Lymph node examination

A lymph node biopsy and not having cancer

In Blog, Health by jennisheppard23 Comments

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I hope this brutally honest post gives some insight into the process of a lymph node fine needle biopsy – and how the fear of having cancer affected my life over the past few weeks. If you have lymph node cancer, my experience is nothing compared to yours and I wish you the best possible recovery. That said, here are my recent experiences.

A few weeks ago, my haemotologist found a lump in my neck.

She raised the prospect of cancer, scheduled me for a neck ultrasound and referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who would decide if I needed a biopsy. The reality didn’t hit me at first. I think I was in shock.

I’m only 33 and have been mostly healthy all my life. I couldn’t understand why she would suggest a biopsy. Unless there was a good reason?

Immediately, I couldn’t stop myself jumping to the worst possible conclusions. And when I had to tell my boyfriend, my conclusions overwhelmed me.

I stood outside the hospital in tears, on the phone, my mind chased itself down a rabbit hole to thoughts of death. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to lose our awesome life together. And I didn’t want him to go through that either.

We decided not to tell anyone what was happening, to prevent anyone worrying – except us. And as I waited for my ultrasound date, my own anxiety faded somewhat, as I allowed myself to focus on the everyday madness of the newsroom.

Lymph node examination

This stock image shows exactly what my initial lymph node examination looked and felt like (Alexander Raths/Shutterstock)

But come the day of the ultrasound, I was a bag of nerves and tried desperately to glean any information about the results from the doctor.

She reassured me it looked fine, but said the specialist needed to look at it. She added that she wasn’t supposed to say anything, but I looked so worried she couldn’t help it.

Although it was against the rules, I really appreciated her effort to reassure me – it definitely helped me go about my daily life afterwards. Until my visit to the specialist, who thought the first ultrasound was inconclusive and ordered another one – and a biopsy.

This scared the hell out of me. If a specialist thought it was worth doing a biopsy, I must be facing a real risk here.

What happens during a lymph node biopsy?

The day of the biopsy I was extremely nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I still hadn’t told anyone what was happening. I hoped it would be as painless and inconspicuous as possible. As it turned out, it wasn’t painless, but it was manageable.

For anyone who wants to know what a lymph node fine needle biopsy is like, what follows is a brief description. Those of you with an aversion to pointy things doctors stick in your arm to give you vaccinations – look away now.

The doctor used a needle, about the size usually used to take blood samples, to inject the biopsy area with a local anaesthetic. This was painful, until the anaesthetic kicked in after a few minutes.

Then he swapped in a different, similar-sized needle to draw out the lymph node cells. These are deeper down than blood cells so it was much more uncomfortable than having bloodwork.

The process felt like it took quite a while, as he took several different samples, but overall, it involved less pain than I was expecting, considering they were taking cells out of my neck, and was mostly just uncomfortable.

Lymph node ultrasound and biopsy in examination room

This stock image shows exactly what it was like to have a lymph node ultrasound at Vancouver General Hospital. The biopsy was exactly the same setup. (Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

They checked my neck wasn’t bleeding and placed a large plaster over the biopsy area. Then I was free to go on my way. This time there were no assurances everything was ok.

Afterwards, my neck swelled up, and I could feel the biopsied lymph node, scarily hardened under my skin. My neck hurt to touch, but I was able to work the same day and over the following weeks it reduced little by little.

I tried to be philosophical. Who knew what the verdict would be? Maybe this was it. What if this was the end? Did I have serious regrets? Should I change anything given the jolt of reality these tests forced upon me?

I evaluated my life and decided I am incredibly lucky – I am truly happy with how I’ve spent my time so far. I love living in Vancouver, I love working in the newsroom and I love the people around me.

I decided to embrace some challenges I’d been mulling over. And I jumped off that rock that’s been taunting me for years at Brohm Lake. I tried to hold on to the exhilaration of life and imagine everything turning out OK.

If not, I was petrified by the thought I might be about to lose all that. As the day of the results grew nearer, I began to feel like I was staring down the barrel of a gun.

