Fun Facts: Making a Mark

Have you ever noticed how much doctors like to mark things?

A nurse told me last week that doctors have to sign the metal implants they install for hip replacements and the like. You want docs to be invested in what they’re doing after all. Can this really be true? I’m delighted by the idea of stainless steel ball joints walking around with tiny “Dr. Kilroy was here” signatures etched on them.

Of course, my markings have so far been less dramatic: There’s the simple ink mark that they draw above whichever breast they’re working on at the moment.

When they do a mammogram or MRI, they often put a little sticker on your nipple, I think it’s called a “nipple cap.” Alas, a Google search to try to confirm that just brought up porn, and links to Chinese companies that can supply nipple apparel. What exactly is nipple apparel?

When you do your baseline MRI, they stick a little capsule on your breast. It looks like a yellow vitamin attached to a tiny double-sided Post-It note. It’s filled with Vitamin E, because apparently fat shows up really well on MRIs. When they do a baseline check of the MRI each morning, they use a jar of mayonnaise. I love that: A multimillion dollar machine that so sensitive it can practically see into your soul starts out each work day plumbing the depths of a jar of Hellman’s.

After you have a biopsy, they mark the spot with teeny-tiny dots of titanium. That way, future radiologists will know where there’s been trouble in the past. I’ve got ’em on both sides now. I think of them as internal breast rings. Titanium is more expensive than gold, you know.

When they do my breast surgery next month, they’ll leave marker stitches on each side of the tissue they take out. If they need to go back in for any reason, God forbid, then they’ll know where they were.

If you want to make a mark, get cancer. It’ll mark you for sure.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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