Tag Archives: test results

Waiting for a Biopsy

I couldn’t quit wondering what the ultrasound report said. I knew that certain characteristics were more indicative of malignancy. I called Dr. G’s office back and asked if they could print out a copy of my blood work results and the ultrasound report. I went by and picked it up.

While I was there, I asked if it was ever possible to talk to Dr. G without making an appointment. I explained that waiting so long for my results had caused me a lot of anxiety—that I felt like I didn’t matter—and that I just wanted to talk to him about it. I was trying really hard not to embarrass myself by crying. As always, the women at the desk were extremely kind, and said they would leave a note for him to call me when he had a chance.

The lab work truly did look “normal.” Most of my levels were close to the middle of the normal range. My FT4 was at the low end of normal, but my TSH–which is what they use to determine if you are hyper- or hypo-thyroid–was right on target. The ultrasound report was very short. What I learned was that I had a lot of nodules, including three larger ones—one in the left lobe, one in the right lobe, and one on the isthmus in the center. That, I figured out, must be the one I had discovered. It sounded like the one in the right lobe was the most concerning—it had “areas of calcification.” The radiologist who had written the report recommended a biopsy.

“Areas of calcification” didn’t help me out much. I had read that microcalcifications strongly suggested papillary cancer, but “coarse” calcifications didn’t necessarily, and a calcified “halo,” or “eggshell,” as it was called, actually pointed to the lump’s being benign. The report didn’t even mention the size of the more worrisome lump, though it offered measurements on two others. I would just have to wait on more details.

The woman who had given me the call had said that I would probably hear from Dr. B’s office on Thursday. I didn’t.

I did get to meet with my ladies’ Bible study group though, and I shared with them about my thyroid nodules and upcoming biopsy. As always, it was a huge comfort to know those women would be added to the number of people who were praying for me. Y also told me that I was the third person in a short period of time who had been concerned about suspicious thyroid nodules. That was comforting too.

Thursday also brought a call from Dr. G. To be honest, I was a little embarrassed when I actually had him on the phone. I told him simply about the anxiety I had experienced while I had waited for my call-back on the ultrasound. He was very kind. He also told me about being gone for a long weekend right after the report got to his office, and about some of the nightmare issues they had been having at the new office. He had come back from his vacation to an office that smelled like a latrine because the sewer line was backed up—it was filled with concrete. And he’d been battling other problems related to the new building. It sounded like a nightmare of a week.

“I don’t want to make excuses, because I hate it when someone makes excuses to me,” he said. But it helped me a lot to know that there had been extenuating circumstances. I really felt for him, and I told him so. I also told him that I really didn’t want to be a complainer or a “problem patient.” I hope I’m not on the “bad” list for him and his staff now.

Friday brought no call from Dr. B’s office. Is there a pattern here? I thought. I decided to resign myself to the fact that this was going to be a long, drawn-out process.

Over the weekend I found a blog by a thyroid cancer patient. I have always been someone who can face things better if I know what to expect. I fully realized that my odds of having thyroid cancer were small, but I needed to keep reassuring myself that if I did, the path forward was doable.

In this blog, the writer, a young man in his twenties, outlined his entire cancer journey from discovery of a lump during an MRI for something else through his post-cancer recovery years later. One thing I found interesting was that the doctor who handled his surgery was an ENT. That made me feel better about going to Dr. B. It seems like even though the steps taken on this journey are pretty standardized, they can be carried out by doctors in several different specialties.

On Sunday we gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship. B, a long time friend, lead a prayer in which he asked for God to help those who were undergoing diagnostic tests, and for the results they received to be accurate. He doesn’t know it, but he’s praying for me, I thought.

On Monday, I decided to call Dr. G’s office just to make sure that I was supposed to be waiting for Dr. B’s office to call me, and that I was not supposed to call them. The receptionist told me that the referral had been sent, and that I should hear something soon. I did. Later that morning, someone from Dr. B’s office called and apologized for it taking so long for them to call me. She was training someone new and had gotten backed up. I had the feeling that Dr. G’s office had checked in with her to prompt the call.

