No, not that one.
The other one that everyone hates.
It took my friend Dianna (see Dearest Dianna). It’s been annoying a good friend of The Ex’s for the past four years. It took my grandmother. And my aunt. And the moms of two dear friends. Two women at work are battling it even as I write this. And there are countless others waging this war every day.
Now it’s my turn.
I found it myself. About a month ago, I noticed a strange dent on the top of my left breast. “That’s new,” I thought as I started poking at it. And there it was… a weird lumpish thing underneath. It wasn’t round, it wasn’t smooth… It wasn’t supposed to be there.
There’s a moment of panic where your mind goes immediately to the worst. But I went through this two years ago. Even had a biopsy. It was just a cyst. “I’ll just schedule a mammogram,” I thought, half kicking myself for not having one last year. It was the high tide of the divorce storm last year and a mammogram never crossed my mind.
The day of the mammogram – or mimmeogram as The Joan would call it – arrived without fanfare. “It will be nothing,” I told myself again. After the mammogram, I was told they wanted me to stay & have an ultrasound done on the area in question. Okay – same thing they did two years ago. And just like two years ago, the radiologist came in after looking at both the mammogram and the ultrasound. “That doesn’t look good,” she said.
No no no. You’re doing this wrong, Doctor. You’re supposed to give me the generic “9 out of 10 times it’s nothing but let’s follow-up” speech. She told me she was calling my primary care physician as I was leaving the office & to follow-up with her & schedule an appointment with a surgeon. “Any questions or concerns?” she asked.
“Yes. I don’t like the looks of the dent on the top of my skin,” I said, giving her one more chance to tell me it’s nothing & we’re just doing the surgeon/biopsy thing to be sure.
“Neither do I. That’s very troubling,” came her reply.
Again, doc, you’re doing this wrong.
A little shaken, I got dressed and went home. Waiting for me was a voice mail from my primary care doctor – not her office… from her – telling me to call right away to schedule an appointment with her before I saw the surgeon. The next two weeks became a whirlwind of appointments with doctors, surgeons & eventually a biopsy. I so wanted to believe that this would be nothing but with each conversation with each doctor, my hopes were sinking. Unlike two years ago, there was no reassurance. The radiologist wasn’t encouraging. The surgeon talked to me like I had already been diagnosed. The only time someone tried to be reassuring was when my doctor brought in a medical student she was working with. But I think he only tried because, from the looks of him, mine was probably the first booby he ever touched.
I had to bring my mammogram films & ultrasound CDs to the surgeon so of course I opened them up & tried to see something by holding the images up to the kitchen light. Not sure what I was looking at or even which side was which, I pulled out the piece of paper with the written report. And there, in large black letters, were the words, “Highly Suggestive of Malignancy.”
That’s when I started bracing for the worst.
That week between biopsy & results was perhaps the longest week I will ever live through. And then the words that I will never forget… “Unfortunately, it is cancer.” I had wondered what I’d do if I had to hear those words. Would I cry? Yes, briefly. Scream? No. What would be the first thing that crossed my mind? The Kids. How would I feel? Utterly alone.
Only I haven’t been alone. You can never know what it feels like unless you’ve lived through it, but time & time again, as I’ve told people, I heard, “My mom’s going through that now.” Or “My aunt has been cancer free for 23 years.” Or in the case of my boss, “I know how you feel. Wait… no I don’t. But I’m still here for you.” People have been offering their help in droves. So much so that I sometimes want to make something up so they can help. (Who wants to rake my leaves?) The Joan has been with me every step of the way so far. The Ex is taking The Kids for a few extra days while I have surgery. KK & Hyde have been in touch almost daily just to check in. The few people I’ve told at work have been generous with their time, one of them sending me a surprisingly eloquent message reading in part, “Do what you have to do to get healthy and I will personally make sure whatever work you can’t finish gets done.”
It’s what has been keeping me going.
When I got home from getting the original diagnosis, The Joan said to me, “You’ll be just fine. You’re strong.” I know I am. It just gets so damn tiring sometimes. That’s when I need all the support I can get.
So thank you to everyone who has offered their help, thoughts, good vibes & prayers. I’ll keep you posted. You just keep on helping me be strong.