The Process of Cancer Identification

CT Scan image of author undergoing a needle biopsy. The needle and the tumor are shown on the right.

Identification. The next step in my cancer journey would determine if the lesion in my lung was cancerous, or not. The sampling of the lesion is via CT-assisted needle biopsy. Your imagination of the procedure is probably correct. The medical team sticks a needle in your back, through the lung, and into the tumor using images from a CT scanner to guide the needle to the correct location.

At this point, I have had 2 CT scans — a low dose calcium score and a full-strength CT scan with contrast.

This post journals my experience with lung cancer that happened two years ago at the beginning of 2020. Who knew at the time that we’d still be in the middle of a pandemic and that time passes oddly in a global emergency. It hardly seems like yesterday that I was living through these events.

Between the last CT scan and the needle biopsy felt like an eternity. It was extremely important to keep my spirits up and to remind myself that I only knew what I knew. We didn’t know if it was cancer (well pretty sure), and we didn’t know the staging (more on this topic later.) With so many unknowns you can worry yourself to death. Focus on what you know and what you’ll find out.

The needle biopsy is easy. Nurses give you drugs for the pain and prevent memories of the occasion from forming. You get to relax, if you can call it that, stomach down in a CT scanner. I thought I stayed awake or cogent during the process and while I may have, I don’t remember.

Progression of the needle into my body

After waking, I was taken to a recovery room. Needle biopsies could result in a lung collapse, so they keep you under observation and take frequent chest x-rays, to ensure your lung won’t collapse.

Another wait

Another wait while the biopsy is accurately identified as cancerous.

Four days later around 4:30 PM on a Friday, my phone rang. It was from my doctor’s office. My doctor delivered the news of the biopsy. It was cancer. I had an appointment with an oncologist on Monday.

After that, I was just in a spin. I called my partner, M, to let her know. As I was, she was devastated. I’m devastated. I have just been given what I think is a death sentence. I weep and cry with M.

I sat with a mind blank for a while. M was not with me during this time. I can’t remember where she was. Around 7, my phone rang again — it was a private number — but I’m oddly perverse: I answer my phone despite the lack of caller id. It is my doctor. He is calling to check up on me and my mental state. I tell him that I am dealing with it. I am, but I don’t know how. I’m just numb.

On Monday, the trip to the oncologist is somewhat uneventful. He tells me it is an adenocarcinoma. They don’t know much more. Right now, the goal is to identify the stage. Frankly, even at this point, I think I’m pretty early. I have caught lung cancer before symptoms. This knowledge helps feed my positive energy.

In my next post, I’ll outline the process of the next steps in the diagnosis. My original plan was to publish these articles roughly 2 years after the events. I’m a bit behind as I’m nearly at my 2 year aniversary of my surgery.

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