I told her that I was being sent to Dr. B because I needed a biopsy of some thyroid nodules. She said that I would have to do a consultation appointment first. I wasn’t thrilled with the delay, but decided not to worry about what I couldn’t change. She told me where I could fill out my patient info online, and I told her I had already printed off the new patient information packet from their website and filled it out.

“Well, Dr. B is in surgery today, but he has an opening tomorrow at 3:30.”

So he’s a surgeon, I thought. I wondered if he did thyroidectomies. I took the appointment and called Rusty to let him know about my plans. He again arranged to take a few hours off work so that Eleanor could nap undisturbed. I was thankful he had time off available and that he was willing to use it to help me out that way.

I noticed that I had already received two emails from Dr. B’s office—one to remind me of my appointment and one with a link to a their patient information site. There I could enter all my patient info directly into their system. It was basically all the same information I had already filled out on paper, but I went ahead and did it. Anything that would get me in faster.

I got a shipment of some new oils that afternoon. I used some of them to mix up the popular “Peaceful Child” calming blend for my kids. Is there a “Peaceful Mommy” blend? I wondered.

Tuesday morning I went to visit with my good friend J–the one who had ordered me to find a good doctor. It had been a long time since we’d had a chance to sit and talk together. We talked of many things, but conversation did eventually come around to my thyroid nodules. I confided to her that the thing I was most afraid of, if one of my nodules was cancerous, was radioactive iodine therapy. I felt like in order to keep my children safe while I was radioactive, I really would need to be in a separate house. In her usual way, she said she would come and take care of me if I went alone somewhere like the house in Florida.

“Isn’t Rusty going to go with you?” she asked, when I told her about my consultation that afternoon. “I could come over so that Eleanor could still have her nap.”

“I kind of feel like that would make it too big a deal,” I said. “Things may get to that point, where I’ll want him with me for appointments, but I don’t think we’re there yet. But I’ll tell him you offered.”

Tuesday I also got Rustic Youth Camp applications for my boys. We’ve been to RYC the past two years—it’ss something that we all look forward to. I immediately called Sarah, my sister-in-law to see if she had gotten her applications yet, or if she had heard whether she was accepted to work the camp or not. I had found out the week before that I was in as a teacher for Elliot’s class. Last year we had tried to get Sarah in to work camp so that she could bring my nieces and nephews with her. My idea of camp Nirvana was for all of us to be there—Rusty and me, my brother, Nathan, and SIL, Sarah, with all of our children. Barring the presence of our husbands, having Sarah and her kiddos join me and mine there was a close second.  I was hoping this thyroid thing wouldn’t interfere with camp.

Sarah still didn’t know if she was accepted. I went ahead and filled my kids’ applications out and got them ready to return.

At about 2:45 Rusty came in from work. I told him about J’s offer to keep the kids if he wanted to come.

“I just assumed you would tell me if you wanted me there,” he said.

“I assumed you would ask if you wanted to come,” I replied, smiling. “I just don’t want to make it into a big deal yet.” I took off to my appointment, calling J on the way to let her know I was going alone, and that I was fine.

“Well, call me when you’re done,” she said.

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Ultrasound and Waiting

The ultrasound was on Friday morning, April 29th. It was the day we were scheduled to leave for our “spring break” trip—even homeschoolers need a spring break!—to Panama City, Florida. I arrived at the diagnostic imaging center for an 8:00 appointment. The lobby was full. I read on my kindle while I waited. Eventually, my name was called, and I was ushered into an area plastered with pictures of….babies!

As a childbirth educator, I am fairly familiar with the OBGYN practices in our area. I knew for sure that the largest practice had their own ultrasound staff and equipment; I had assumed that the smaller practice did as well. So I was surprised to learn that the smaller practice actually sent their patients over there for their ultrasounds.

So I sat on the table in the ultrasound room and gazed at adorable art pictures of newborns while the tech dimmed the lights in the room and applied her transducer to my neck. She complimented me on wearing ideal attire for a neck scan—a blouse that left the area around my neck bare to just below my collar bone.
I am normally a chatter—I like to make conversation with the people I have interactions with, from the girl at the Publix check out to the guy that comes to work on our appliances. But with an ultrasound transducer on my neck, talking wasn’t the thing. Instead I waited in silence while the tech did her job. After a few minutes, she was done, and she started wiping the goo off my neck.

