The sick feeling in my stomach became worse.
I have Cancer….
November 11, 2013 was a beautiful, bright sunny Fall day but it felt very dark all of a sudden. Even though I was parked in a busy parking lot with lots of activity, the inside of my car was eerily quiet as I listened to Dr. Blackman tell me I had Cancer. It’s hard to describe my feelings even as I write this now, 5 years later.
I sat in my car in silence for a few minutes after Dr. Blackman hung up and then called my sister to give her the news. She offered to come by my house but I said it wasn’t necessary because I had more business appointments. I asked Lisa to give Dad the news. It was difficult to digest everything and I wasn’t prepared to answer questions.
A few hours later, I texted my sister and asked her to come by after all. She was at my house when I arrived and we hugged. Before we talked about the cancer stuff, I wanted to call Rich.
I stepped outside and sat down on the back porch steps to gather my thoughts. My backyard was so beautiful and peaceful. About 6 months before all of the Cancer stuff started, I was hunting for a new home. Ironically, I didn’t want a house but something low maintenance close to downtown like a condo or townhome. One day I rode by this house and saw the “For Sale” sign. It was in my budget so I asked my realtor to schedule an appointment to see it just for kicks. I fell in love with the house immediately. It’s a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, older house and much larger than what I needed. The house had been on the market for over 2 years and was priced under market value. (I concluded that it hadn’t sold because one of the two bathrooms was in the attic and tiny tiny tiny TINY). The bathtub sat underneath the roof’s eaves so only a very petite person would be uncomfortable in there. I loved house. The backyard and large covered back porch were amazing and peaceful. I had a vision for the barely finished attic to become my beautiful Master Suite which included converting that tiny tiny “so-called” bathroom into a spa-like retreat. I bought it!
Once I gathered my thoughts, I called Rich. We talked about the pathology results. He asked if I was ok and I said yes. I told him that “I had no idea what all of this meant. Even though I loved him, our relationship was new and I’d understand if he wanted out.” I didn’t want to be a burden to him but I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to lose him. Rich was quiet for a bit and then said something which oddly as I write this I don’t remember exactly what. I do remember that he was calm and wasn’t going anywhere.
The first thing that attracted me to Rich when we met, besides his great smile, was he made me laugh. Our relationship had hiccups but it also had lots of crazy, HYSTERICAL fun. I’d tell friends that we were “Stupid Silly” together when they asked about the new guy in my life. I still do.
Rich told me he loved me as we ended our call. I continued to sit on the back porch steps.
I felt frozen. I looked up at the Carolina blue sky feeling lost and confused with so many thoughts spinning around in my head. My emotions were all over the place.
I walked back into the house. As Lisa started walking towards me we both began to cry. It wasn’t a total melt down cry, but tears were shed. I wanted the uneasiness in my stomach to go away. We sat in the living room for a while talking about the “what ifs” and questions we still had. I still felt frozen. Lisa asked if I needed or wanted to do anything. I answered, with all seriousness ,”I need a Leaf Blower”. The look on her face was priceless and then we both busted out laughing. She said “only you” and then her face lit up. She said “WE need to do a Jager shot”. We laughed and walked to the kitchen for two shot glasses and grabbed the Jagermeister. I’m sure we cheered to something but don’t remember what. My poor Sister wasn’t expecting me to immediately poor a second shot but she partook with no hesitation. We stopped there because I was determined to buy a LEAF BLOWER and someone needed to drive. We went to Lowes, laughed at anything and everything and walked out with a leaf blower. It felt good leaving the store knowing the people staring at our craziness didn’t know that I have Cancer. They only knew they were witnessing two crazy women without a care in the world and somewhat normal, cracking up over who knows what. They either laughed with us or probably thought we were truly crazy. We didn’t care either way. We just laughed louder.
I’m pretty sure that between November 11, the day I found out that I had Cancer and November 19, the first day of multiple doctor appointments as a Cancer Patient that I unconsciously went into what I now call “Robotic Mode”. Things were happening so quickly.
More doctor appointments scheduled. More explanations about test results. More people examining my breasts….
NOVEMBER 19: A full day of doctor appointments starting with General Surgeon, then the Oncologist, and finally a Radiologist. My Dad and Sister were with me.
- First stop: We met with Dr. Blackman 9:00am for a follow up from my lumpectomy surgery. He again explained the results and examined the surgery site. I asked him if he felt I should have a Bi-Lateral Mastectomy with reconstruction. I added that I’d planned to have the breast augmentation surgery so why not? Dr. Blackman in a very empathetic voice said “if I were his wife, he’d not recommend making such a radical decision.” He was very adamant about the cancer being treatable. His words were somewhat comforting because he talked to me in terms of how he’d advise his wife. Did I mention he was cute too??…. 😉
- Next Stop: The Cancer Center. It was very ominous entering the lobby. I had been there many times before as a vendor. My appointments were for business purposes. (The Cancer Center was a customer of mine) I never truly noticed the people in the waiting area or thought about “why” there were there in the past but I noticed them on that day. The waiting area was filled with people who were in the midst of their own Cancer Journey. Most of them looked so fragile. People were wearing scarves on their head to cover up the hair they’d lost, others walking with IV poles attached to them, some were in wheelchairs… I didn’t want to stare so I just scanned the room. I felt sad for them and overwhelmed for me at the same time. Being there also brought back memories of my Mom.