Four days before my results, I awoke with excruciating neck pain that, in my state of fear, I could only associate with the biopsy. Had the procedure done damage? Was the lymph node infected? Or did this mean I have cancer?

An attempt to take painkillers and go into work failed and I ended up crying my eyes out at my local doctor’s surgery.

He told me it was probably nothing – so reassuring – and gave me a heady cocktail of muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories.

This stock image shows about how far I could move my neck - not at all - when I suddenly experienced extreme neck pain after my lymph node biopsy.

This stock image hopefully illustrates the extreme neck pain I experienced almost two weeks after my lymph node biopsy. I could barely move my neck.

After a day knocked out by the drugs, the pain had eased enough to get on with normal life. As much as I could, with three days to go until my biopsy results.

The night before the results, I couldn’t sleep for fear of just about every bad thing I could imagine.

My overwhelmed mind apparently wasn’t satisfied with tormenting me with the idea of having cancer and what the hell would mean.

At various times, I was also struck with the absolute conviction someone was breaking in and stealing our snowboards. Or that a raccoon had entered through an open window and was about to attack us in our sleep.

The mind can be a crazy place when forced to face its worst fear.

The next day, as I cycled to the hospital, my hands were shaking. My boyfriend met me there, having agreed to come with me in case it was awful news.

We waited. My mind in turmoil. This was it. What was I even supposed to do at this point? I could only face what was before me. A hospital waiting room. A specialist with possibly devastating news.

And then he appeared. Absolutely full of fear, but determined to face facts, I asked if it was terrible news and if my boyfriend should come in with me.

He smiled. “It’s not terrible news – but you can bring him in anyway.”

He explained there was no cancer, just reactive cells trying to protect my body from the wear and tear of life.

I thought I would feel instant relief, relaxation and happiness. But when we left five minutes later, I found it hard to comprehend what just happened.

I sat trying to formulate my confused thoughts and emotions into a coherent state of mind. I had spent the last few torturous weeks bracing myself for the worst.

Now here I was, expecting to feel full of the carefree wonder of life. But instead I felt ramped up for a fight I so, so thankfully no longer had to face.

Slowly though, the relief and joy of my reality started to wash over me. We smiled. We laughed. We hugged. We decided to share the good news with our family and friends.

And I raced home, knowing there was one last thing to do before my adrenaline rush faded, determined to use this energy for something good.

And I began writing.

Jenni Sheppard

Me, sunny, relaxed and happy – exactly how I felt when I had come to terms with everything being just fine. (Conrad Olson)

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19 comments
kimmerzz__
kimmerzz__

Thank you so much for writing.  I am currently waiting to have (4) biopsies performed on painless, hard masses found on my left jawline.  The masses were found by ultrasound which prompted the biopsies. My ENT thinks that they are possibly blocked saliva ducts but upon more research that doesn't appear to make a lot sense and I wonder if he was placating me. I hope this is all it is, but the wait for the test is weighing heavily on my mind.  I have been on antibiotics and anti vials and nothing has changed the size of the masses (which have pretty much stayed the same since July).  I developed uveitis in my right eye last winter which has not changed. Without steroid drops I am unable to see clearly.

Sharing your experience with the biopsy helps as I really have not received any assistance with what to expect which is probably causing the most angst.

dazed n confused 63
dazed n confused 63

I received a call from the surgeons office on Tuesday. They want me to come to the hospital next Wednesday . I am assuming that my results are back from Kingston. The receptionist at the doctors office was very nice. She asked that I bring all my medication and reading glasses...when I asked about what to expect at this appointment she stated that the doctor will be reviewing the results with me and further tests/procedures will be done....As much as I appreciate how quickly things are moving it still seems like an eternity. ..it's amazing how are mind can wonder down dreary paths and then you tell your mind to leave that bumpy road...




