and puckering of the breast skin. Sometimes there is a discharge. I have had none of these at all. My right breast looks as normal as my left one.

Dr Hoe then run Mr Threez and I through what we could possibly be facing:

1. Why there is no discernible lump could mean that this is pre-stage. The cancer hasn’t formed a mass yet. We could be catching it very early.

2. It could be an unusual growth, and in Stage 1 or Stage 2 already.

3. It might not even be cancer. Sometimes women get thickening in the breasts, or cysts which turn out to be non-cancerous.

“You can go back to your doctor for your biopsy, and make your decision from there,” he suggests.

I take one look at Mr Threez’s face and know that he just wants this horrible thing out of his wife this instant.

“We’ll do the biopsy today if that’s okay,” I say. “Can you do it for me today? I don’t want to wait.”

Dr Hoe nods empathetically. “Yes, I understand…” His nurse is already looking at his schedule. “Okay, I have to do one biopsy now for a patient outside. I will be able to do one for you around 2.30, is that okay?”

Mr Threez and I go for a quick lunch in the lobby — new mee siam place that beats the overpriced Kopitiam (also I’m not in the mood for Delifrance today). I figure I better not overeat or I risk vomiting during my biopsy.

My mom once told me her biopsy was unpleasant, but eclipsed by her post-mastectomy pain.

To be honest I didn’t expect it to be this painful. Dr Hoe, drawing diagrams again, showed me how he was going to inject me with a local anaesthetic, and then he would use a hollow needle to conduct a core biopsy, using ultrasound as a guide. Usually, doctors take out about 3-4 samples for testing, but as my “not-quite-a-mass” was spread out, he would have to take about 7-9 samples, just to play safe.

Just because one sample shows up Stage 1 means the whole mass is Stage 1. Some parts could well be Stage 2 already, or worse. Hence, the more samples, the better.

I understand the logic, but I probably would not have been so garang had I known the pain is going to be so breathtaking.

It starts off okay. The first 3, 4 samples I feel nothing much, only the tug of the needle as Dr Hoe fires it. What it does is kind of harpoon out a sliver of tissue.

“Your tissue is quite tough,” says Dr Hoe, panting a little. “I’m sorry … just a few more.”

Around the sixth one it begins to hurt. If you know me, I’m the sort that can take pain. But this hurt.

Dr Hoe gives me another shot of local, but the pain is overwhelming. I start praying in tongues, kicking myself for not praying in tongues from the beginning.

Breathe. Pray in tongues. Jesus, help me.

Breathe. Pray in tongues. Jesus, help me. Breathe.

By the ninth one I am begging for relief. Dr Hoe stops. “Okay! We’re done! Sorry about the pain.”

I look at the slivers of flesh swirling about in the plastic container. Bits of my breast. I feel a little nauseous.

Dr Hoe explains it will take 2 days for the results to come back. Meantime he will need me to retrieve my mammogram from KKH, and I will see him on Thursday.

In pain but relieved in my heart, I thank him and exit. Mr Threez takes one look at my agony-stricken eyes and makes me sit down as he pays for the procedure. It’s 4.10pm and we are absolutely late for  Karate Kid. We get in the car, and the pain is now 10/10, and I am breathing through my mouth — “fu, fu, fu, fu, fu” — like I’m in labour.

Super Sister-in-law to the rescue: she and hubby bring the girls plus Big B, my son, to the movies, buys all the requisite popcorn and chips and drinks, and waits for Mr Threez and I to arrive to take over. She’s even put a pack of Panadeine into Middle B’s knapsack. For this level of pain, only Panadeine will do.

I sit with my daughter and swallow my pills, and settle back to try and enjoy the movie. As the drugs begin to melt into my bloodstream, I find it easier to laugh with my kids. Jaden Smith is a very gifted child and he makes me smile, just like his dad.

Mr Threez holds my hand and caresses my cheek, watching for signs that my pain is dissipating. What would I do without him? I look around me — I am surrounded by my most precious worldly possessions, and at least today, I am alive to enjoy them.

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