“Can you tell me anything?” I asked.

“Well, you have some thyroid nodules,” she said.

Nodules? I thought. More than one? She went on to run through what I had already learned from the limited research I had allowed myself on the internet: Thyroid nodules are common, they are usually benign, if they do turn out to be cancer, I would have to have surgery and maybe other treatments. She told me that my doctor should have the results within 24 hours. Since it was Friday, I assumed that meant Dr. G would have them sometime Monday.

After I got home, we finished loading the car and took off for our vacation. During our drive to the beach, I got a call from Dr. G’s nurse about my blood work. I was unsurprised to learn that my thyroid levels were normal, though I wished for more detailed information. She asked about my ultrasound. I told her it had been that morning.

“When we get that report, we’ll give you a call,” she said. I did the mental calculation and figured I’d have a call by Monday evening if I was lucky, but surely by Tuesday. What I didn’t know was that the imaging center was not known for their quick turnaround on reports, in spite of what the tech had told me.

I was determined not to let my thyroid nodules dominate my mind or conversation while we were on vacation. I knew that Rusty was worried, and that talking about it would make it worse for him. I am also all too aware of my own obsessive tendencies—when my mind becomes occupied with a topic, I have a very hard time thinking about anything else. It’s all I can do to keep from spending large portions of my day searching for information on the subject du jour. I tried to redirect my thoughts to my new interest, essential oils. I had brought a couple of books, as well as my small supply of oils. I had fun experimenting.

Still, I couldn’t stop myself from doing a little bit of covert investigation, both via internet on my phone and through a book that I found in the kindle store. I gathered a basic outline of the likely next steps and also got a good idea of what my current odds were of a cancer diagnosis. I knew that regardless of what the ultrasound showed, I was probably at least in for a fine needle biopsy. I learned that it made a difference whether the doctor doing the biopsy was experienced in the procedure and if he or she used ultrasound to guide the placement of the needle.

I started doing a little research on endocrinologists in the Auburn-Opelika area, as well as in Birmingham. “I want you to promise me you will find a good doctor,” my friend J said when she called me on the phone during the week.

I also learned about the different types of thyroid cancer and a little about their respective treatments and outcomes. The outlook wasn’t too bad. Even if I had thyroid cancer, odds were I could be cured. Anaplastic thyroid cancer looked pretty scary, but it is also very, very rare. I decided it was so unlikely that it was safe to ignore it as a possibility. After all, only 5% of thyroid nodules were malignant, and then, of those, only 1-3% were diagnosed as anaplastic cancer.

So I thought I could see the path ahead, at least for a few steps. I would most likely have a fine needle biopsy (FNA). If the results were benign, my nodule would probably be monitored every 6 months to a year. If the results were unclear because of an inadequate sample, I would have another biopsy done in a few weeks. If the results were inconclusive because it was too hard for the pathologist to tell if the cells were normal follicular cells or not, I would probably have at least half of my thyroid removed to be on the safe side. If the surgical results showed cancer, I would have my whole thyroid out, most likely followed up by radioactive idodine treatment (RAI) to make sure there weren’t any traces of thyroid cancer left in my body. If it was anaplastic thyroid cancer….well, I wasn’t going to think about that.

Monday passed without a call. Then Tuesday. On Wednesday, I left a message for Dr. G’s nurse, asking if my results were back. My anxiety to know what the ultrasound looked like was building. I knew enough now to be aware that some nodule characteristics, like irregular margins, microcalcifications, and centralized vascularity, were more indicative of cancer.

Wednesday also brought Rusty’s mom, and brother to join us at the beach cabin, along with their two small dogs and our nephew. My boys were thrilled their cousin was coming to play; Rusty and I were happy that his brother and mom were getting out of the house to do something recreational. His brother had come far enough with physical therapy to be walking some now.

