• 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 82 (Diagnosis Story: Part 3 – Diagnosis Day)


    Wednesday, October 1, 2014

    Day 82 of 100 Days of Good Karma.

    [Warning:  I’ve written Part 1 and Part 2 of my Diagnosis Story.  This post is the last part of that story–the day I found out I had cancer.  This was a really difficult post to write because in writing it, I lived it all over again.  There is some seriously graphic and scary shit below and I completely understand if you want to skip reading this one.  Proceed at your own emotional risk.]

    After the second mammogram of my life, my OB/GYN sent me for an ultrasound and a biopsy.

    I showed up to the appointment on July 9, 2104 alone, still not thinking anything was really wrong.  I was a little worried, but I kept telling myself that I was overreacting.  I felt fine.  I thought for sure if I had cancer I should feel bad or something.

    I was only thirty four.  Cancer in thirty four year old women was the kind of stuff that happened in movies – not to me.

    As I was lying on the ultrasound table, the gravity of the situation crept in.  I remember trying (and failing) to not cry as I lay there with warmed KY jelly cooling under the ultrasound wand the tech ran over the lump in my right breast, up into my armpit and up my chest toward my collarbone.

    After the ultrasound I met with the doctor.  I sat on a second table while he performed a breast exam.

    He asked, “Has anyone shown you the images?”

    I shook my head.

    He made an irritated noise.  I think because no one had said anything to me yet and it was left to him to deliver the news.

    He pulled up the images on his computer screen and turned the monitor toward me.  I saw a black and white negative of my breast.

    “Do you see this here?” he said, pointing to a mass of white on the screen.

    I nodded and he said, “That’s the larger mass.  This here,” he moved his finger, “is the smaller mass.  And with these,” he said, tracing white lines that extend down to the nipple,” I think we’re looking at cancer.”

    I’ve heard from others that once the word ‘cancer’ comes up in a doctor’s conversation you stop hearing everything after that.

    That’s true, but not quite true enough.

    You don’t just stop hearing the rest of the world.

    The rest of the world ceases to be.

    Something goes very still inside of you.  Like an image of a drop hitting water.

    You know there are going to be ripples from this drop but you’re frozen in that moment before the repercussions begin and the ripples turn into waves.

    Cancer, I thought. He just said cancer.

    “Are you sure? I mean it can’t be anything else?”

    I gave his Physician’s Assistant, a pretty, young blonde lady standing in the background, an incredulous look.  She gazed back at me with a sympathetic look I’d come to know very well.

    The doctor said, “I’m 99% sure we’re looking at breast cancer.”

    And then he patted me on the knee.

    I’ll never forget the feeling of his hand through the denim of my pants. I remember his hand was warm because I was suddenly too cold.

    Two quick pats on my knee, as though somehow that was enough to apologize for the shitstorm he’d just dropped into my lap.

    He said, “You’re going to have to start wrapping your head around that.”

    I blinked at him, stunned.

    Wrapping my head around… Did he really just tell me to start wrapping my head around CANCER?? Are you fucking serious?!

    This intelligent, well educated, very competent man had delivered the news as kindly and as professionally as he could.

    I hated him for it.

    It wasn’t his fault.  He just had the unpleasant job of being the first to say the word ‘cancer’.

    But I hated him anyway.

    I didn’t ask if they’d somehow mixed up my scans with someone else’s but for a time a I was convinced that was the case.

    I left the exam room shaken beyond reason.  I walked back down the hallway to where the biopsy was to be performed.

    I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.  I had an awful kicked in the head feeling and I couldn’t think straight.

    As I sat in the waiting room for the biopsy, I fought (and lost) my battle to not cry in public.  The best I could manage was to let the tears roll silently down my cheeks.

    One of the admins behind the check-in desk saw me and waved me into a back room.  She asked if I was all right.

    “He just told me I have cancer,” I said.

    She was the first person I said the word ‘cancer’ to and in saying it I crumpled in on myself.

    This this angel, this perfect stranger, wrapped her arms around me and rocked me. I clung to her and wept giant body wracking sobs on her shoulder.

    She didn’t bat an eye.

    She just held me and told me I’d be okay.  That everything would be all right.

    I didn’t believe her, but I let her say it anyway.

    I wish I could thank her for her kindness, but I don’t even remember what her face looked like.  I just remember she was there for me in a moment when I needed it.

    When I finally calmed down she let me stay in the back room until I was called back for my biopsy.

    I think I called Justin from there and told him the news.  There is a blank stretch of time in my mind here.  I honestly don’t remember what he said.

    I was finally called back for the biopsy, which, I was to find out, was it’s own special hell.

    I laid on another table, my third for the day, and my right breast was numbed with injections.  After it was numb, needles were inserted and samples of the tumors and the lymphnodes under my arm were taken.

    I cried into my elbow, my right arm thrown over my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look.  I felt pushing and pulling and one God awful moment of pain when they took a sample where the numbing injection didn’t reach.

    If I’d had any idea what the day held in store I wouldn’t have gone alone. But I didn’t know.  I thought I needed to be tough, brave it out and do it on my own.

    Today’s silver lining:  I haven’t had to go alone to a single cancer related doctor’s appointment since then.

    Since July 9th, I have discovered something wonderful:  I have more friends and family and people willing to support me than I have doctor’s appointments.