TammyFrench
TammyFrench

I was at your age when the doctor said that I needed to have a lymph node removed out of my neck. I am 49 now and at that time they told me that a lymph node could not be biopsied in the neck. Cancer was expected but I was very lucky and it was just a fatty mass. The most horrible part of my surgery was the three week recovery period. I had to sleep sitting up for two weeks. You do not realize that everything you do, you use your neck. To sit up, to sit down, to go to the bathroom, to eat, etc. please get a second opinion before you allow a removal over a biopsy. I am very thankful that it wasn't cancer but I sure wish that I had the option of having a biopsy!

Mila
Mila

Just read your story feeling very emotional. My dad went for a biopsy on his neck which Doctor refused to do as he said there would be too much blood. He then got a call to go and see a different doctor the following week. When he went instead of a biopsy and told him to come back the following week to get the lump removed. That was yesterday. When they went in they couldn't remove all of it. Said that it had grown up the back of his head. They removed what they could and it's away for testing. They also looked at his voice box. We now have to wait a week on the results. Feeling sick at the thought of what it could be but trying to be positive.

dazed n confused 63
dazed n confused 63

Thank you for sharing your story. I have been on the roller coaster for 1 month. Large lump under left arm lead to diagnostic mamogram. ..ultarsounds...blood work..blood work...Fine needle biopsy. ..core needle biopsy...I waited 10 days to see my doctor...the waiting was beyond words. ..my emotions all over the map...I just saw my doctor yesterday and no cancer in my breast but suspicious lymph nodes. Relief has turned to worry again as the biopsy samples have been sent to Kingston  for further testing.....


I hope to have the same story tell...

BradTurvey
BradTurvey

So glad you wrote this; thanks for writing.

Lisapen1976
Lisapen1976

Glad there's mot only me feeling like I do. I also find myself feeling guilty for worrying cause everyone tells me it's going to be fine. I've had a scan then another scan with needle biopsy Bern today for results came back inconclusive so have to go threw the whole thing again plus have an MRI scan another few weeks of worrying :(

thanks Lisa

jennisheppard
jennisheppard moderator

@Lisapen1976 Oh Lisa - of course you are worrying, it would be strange if you didn't I think. I hope this post helps you get through the waiting and worrying a little, and that it turns out OK. Good luck!

Lucy
Lucy

Okay, so I got it all clear, just reactive hyperplasia. Did your node dissappear eventually? Sorry for all of thode questions, you are the first person with similar experience :-) Take care!

jennisheppard
jennisheppard

Great news on the all clear! My node is still there, but I don't notice it, unless I get run down or ill and the docs seem to think it's fine.

Lucy
Lucy

...WERE going through.

jennisheppard
jennisheppard

Hi Lucy, good luck, I hope you get the all clear. The node was about the size of a one dollar coin.

Lucy
Lucy

How big was the node? I'm awaiting the results of my excisional biopsy so I know what are you going through...

alexis.
alexis.

How long did you have the node?

jennisheppard
jennisheppard

Thanks for your question Alexis. I had actually been aware of the lump for as long as I can remember, but it only became apparent during periods when I was run down, whether through illness or the general wear and tear of life. It wasn't until the specialist noticed it that I ever thought anything of it. Hope that helps?

LizTorres
LizTorres

Súper nervous myself! I discovered. Lymph node on my neck. I saw a Hemetologist and Oncologist and they did the needle biopsy thanks god everything came out negative. I was planning to see the Head and neck surgeon just to make sure that I'm not having a problem w my tonsils or anything upper. I'm so nervous... although the biopsy came back negative. After the biopsy I developed a head cold. The MD told me that my body was just fighting a virus.

anxious149
anxious149

I have lymphnodes almost in whole body and low wbc(range 2.8-3.2) for about one year. the lymph nodes are painless and less than one cm except the mesenteric lymphnode measured 2cm. additionall'y I am suffering from exterem fatigue, pain particularly on back and lower limbs at rest and sometimes night sweats. I have done all infectious, autoimmune tests and come negative. I did genetic exam, PET scan and bone marrow biopsy and result come normal. my doctor told me to follow every one month but now every 3 months however I am suffering from this devastating condition with no clear diagnosis. I wish to share your knowledge and experience.