It was October 5th, four years ago today when I received the news. The words you have cancer were uttered out loud and my life was changed forever. I had been to the clinic the week before, had the mammogram and ultra sound and then, the wait. The period of time where you think of all the possible results, but the worst seems to consume you. It had only been five days, I could not wait any longer for the results.
I was at work and I called. The nurse was reluctant to discuss the results over the phone. She said that they do not like to do this over the phone. Well, really, she said everything without saying it. I had breast cancer. How fitting, a breast cancer diagnosis in October – breast cancer awareness month. I sat in my office, turned my chair to the wall and thought about my next steps. What now? What would I do and how fast could I get this cancer out of my breast. I wanted surgery, I needed the mass to be out of my body as soon as possible. It feels like it does not happen fast enough, but it all happens so fast.
The decisions placed in front of a person can be overwhelming. Lumpectomy, mastectomy, what if the bugger has traveled to the lymph nodes? More treatment, chemotherapy, radiation – why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this at 42? I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, it’s done, the diagnosis will not change. I must figure out how to proceed.
Even though I felt as though it was taking forever, two days later I had an appointment with the surgeon. Shortly after that appointment, I was meeting with plastics. A date for surgery and reconstruction was booked, only a month to prepare. By November 13th, I was having a full mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.
A nine hour surgery, the surgeons will get it all, with good margins and I will get on with life. Apparently that was not in store for me. The sentinel node had cancer in it and another node looked suspicious. The protocol was chemotherapy.
This is not what I thought would happen, the lump was small. I think my surgeon was shocked as well. I woke up the next morning and she was at my bedside. She explained that the cancer was in my lymph nodes, she removed 19 of them. Now the wait began again, the pathology report on the rest of the nodes would take time. She was certain that chemo would be the next step, after recovery of course. Recovery after breast cancer continues long after the surgeries, the treatments, the physical pain, and the emotional trauma.
Life changes in a second. All the plans that one has for their life are redefined. Small, insignificant concerns disappear. I know I am not the only person that receives this diagnosis, but when it is you, that is all that matters. I have kids, a family, how will we cope? Cancer is undefined, what is this diagnosis going to mean to me and my family?
Will I live, or will life come to an end quicker than I imagined? I want to see my boys grow up and grow old with my husband. Will that all change?
As soon as you tell someone that you have cancer, there are stories about aunts, uncles, friends. Other people’s “journeys”. I truly look back now and realize that those stories, may be a person’s way of dealing with not knowing how to deal. I think that staying silent and just listening might be more helpful. I don’t want to know about your great aunt that died from cancer. I just want you to know that I have cancer. I might need your help at some point.
Once you mention that you have cancer, people change a bit. They are not sure what to say, how to say it or even how to act. Looking back, it makes me smile and chuckle a bit. My best advice is to just listen, no relating stories, hold back on those empathetic looks or even the phrase, said in an overly sympathetic voice, “how are yooouuuu?” This makes me sound so cold and inconsiderate, I am not, truly I am not. I am simply dealing with my own crappy had of cards that life has dealt me and I don’t want to be felt sorry for.
It is interesting to look in the face of something that might kill you. There is no cure, treatment has progressed and the prognosis is fantastic. But no one knows. What about recurrence? What about side effects from pouring poison into your body – small risk of other cancers, great! Why not. Let’s just pile on the grief. In all honesty, the negative thoughts become consuming. I started writing letters to my family and a few friends telling them how much I loved them, and what to do if the worst happened. It was a nine hour surgery, stuff happens and I wanted to be prepared. What if I died, what would my kids do, what would my husband do? It was important that they knew that I loved them.
Cancer, the word you really never want to hear – but it happens.