    And I’ve had a lot of doctor’s appointments.

    That’s a good problem to have.

    So that’s the end of my Diagnosis Story.  The blog picks up from there.  If you’d like to read from the beginning, start here.

    Again, I do apologize if this post frightened or upset you in any way.  Though I make light of it as much as possible, there’s no easy way to hear the words ‘you have cancer’.  It’s a moment that I’ll carry with me forever.  I can only hope by telling my story that I will help someone else with theirs.

    What’s your silver lining today? I love comments!


9 Responsesso far.

  1. Pam says:

    Wow, Meghan. Your diagnosis story is so compelling and horrifying. I’m sure I’m not the only one who totally cried while reading this. I’ve never read a story of diagnosis quite this moving.

    Thinking of you and how brave and creative you’ve been these past 82 days. You’re a total inspiration.

    Pam xox

  2. Rene says:

    You are right, I could not read it. Every time I think about it I get really sad and start to tear up.

    This is one of those things that is horrible and sad (and I think you mentioned it before) we think will not, cannot happen to anyone we know. But when it hits home, when it happens to some one close to us, we are not sure what to do, how to feel. It’s shocking and just really heartbreaking.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it has helped everyone who has read it and will help anyone later on who reads this.

    BTWs, you have a super awesome support group. <3
    And really glad you have your "tax man" 😉

  3. karen murphy says:

    My sweet Meg, my heart is breaking for you. Wish this wasn’t part of your life. May God wrap his arms around you, keeping u safe, and give you the strength you need to kick this cancers ASS. Wish I was closer, but I’m not. I know you have a great support system there. Love you much girlie!

  4. Chrystal says:

    *tears* I hate that you’re going through this! I wish I could find the right words, but I keep coming back to ‘cancer sucks!’ Love ya girl! I’ll see you bright & early tomorrow!

  5. marriannad says:

    Thank you for sharing another part of your story. It wasn’t hard for me to read and I’m awed by your bravery. How wonderful to have a beautiful support group around to love you and be with you.

    I wish I could think of “my silver lining” to write about but it’s very early in the morning and I need to get ready for a drive to Scottsdale to visit my mom who is 92 and living in a small assisted living home with dementia and fading slowly. I don’t know what I’ll be facing when I get there but I guess the silver lining today is that I get to see her and hug her and kiss her and just sit with her for the next day and a half. Pretty soon, I’ll be spending more time by her bedside before we say our final goodby.

  6. Kristel says:

    Thanks for sharing that even though that was hard to write and scary as all hell to read. It is a wake up call for us ladies.

    I have fibrocystic breast tissue, scarring and cysts. I call mine a bag of marbles. I joke that mine will never sag because they can’t. (silver lining?) The technicians always comment there isn’t anything in there except cysts and scar tissue. Unfortunately this means I can never tell anything from a self exam. It just feels lumpy, always. I have to go get a 3D mammogram and an ultrasound (yes both) every year. Every year they scare me with “what’s that 2 inch thing on your chest wall”. Every year the utrasound tech struggles to film it. I’ve had many a radiologist and Dr consult with others to decide if it needs a biopsy or if it’s just a cyst. So far it hasn’t grown in 5 yrs and they still call it a cyst.

    Having read your story, I’m going to just get it biopsied and be done with it. (even though you called the biopsy a special hell)

    You are really brave. You might consult a lawyer if you haven’t already because you might have a case/claim against that clinic that missed your initial diagnosis. It enraged me to read how that male Dr treated you. The clinics here in Scottsdale, Anthem and Glendale that I’ve been to so far have been female only staff and very respectful. That guy sounded like a bull in a china shop. 🙁

    On a completely different note, an idea for your next blog might be a play on that ‘Being John Malkovich’ film. Maybe call it “On the subject of being Meghan.”
    I know you are creative so I’m sure you’ll come up with something awesome for the next blog.

    love and hugs

  7. Tina Smith says:

    So heartbreaking. Love you, Megs.

  8. Lorien says:

    Dear Meghan, I want to thank you SO much for writing this post, and sharing your story. I have never heard or read exactly what these moments are like for a patient. I am a pathologist, and I frequently diagnose cancer, including breast cancer. (There are also those wonderful moments when I look at a suspicious sample and it turns out to be benign.) I am blessed to work with an incredible breast surgeon and a great cancer center, and am now even more grateful for that! Thanks for giving your perspective.

    I do want to say there ARE some gifted and caring men reading mammograms and taking biopsies. I’m lucky enough to work with a group of them. If I had breast cancer, I would definitely want to be treated here. The quality of care you receive really depends upon the individual providing it and other factors, such as the work culture.

    I wish you well.

    • Meghan says:

      Thank you so much for commenting, Lorien!
      After the initial diagnosis I sought a second opinion. I stuck with the second medical team for several reasons. One of those reasons being I didn’t think I’d ever be able to look at the person who handed me the diagnosis again. Nothing against him. My having cancer wasn’t his fault. He just had the misfortune of becoming the poster boy for a very dark and scary time.
      To be the one to deliver that news to a patient has got to be incredibly difficult, but I’m glad that you do that job because without pathologists and surgeons and oncologists I wouldn’t receive treatment and this blog would have a very different tone.
      Thank you for what you do!

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