It was a very pleasant week. The temps at the beach were a little on the cool side, but my boys at least did not find the cold water a deterrent from cruising on their boogie boards and exploring the sand bar that appeared towards the end of the week. Rusty and I read, listened to the waves, and watched the dolphins and pelicans pass by while Eleanor played in the sand. In the evenings, we went to our favorite local restaurants, hitting Boon Docks twice. Then we would shop, play mini golf, or head for the rides at the Miracle Strip.

One night, while poking around in Target, I almost bought a new nursing bra. I was still nursing Eleanor, at two-and-a-half, and my bras were a little worse for wear. I picked up a bra that looked comfortable, but quickly put it back on the rack. What if I have cancer? I thought. I’ll have to wean her for radioactive iodine treatment, and this will be a waste of money. I know some people would say I was long past the time to wean, but we had both enjoyed our extended nursing time. I had nursed each of my children longer than the one before, finally coming to the full realization that the way our culture does breastfeeding is WAY outside the norm for all cultures and all times.

On Thursday I still hadn’t heard anything, so late in the afternoon I called the front desk at Dr. G’s office to see if they could tell me anything.

The very friendly staff person took a peek in my file on the computer. “Well, it looks like we got the results in yesterday, but the doctor hasn’t reviewed the results yet.” It relieved my feelings a little to know that the report hadn’t just been sitting in Dr. G’s inbox all week. What she didn’t tell me was that Dr. G had just left for a long weekend with his family. He wouldn’t be reviewing that report until sometime next week. I thought, surely I’ll get a call before the end of tomorrow. I had no idea I still had almost a week before I would learn what the ultrasound said.

By this time, I was starting to get phone calls and texts from friends and family. Have you heard anything yet? When will you hear something? Why is it taking so long? I was glad to know that my friends cared for me, but it also ramped up my anxiety over not hearing from Dr. G. They think I should have heard by now, too, I thought.

Friday came and went. When we went out for dinner Friday night, I realized my chance to learn something was over until Monday. On Saturday, our extended family headed home. Rusty’s brother, still dealing with his neurological problems, was finding it hard to get comfortable on any of the family cast-offs that supplied the beach cabin’s furniture, and was ready to get back to his recliner.

We packed up and left for home on Sunday. Monday we worked on getting back into our regular routines—but there was still no call from my doctor’s office. My family and friends, however, kept calling. I hated not having any answers for them. I knew that a biopsy was almost certainly my next step, and I was eager to get it over with. I was on and off the internet, reading bits about nodules, ultrasounds, and biopsies. I even found out that there has been a fair amount of research done on the anxiety caused by waiting for medical test results!

I was spending increasing amounts of mental energy trying not to stress about what my ultrasound looked like and when I would hear about it. I carried my phone with me as I moved from room to room in the house, so that I wouldn’t miss a call.

On Wednesday I got to talk with my dear friend, A. A few years ago she’d had surgery to remove half her thyroid for a nodule that was causing the gland to be overactive. I asked her what she had thought of her endocrinologist. I was determined to find someone good to go see, and wanted to be ready with a name when I got a call from Dr. G.

Later that day—one week after the office had received the ultrasound report—I finally got a call from one of Dr. G’s staff. She was very kind. She informed me that Dr. G thought I needed a biopsy (Duh!) and wanted me to see Dr. B, a local ear, nose and throat specialist. I was kind of surprised—I had expected to be referred to an endocrinologist. She reassured me that Dr. G had a really high opinion of Dr. B and sent people to him all the time. I asked if she could give me any details about what the ultrasound report actually said. “I don’t have those details. You’ll be able to talk to Dr. B about it when you see him.” So my assignment was to wait on a call from Dr. B’s office to schedule an appointment.

When I got off the phone with her, I looked Dr. B up online. He was in practice with two other doctors. I saw that “thyroid nodule” and “thyroid cancer” were both listed in the conditions they treated. One thing I really liked was that I would be able to email questions to Dr. B once I was officially his patient.  In his picture on the website he looked kind of like an ex high-school quarterback, and maybe not suitably nerdy.  I decided not to hold that against him.