Friday, January 27, 2012

Laughter, Music, Popsicle Sticks, & Walking With Dad

I don’t think that anyone can ever go into her/his first round of chemotherapy prepared. I tried, Lord knows, I always try to be prepared for everything. On Tuesday, I could hardly eat anything. I ate a super early breakfast/lunch around 9 a.m. This lunch consisted of nothing more than a small piece of chicken and very little pasta from the night before. Needless to say, by the time 1p.m. came around, I was incredibly nervous and still not really hungry. I was immediately taken back to be weighed, talked to by the doctor, and given a brief examination. Much to my surprise I had already lost two pounds since Friday. Not so bad, I thought to myself, it could have been worse. The nurse took me to the blandest office I have ever been inside in my life! Everything was tan and there was this lovely “different kinds of cancer” flip chart sitting on the counter. Possibly five minutes later a nurse practitioner came in. She went over my chemotherapy regime with me one more time as well as the premeds and the medications I would be taking for the next few days to combat the chemotherapy. She then gave me a brief examination to check the status of Sven and handed me a very nice canvas bag with a warm fuzzy polka dot blanket, some gum, lotion, and a word find book inside. I thanked her and was led to the chemotherapy room.

The chemo room was packed with patients when I got inside. Apparently they were short-handed on nurses that day so everyone needed to be patient (literally, the patients needed patience lol). Nevertheless, this place has some of the sweetest and most considerate nurses I have ever met and they are sure to put a smile on your face. I looked around the room, which had many windows and was painted in nice light colors. There was a TV on the wall as well as one or two paintings. Every chemo patient had a lazy-boy-esc chair to sit in next to a rod often with bags hanging from it. The chairs were all a shade of green and had a vinyl-like finish to them. I was by far the youngest patient in the room and waiting awkwardly to be told what to do. A smiling and familiar face instantly greeted me. This woman had been in the waiting room with me the last time I had come to the oncologist. Apparently she was my pre-school teacher when I was just a little girl. She also has cancer now, but you would not know it if you saw her face. She is filled with sunshine and laughter. You could hear her laugh throughout the entire building. She instantly switched to a seat near mine and made sure that I was comfortable and had everything I needed. She truly made that day far less scary than it could be. Needless to say sitting in chemotherapy isn’t so bad. Thanks to my mediport it doesn’t really hurt at all and it is kind of fun to watch the nurses do their thing. There is a lot of joking between patients and nurses and everyone tries to make everyone else feel better. Also, there’s a candy basket! Any place with free candy can’t be all that bad. Slowly, but surely all of the patients filed out. I had gotten in later that day so in the end it was just the woman with all of the laughter and me. It really wasn’t so bad at all. I am so grateful for the upbeat attitudes of everyone in that room. I promised to bring them all cookies next time, two out of three nurses said that oatmeal raisin was their favorite, so I believe I will be fine tuning this recipe before my next chemo appointment.

For the first couple of hours after chemotherapy I was tired. I mean tired. I felt like someone had laid one of those lead vests that they use in x-ray over my entire body. I should have gone to sleep, but I was told by everyone that I should try to eat something first. Having eaten basically nothing all day but a little bit of pasta, a cookie (worst mistake ever), and some fun sized crunch bars, I thought it would be a good idea to eat something real. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men… I will never, ever fast all day before chemotherapy again. EVER. Next time, I will be sure to eat well in the morning so that after chemo I can go home and sleep before the nausea hits. Dear Lord in Heaven, what in the world was I thinking? I really could not eat much of dinner. About an hour and a half after dinner the nausea hit. The worst thing about this is that I really didn’t have anything in my stomach to be sick with. (I’m really not going to sugar coat this so you might want to skip to the next paragraph if you’re not good with this stuff.) I was in bed when everything started to feel wrong. I immediately recognized my mistake in leaving my nausea pills downstairs in the living room. So began the slowest and hardest walk downstairs of my life. I could hardly see straight. I just kept focusing on my breathing and taking one step at a time. After my first few steps down the stairs, holding onto the sides of the walls, I took my first break. I just sat there, on the steps, for about five minutes breathing and trying to tell myself that it would be okay. I managed to make it into the living room and sit on the chair in front of my medication. My dad asked me if I was okay and I indicated that I wasn’t. It was very hard to figure out what medication I was looking for because I could not read the labels very well. I could not ask dad for help because he did not know which medications were for what (In the future I’m going to type up a list of labels and what they are for, for just such emergencies). At this point the pain came. By pain I mean extreme burning in my upper stomach, lower abdomen, and head. It was intensive heat at these core places in my body and it spread straight through my veins. It was awful. I made it to the bathroom only to dry heave nothingness. I curled up in a little ball on the bathroom floor and just tried to breathe slowly. I took my nausea medicine, but it didn’t seem to be working. I just wanted it to be over. Even though I was hot all over on the inside, I was freezing on the outside. Any attempt at a blanket just made the nausea worse so I just sucked it up and kept shivering. Mom and dad came in to check on me intermittently. Dad at some point brought me some cold apple juice drink for my stomach and an ice pack for my face, which was burning hot. At some point I made the mistake of looking into a mirror and realized that I looked like an albino smurf. I never knew that a person could be so pasty and so blue at the same time. Ugh, this was awful. However, about three or four hours later, this passed and I was able to go upstairs and get some much-needed sleep.

