I had an excisional breast biopsy in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Three doctors and a radiologist recommended the biopsy based on the results of my annual mammogram, which I also had here in this surfing town in the State of Oaxaca. Two of the doctors and the radiologist assumed I would go back to the U.S. for the procedure, but I decided to do it here. The third doctor was the surgical oncologist who performed the biopsy.
Let me be upfront: the results are benign. The experience of having this done in a foreign country – and waiting for the results – has taught me so much. I’m forever changed.
The story starts with my annual mammogram in Puerto Escondido on March 16. The radiologist had me return the next day for the results. The scan showed an area of several microcalcifications and he rated it as a BI-RADS 4B and recommended a biopsy as soon as possible. It would have to be of the surgical variety because of the placement.
If I were to have the biopsy here, I’d have to wait at least a week for the oncologist to visit from Oaxaca City, about 160 miles away. Most women who need a surgical biopsy have a bunch of emotions during this wait, and the wait for results. I’m no different. As strong as I tried to be, I needed help.
My decision to have the biopsy in Mexico, at this hospital-slash-clinic, with a surgical oncologist who spoke virtually zero English, and what the surgery was like, is a separate story I might write about another day. I might not write about it, too. The experience itself wasn’t easy. Instead, right now I’m thinking about the life lessons I see in this experience: how my husband Tedly helped me through this with his love, and the comfort to be found in acceptance.
A few phrases Tedly said pre-biopsy: we’ll get through this; this will pass; we can go back to the U.S. at any time; don’t worry, Ellie; I love you; I’m glad you’re my wife.
He told me he was scared and worried, too. I saw the concern etched into his face through his silly smiles and goofy jokes. A shadow on his soul. A cloud over our paradise. A few raindrops on our dreamy early retirement have yet again reminded us how lucky we are to be where we are at this stage of life. Would I rather face this cancer test while working 80 hours a week, or as a relatively fit middle-aged woman on early retirement?
“Don’t you worry, baby,” Tedly said. “We’ll keep this party going – no matter what.” My heart jumped into my head when he said that phrase. I know he means it.
On the morning of March 25, I had the biopsy here. I prayed as the doctor cut. And cut. (I wasn’t sedated, but that’s another story.) The serenity prayer became second-nature, like breathing.
We had to wait at least a week for the results. Tedly’s words about our continuous party replayed in my mind during the second week. Yes. That’s how it should be. Every day should be a party and celebrated because today is all we have. Right now. I should always feel this way – elated to be alive and healthy.
The first days after the biopsy I spent mostly in bed, reading and resting and watching bad movies. Tedly urged me to convalesce when I got restless. No running or swimming for me for a few weeks. I sometimes felt cranky and pent up. Or I felt grateful the BI-RADS rating wasn’t 4C. Or, I felt just plain miserable and scared.
Sometimes, I’d cry when I worried about the ‘what ifs’ for our future. Tedly would console me, murmur sweet everythings to me. When Tedly was overcome with emotion about the unknown, it was my turn to comfort him. Back and forth. Give and take. A partnership.
After the first couple of days, we went out around town. I met with some friends. That helped. Also, it really helped when Tedly and I went out to the beach, put our feet up, people watched, ate guacamole, laughed about this and that. We tried to enjoy the moment, to stay in the now. Then it was time to continue my convalescence under the fan. It’s not always fun to have a bruised, sweaty breast with stitches.
One of the things I read during the week we waited for results was Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. I haven’t looked at that poem since high school. There are a few passages that made the shock of the situation less difficult for me. It was oddly comforting. It helped calm me down to a level of acceptance. The cycle of life, the journey of the soul, moments of transformation, whatever happens next is supposed to happen. Acceptance.
Acceptance. I can’t control my body’s cellular mutations. In fact, there is so much in life that’s out of my control, I have a better life experience if I simply enjoy time as best I can without doomsday scenarios of fear and worry playing out in my head. Life has given me this lesson over and over and over. Acceptance is the answer. Stay in the moment. I’ll get it right one day. Good thing my soul has more time for more progress.
On the seventh day after the biopsy, I had the stitches removed and got the results: benign! So, our party continues unaltered, aside from my continued healing for another few weeks. My feeling of immense gratitude is an understatement, though I may look rather reserved to observers. That’s because I think I’m in a bit of shock. I am still processing all that has happened, and what you’ve just read is only half the story.
Tedly (half-) joked that he wonders what else will happen to us? What body parts will be removed and replaced or repaired as we age, as our bodies break down. The cycles of life we can’t control, but should try to accept.
Once again in my lifetime, my husband has showed me what it means to be in an adult partnership. I have no doubt we’ll get through whatever may happen through love and acceptance, and somehow we’ll keep the party going, one moment at a time.
Note, the next year, Ellen had another biopsy in another country. Those results were positive for early-stage cancer. Read about that journey, here.