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!