I don’t remember much of Wednesday except that I pretty much lived on Popsicle sticks, a brilliant idea told to me by a friend. They seem to be so perfect for my no longer happy stomach. At around 1 p.m. Dad came home to take me on a walk. The doctors suggested a fifteen-minute walk everyday to combat the chemo. The walk helped some. It was nice to spend some time with my dad. Wednesday continued in a fog of sleep, nausea, and double vision. I played music very quietly in the background because harsh sounds and lights only made things worse. I lived on my anti-nausea medication. However, the music was helpful because it created a great distraction and kept me calm. I think I may need to talk to my doctors because my nausea medication doesn’t appear to be working. Sigh, I’m sure we’ll find something that works out. This was only the first try after all.

Thursday was so much better! My stomach was still a little bit queasy, but I was up and around. I was able to accomplish some tasks I had been meaning to get to and my aunt came to watch over me in the morning and take me to the doctor in the afternoon. Somehow, between surgery on Friday and Chemo on Tuesday I have lost about five pounds. However, I don’t doubt that I will get these pounds back! I managed some toast and a bit of egg for breakfast, a bit of soup and fruit for lunch and almost and entire bowl of macaroni and cheese for dinner. I got to have my Nuelasta shot which essentially helps shoot up my white blood cells and boost my immune system. My dad took me for another walk. This walk was much better and I didn’t need to lean on him the entire time. It really was a pretty good day! I feel better and better as the days go on and I have an entire two weeks to recover in-between rounds of chemotherapy. I think that next time will be better as I have learned the does and don’ts of eating as well as know what to expect. I will also talk to my doctor about some better anti-nausea medication. I have no doubts that the next round will not be as bad as the first. So overall, not so bad. J

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Disaster averted and a New Friend Inserted

Although this week was just as busy as last week, everything was quite a bit more positive. I spent all day Wednesday making and receiving phone calls to set up appoints for procedures. Dad and I also met at a surgeon’s office for a consultation. This surgeon was in charge of placing my new mediport. Ironically, I had met with the surgeon once before after a bad case of the stomach flu. He was chipper and cheerful as usual and very polite. Last time, he let me look at all the CT scans of my stomach and showed me what everything was. This time, I got to play with an older mediport circa 1995. It was pretty cool. I like it when I get to play with toys. J It was white with a long tube attached to it similar to the one they would place in me. The tube (catheter) goes into an artery, giving the nurses direct access to a vein at all times. We scheduled my mediport placement for Friday.

Thursday was pretty routine. Mom and I woke up early and headed to Springfield to have Sven marked with a small titanium insert called a clip. This is the exact same procedure as my original biopsy, but instead of taking core samples the doctor simply inserted a clip. The doctor was just finishing the placement of my clip, when he looked at me a said, “Have they done an ultra sound of the left one.” I responded that no, they hadn’t, but they did a CT scan of my whole chest. He explained that a CT scan is not as accurate and had the nurse do an ultra sound of the left one. They did find one baby lump about half of a centimeter in size in the middle of my lovely, dense breast tissue. They called my breast surgeon and asked if they should go ahead and biopsy this one. The surgeon told them to go ahead and do a biopsy of this one and place a clip just in case. I told them that should probably let my mom know since she was in the waiting room and might be wondering what was taking so long. In the future I will probably not take this route, because my poor mother was scared silly. They had to re-prep the room, which was interesting to watch and the doctor left while they were doing this. He made some crack about how I had just enough time to get another piercing while I was waiting and headed out. The nurse turned to me and said, “Now what kind of clip would you like? We have a coil, a ribbon, and something else (I can’t remember).” I was a bit taken aback by this and couldn’t help, but laugh. The nurse observing this responded, “Or would you like them to match? You have a coil in your right one.” Still laughing, I responded that I would take the ribbon. They switched around my cot and loaded me up with new warm blankets. The nurse took a few pictures with the ultra sound machine and the doctor came back in. They took a picture to see if there was any color in the tumor. There was no color, so the doctor sent the lidocaine needle in to stab it. Upon being stabbed, this new lump simply collapsed and disappeared. Both the doctor and the ultra sound technician made “Oh!” noises of relief and took big sighs. “It’s gone isn’t it?” the doctor said. The nurse responded that it was. Whew! It was nothing but a non-cancerous, fluid-filled cist! Thus, there is nothing to be concerned about. The doctor removed the needle, and turned around and shook my hand. This is awkward because I’m lying there with my left breast still sticking up in the air. The doctor continued on, seeming oblivious to this situation, while I tried really hard to keep a straight face. “It was really nice working with you and we’ll probably see you a few more times because they like to check up on the tumor’s size during chemotherapy…” He took his leave, I got dressed, said goodbye to the sweet, ultra-sound technician and went into the waiting room to see mom. Mom had of course been freaking out, but she was ecstatic to hear that everything is just fine and that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