Mom passed away there but not from Cancer. The Cancer Center wasn’t in that building back then. The building has been renovated, there’s fresh paint, new carpet, new furnishings and the entrance is in a different place. The cosmetic changes didn’t change the feeling I had when Mom was being treated there. The Chapel was very close to the new entrance and a place I prayed many times for my Mom’s recovery. She was too young to die but God needed her in heaven.
Lisa, Dad and I found seats together. I didn’t tell them how uncomfortable I was, but I’m sure they knew. My name was called and I was escorted to the lab so they could draw blood. The Nurse said “little prick” as the needle stuck my arm. I tried to hold back tears but they flowed down my cheek anyway. She asked if she’d hurt me and I nodded “no”. Someone handed me a tissue. I apologized for crying. The nurse was very gentle and told me she understood. I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes and returned to the waiting area.
Dad and Lisa were cracking each other up as I walked up. SNACK ALERT! They’d spotted a man and woman, who were volunteers, handing out snacks and drinks to the patients and their families in the waiting area. Laughing at them was good comedic relief for me. They looked like two kids trick-or-treating at Halloween rummaging through the basket for their favorite snack.
Once the lab confirmed they had all they needed from me, we were escorted to another location in the waiting area. “Snack Alert” was still high for Dad and Lisa as they spotted the Volunteers in that area and went in for seconds. All of the volunteers knew them now and were laughing too.
- 1st Appointment with the Oncologist, Dr. Kahn, at 11:00am. She had a calmness about her and smiled at the “Sister and Dad Comedy Show” that was still in full force when she entered the room. She explained my condition and answered all of our questions with patience. My sister, Lisa, probably asked most of the questions and was taking notes. The treatment protocol, as long as no other Cancer was found after further testing, was Radiation for a minimum of 7 months and then I’d begin taking hormone inhibitor meds daily for 5 to 10 years. Dr. Kahn then asked my Dad and Lisa to step out so she could examine me.
- After examining my breasts, Dr. Kahn stood in front of me, put her hands on my knees and softly said “you are very calm about all of this”. She asked “how I felt about my diagnosis”. I couldn’t answer her so she said, “you don’t know how to feel?”. She understood me. I said that “I don’t feel I deserve to be there because there are people in the waiting area who are much sicker than me. I’m fortunate because the cancer was found early and it is treatable.” Dr. Kahn looked into my eyes and said “it was ok for me to be scared. I had Cancer”. I held back tears. I really hated that word… “Cancer”. Dr. Kahn added that “Cancer doesn’t discriminate and that I was just as important as anyone else in the waiting area and deserved the best treatment possible because I had my own battle to fight”.
- Dr. Kahn asked Dad and Lisa to come back into the room. She told us that more tests were needed to confirm whether or not the Cancer had spread into other parts of my body. The tests ordered were a Needle MRI to my left breast and Sentinel Node Surgery which checks for cancer that may have spread to the lymph nodes. Again, I was told this was protocol. Dr. Kahn didn’t expect they’d find more Cancer.
- Met with Radiologist, Dr. Squire, at 1:30pm. The first thing I noticed was how young she looked. My sister wanted to see her I.D. She reviewed my case with us and then was called out for a short procedure. While waiting for her to return, my sister and dad started looking for something else to eat. (We hadn’t had lunch) They ran into a nurse who gave them a ton of candy kisses, which we devoured. Then the “Sister and Dad Comedy Show” returned. They began strategically placing the candy kiss wrappers all over the exam room including the doctor’s computer monitor and keyboard. I hadn’t paid much attention to what they were doing until I saw Dr. Squire’s expression on her face as she entered the room. That pretty much gave away the candy kiss foil wrappers littered throughout the room. Dr. Squire loved it, laughed and we all started laughing again. She went into more detail about how much radiation would be needed, the possible side effects and when it would start and then we left.
We were so exhausted when we got back to my house a little after 4:00pm. We discussed the appointments from the day. Dad felt really good about the prognosis. Lisa and I were more cautiously optimistic. (I had been told so many times that the scans, tests, etc. were all protocol. The expectation was Cancer would not be found….THAT WAS NOT THE CASE!) Until the other tests ordered were done and pathology results were in, I was not holding my breath.
- MRI Appointment: November 25 at 3:30pm (the day before Thanksgiving)
- Sentinel Node Surgery: Friday, December 6