October 6. Biopsy day.
I did not realize my biopsy experience would come complete with a personal fairy godmother. Or how badly I needed one.
I entered Dr. Diane Palladino’s exam room too tired to be nervous about the procedure that would remove a sample of cells from the lump growing in my boob for testing, and in that moment of numbness came face to face with the first doctor of many who would care very well for me. But she was also my usher so to speak, showing me to my seat for a show I didn’t know I had a ticket for. One that she had seen so many times she knew it by heart.
She was matter-of-fact, and kind. In the latter part of her career, she was in possession of an elegant badassery that came from experience but also from kindness. She’d had compassion of a type and for long enough that makes us confident enough to be gentle when we need to be. Make no mistake, though, when I gave her permission to be straight with me, she grabbed her sword as lithely as any master dragon slayer and in an instant, cut through any thick fog my anxiety could kick up.
I’d explained to her my Bullshit MD radar was very well developed after having walked with my husband through his illness and death from gastric cancer. No soft-peddling, please. I could handle it. Even so, she was not just factual. She had empathy. She told me the size and shape of the tumor concerned her, and meant it was probably not benign. Clearly she took no prisoners when it came to malignancies. But someone who is calm enough to be that honest, temperate and kind to a patient going in and out of shock right in front of her was a virtuoso when it came to bedside manner. I imagined her stage-whispering to all the errant cells that made up my tumor, “Ok is everybody listening? Good. Some of you are getting sampled and then the rest are getting evicted. As soon as we find out what brand of killer you are, we’re showing you the door. Got it? Everybody out of the pool.”
She mentioned that she herself had two sisters living with breast cancer. She’d clearly done this moment over and over again through her career. She got it. Breast cancer happens to people, not to breasts.
She wielded the instrument used to draw out suspicious cells so deftly that it was over before I could register my shock at how loud a KERCHUNK was leveled from it. I chose not to watch, so I don’t know exactly what it’s called, but it sounded something appropriately named “Satan’s Stapler” or “Hole Punch From Hell”. That thing was loud. It should have made me jump right off the table, but I only dimly took notice. By then I didn’t care whether Dr. Palladino was wielding a wand or a sword. I felt safe.
Because something else was happening. Instead of continuously moving terror, shock, and exhaustion around on my dessert plate trying to find a way to digest them, I’d stopped. For a brief second, I noticed I was calm. It occurred to me that for almost the entire appointment, instead of trying to summon the energy to deal with what was happening, I’d been still. And in that stillness were flickers of something else that I couldn’t quite tease out. But they weren’t bad.