Skip to main content.
Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Lymphedema

I heard from my oncological surgeon on Monday. The report had come back from the biopsy of the lump in my chest (finally) and the results were – inconclusive. He told me my options were to attempt another biopsy with a larger needle, or to just go ahead with a surgical removal.

At first, I didn’t see the point in another biopsy. With my PET scan results having shown no hyperactivity, I thought that malignancy had been ruled out, so only the lump material was going to be be removed. They could test the lump itself to identify it. Not so, says he. Apparently, a PET scan is not ultimately authoritative. I should have known that – there always appear to be exceptions in medicine. There still was a chance it could be malignant, and that would require more radical removal, so if there turned out to be a problem, a second surgery would be required. (And it didn’t occur to me until now, but a second surgery would be complicated because the first might have disturbed malignant tissue, causing cells to start spreading to other parts of my body.) I scheduled an appointment for the next day to discuss it.

Later that evening, when I thought it out, it became clear to me that it was foolish not to undergo another biopsy first. Thinking as an engineer, who won’t want to eliminate a potential hazard of small probability but major consequence with a simple preliminary test? The cost of such testing to me was only a $25 copay and a brief period of pain, and (I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this yet) I once walked a good five kilometers on a broken foot (third metatarsal, complete fracture) carrying a thirty kilo backpack (in the rain, in the wee hours.)

So I called the doctor’s office in the morning, told them I had decided on the biopsy, and made sure that they scheduled enough time to do it right away. After all, there was no need to have the discussion and then schedule another appointment with another $25 copay!

I went in with some trepidation, starting to get anxious again after being so relieved after the PET scan, and half expecting him to pull out some gag-shop syringe with a needle the size of a drinking straw. But he examined me first and then stopped. The lump had gotten significantly smaller. I hadn’t noticed, because I had stopped feeling it up every day after I got the PET scan results. It changed everything, he said. Now, it was clear to him that the lump was a lymphedema – a backup of lymph fluid, full of fats and complex proteins, caused by the removal of lymph nodes in my armpit, and it appeared to be going away by itself. He’s putting me in for an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, but he seemed very confident. So – no surgery for me!

Posted by Greg as General Science, Melanoma at 23:29 PST

2 Comments »