Once Upon A Breast

You might be wondering why a person would choose this profession. How does one come to the decision that they would like to stick needles into people’s lumps and bumps and look at their cells under a microscope? Well, I have an up close and personal answer for you.

At the end of my second year of pathology residency, I rotated through the pathology department at a community hospital. It was there that I met a cytopathologist who had been classically trained at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, where he learned the technique of fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA). It is a specialized technique where the pathologist obtains the FNA sample, prepares the slide, processes it and then renders a diagnosis on the spot. Miraculous!

During my rotation, I had the opportunity to see many patients, many of whom were around my age, women with breast disease, including breast cancer. Feeling a bit anxious, I decided to get a baseline mammogram. One thing led to another and soon I found myself on the exam table getting an ultrasound guided FNA biopsy! Once the sample was obtained, off I went to the lab to stain my slides and review them with my mentor under the microscope. It turned out to be benign (a fibroadenoma), but the relief I felt was indescribable. It was then and there that I decided that I wanted to do the same thing for other patients who have the same fear and anxiety waiting for a biopsy result. I found that I could be a pathologist and have the direct effect on patients that I had always wanted to have since going into medicine. I could be a clinical cytopathologist!

Since that time I have completed my pathology residency, went on to a fellowship at NYU where I was trained by those who taught me in the same Swedish tradition of FNA biopsy. I learned how to perform FNAs, process specimens, provide immediate diagnoses and give patients their diagnoses. I have evaluated over 25,000 FNA specimens, and worked with the best in the field. All the while I have maintained my passion for this field, and never forgotten the reasons why I chose it in the first place.