Fixation on Histology

Histo Tech, Educator, Cancer Patient, Survivor. Part I

Karen Bordenet

I hadn’t been to a doctor in a few (plus) years and developed a persistent, dry cough back in September. I decided it was finally time to put my big girl pants on and take care of this annoying little throat pest and develop a relationship with a primary care physician as the ravages of time were catching up with me. My new exceptional doctor didn’t comment on my lack of medical attention, luckily, and enthusiastically ordered multiple tests and bloodwork. When she asked when was the last time I had a mammogram, I sheepishly replied that “it had been some time ago.”

Fast forward to early November, 24 hours after my mammogram, I was called back for a biopsy. That didn’t sound good, and to top it off, you are awake for the procedure. It was confirmed that I indeed had breast cancer in both breasts, and not only that, I had a different type of cancer in each breast, which I found out was rather unusual. The next step was to check if my breast cancer had metastasized to other parts of my body.

So, this is what it’s like to experience the life of a cancer patient. I was now the face behind the paraffin embedded block, the H&E stain, and the multiple IHC stains. My mind became filled with questions. How is my life going to change? It definitely will no matter the outcome, and how will I handle the news? When will my phone ring? How good is my health insurance? How does FMLA work? Questions all cancer patients ask themselves.

I had MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, sonograms, and seven biopsies. I was poked and prodded, all necessary for my course of treatment, which included sending my case to the tumor board. You know what I’m talking about, my fellow cancer sisters and brothers. I didn’t come out totally unscathed. However, I was unfortunately diagnosed with kidney cancer on my right kidney. (Perhaps a future blog post.) The final procedure before chemotherapy starts is having a chemo port implanted under your skin near your collarbone (at least for me). The port is a reservoir with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein where the drugs will be inserted.

My oncologist discussed the course of treatment with me and wanted to begin chemotherapy immediately. I met with my nurse navigator before chemo began to go over a rather sizable packet of dos and don’ts. We covered the possible endless side effects of chemo, services in the area, her cell phone number, and lots of other information, including that I need to have 100 ounces of liquid per day. I wasn’t too sure that the last one was possible.

Let’s talk about my wig experience. As with most chemo patients, this will be a reality sooner rather than later. I know, it’s only hair, and it will grow back …. someday. I told myself that these treatments are meant to save your life, so stop being vain and get over it. I thought I could handle this purchase on my own. How hard can it be to pick out a suitable wig? Included in my packet were a few wig catalogs, and of course, the models looked stunning. Maybe I’d go a little darker, and I definitely had to go shorter. I ordered two wigs and waited with anticipation. I wrestled with the first wig trying to put it on, wondering which side was the front. I looked like Davy Crockett with his coon skin cap. The second wig didn’t do me any favors either. This wasn’t working.

I looked in my packet again, found a wig consultant in my area, and made an appointment. I thought I would go in and try on a few wigs, get the consultant’s opinion and go home with one. Nope. The consultant took me back to a private room when I entered the shop. Did I mention that my hair had already fallen out, and I was wearing a scarf? Wigs lined the walls, and I was seated in a comfy hairstylist chair facing a large mirror. Okay, I’m ready to try on some wigs. After removing my scarf, and some chit-chat, the consultant pulled out a measuring tape. She wanted to get exact measurements of my head. That was kind of fun. Okay, ready to try on some wigs. She then pulled out several swatches of hair color samples. Hmmm, so I might not be going home with a wig today? She wanted to see a picture of me before I lost my hair, and I showed her my driver’s license. We looked for a similar color to my “natural” color and then looked through her wig magazine. I wasn’t feeling it until the last wig of the last page - a rather sassy blond three-toned wig including darker roots. They are assembled in California, and it would take a good two weeks to come in. I wondered if I would be seeing it blow down the college parking lot on a windy day. On the plus side, my insurance covered the cost, and I had it right before classes started, and it did indeed fit snuggly. Advice to the newly diagnosed: go to a professional and do it by your first treatment.

Any positives regarding having cancer? You have to have something to hold on to and find a little humor, and these are just my personal thoughts on my three types of cancer.

Positive #1: There is the Keto diet, and there is the chemo diet.
One of my drugs says to eat high-calorie foods, including ice cream. How cool is that! Guilt free! Even better is that I’ve lost over twenty pounds because assuming that I’m even hungry food says bye-bye before it has a chance to sit down and say hello.

Positive #2: I’m told by several people, including my second-year students, that I look great and younger with my wig. Not sure how bad I looked before.

Positive #3: As more histology people in my community learn about my condition, I have been contacted by some of my graduates, former and current co-workers, and friends. You may not know what to say, and that’s okay, but just reaching out can make my or someone else’s day.

I am writing this as I’m sitting back in a comfy recliner with a pillow and blanket, drinking a diet ginger ale, and receiving my drug treatment. I started in mid-December and will finish up at the end of March. The next steps include surgery, six weeks of daily radiation treatment, and eventually dealing with kidney cancer.
I hear the nurses sitting with fellow patients talking, listening, and comforting them. The team here is knowledgeable, compassionate, and wonderful. Thank you all for holding my hand through this whirlwind of a journey and sending me with confidence to climb the next mountain in my path.
As you walk into the entrance of the treatment room, there is a large brass bell. I toured here before my first treatment and was told that when you finish your final chemo regiment, you ring the bell as loud as you can, and everyone claps and cheers. Today the bell was rung.

Karen Bordenet, BA, HT (ASCP)
Instructional Specialist II, Histotechnology
Community College of Baltimore County




04-11-2022 16:56

Karen, thank you for sharing your story and amazingly enough with great humor! Such a positive attitude can only be beneficial. I wish you all the best--I know I am not alone in knowing someone close who has battled with cancer. Your perspective was a welcome read. Wishing you all the best!

04-06-2022 15:03

Wow Karen,
Thank you for sharing your story.  I'm sure you #RANGTHATBELL!!  Thank you for allowing us to share in your story.  I hope and pray that you get through your courses of treatment and continue sharing your story. ​

04-02-2022 23:51

Hi Karen,

Thank you for sharing. 

You are brave and your positivity is inspiring. 

I pray that this spirit will remain in you, even when you might feel weak. 

04-01-2022 15:19

What a story!! What a struggle that gives inspirational to the readers!! I can not wait to read Part II. I wish you better health and happiness and excellent future career!!

04-01-2022 13:53

Wow! Great writing! Great story! It sort of puts my "bad" days into perspective. Wishing you the very best for a happily ever after.