Before you have surgery for breast cancer, they force you to have radioactive liquid injected into the tissue surrounding your nipple. Then they track that black plume of radiation as it travels through your lymphatic system, in my case using an x-ray detector and computer from 1986 (I asked). Note the 8” floppy on the desk.

You can see on the screen the mass of injected radioactive technesium into my breast, and the track as it starts to be taken up by the lymph nodes in my armpit.

The Nuclear Medicine Specialist thought it was funny that I would want to share this picture. She said, kind of like when my daughter sends me pictures of people with their butt crack showing. I said, yes, kind of.

Your lymphatic system takes up the liquid, mistaking it for bacteria, and this shows the surgeon where the “sentinel” or first lymph node is for biopsy. I’m lucky in that it turned out after a few were removed during surgery that my lymph nodes had no cancer*. I had asked if I could skip the lymph node biopsy and the radioactive injections since: my MRI showed clear lymph nodes, my intuition said clear lymph nodes, and my surgeon said, based on my case, that anything other than clear lymph nodes would be “very surprising”. The doctors got very tense when I took up this line of questioning. Who wouldn’t want to have a butt-crack pic watching Nuclear Specialist inject radioactive liquid into their nipple and then process the image on an Apple IIe???

Anyway, good news is that there is now not a single isotope of doubt that my lymph nodes are free of cancer. Bad news is that my lymph nodes were flooded with radioactive liquid in order to arrive at the good news.

*My cancer-free lymph node status would later be challenged by a different hospital, one I actually suspected was trying to scare me into switching treatment centers, but that’s another rant.

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