Friday was my first surgical procedure that they put me under for so far. I showed up at the hospital at 11:45 to be prepped for my surgery at 1. I brought my bright pink, fuzzy socks to wear during surgery because I have a tendency to get cold. They had me take off all of my clothes and most of my piercings and put on a hospital gown, footies, and a mesh shower cap. They taped over my ears where the remaining piercings were. I probably looked like a hospital elf with pointy ears and pink ankles. The nurses all loved my socks. I was covered in warm blankets and my parents sat with me until it was time to for surgery. My surgeon had a brief last-minute meeting, but he still managed to get me in on time. The only thing I didn’t like about surgery prep, was the IV they put in my right wrist. It really hurt in this dull, achey, sharp, numbing kind of way. They wheeled me back to the operating room. It was SUPER cold back there, but the nurse covered me in 5 or 6 brand new warm blankets. The anesthesiologist started dripping cold fluid into my IV. I noticed that there was a Colbie Caillat song playing in the background (subsequently, this song was stuck in my head the minute I woke up and for the rest of the day) and I stared at the big lights on the ceiling. One of the nurses strapped my right arm down and then my left. That’s all I remember until I woke up back in my pre-op room. I can only remember fragments of waking up. I remember not being able to think of the correct words for thank you and sorry in English and therefore, said them in Mandarin. This I’m sure was somewhat confusing to the nurses. The next thing I remember is telling my nurse that she was “a very nice person.” Suddenly I’m sitting next to Mom and she’s telling me that she thinks she’s supposed to keep me awake. The nurse sends my mom to get the car while she helps me dress. I missed putting my foot in my pants and giggled. The nurse asked me if I was drunk and I in my dignified way explained that no, I wasn’t drunk and that my head was just woozy. The nurse walked me to the car. We stopped briefly at a couple of stores (I waited in the car) and then I was home. I refused to let my mom help me upstairs. She followed behind me. I then went to sleep until dinnertime.

Today, I am a bit sore. My collarbone hurts a bit and I feel stretched out where the mediport is. If I change the direction I’m leaning in, I can feel the weight of the mediport shift. It’s fun! To make me feel better my dad made pancakes for breakfast and we listened to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” as a family. All in all, a very good morning. I am so excited to have my mediport, I don’t have to endure any more needle pricks in my arm and this new little friend saves my veins. Everyone I have talked to about it says that they are much easier and far less painful. Chemotherapy starts on Tuesday and with the addition of my mediport they only need to plug me in (literally) and send me on my way. So yes, this week was just as busy as last week, but far less scary and far more positive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Don’t You Just Fry Already?

Nobody can say that the last week or so hasn’t been a bit stressful. On Monday, I found out that they were going to start chemo soon and that I do not need to have a bilateral mastectomy. This was welcome and fantastic news. On Wednesday, I met with the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon. This all seemed kind of pointless, more about me checking in with them and telling them what I knew about my treatment plans so far. My conversation with the breast surgeon was short and pleasant. He checked in on me and made a suggestion to have a clip or mettle insert placed in Sven. This way if the Sven shrinks or disappears during chemotherapy, we will know where he was. The conversation ended with a smile and a handshake. I then quickly skipped over to the radiology department and got a quick chest X-ray. Mom and I had a lovely lunch after that and then it was time to meet with the plastic surgeon.

The plastic surgeon was a nice woman, but somehow she rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it was the constant comments about how unfortunate it is that my breasts are so small. I believe her exact words were, “If you had nice, perky DD’s this wouldn’t be so hard.” Aside from that, and the fact that she seemed to spend more time talking to my mother rather than me about my condition, she was very nice. She seemed enthusiastic about her job and it was very reassuring to know that she had worked on so many reconstruction jobs and to see pictures of some of her work. I feel that if I end up needing her services I will be in good hands.

On Thursday, I went in to meet with my oncologist. My parents and I were hoping that I would begin chemotherapy on this day, but alas, this was not to be. The oncologist only wanted to talk to me and make sure that I was physically capable of having chemotherapy. My blood work had already come back in grand shape so we know that there’s no cancer there. Another good thing to note is that my liver is in great shape (a surprise after successfully making it through my last week of college). During this process I happened to mention that Sven had grown over the holidays. The Oncologist looked concerned. Upon seeing the look on her face my immediate thought was, “Oh, shit.” She had me get up on the examining table. She proceeded to re-measure Sven with a measuring tape. Sven now sticks out of my chest and makes my right breast look noticeably larger than my left one (much to my dismay). According to her measurements, my darling tumor had now tripled in size. Also, one of my lymph nodes is now swollen, meaning that my cancer has definitely started to spread. Enter in Minerva, the cancerous lymph node. Cue the need for a CT scan and bone scan to see if my cancer has spread anywhere else in my body. My mom begins getting weepy on one side of the room while on the other side of the door I can hear my doctor arguing with the insurance company over the phone. Nobody likes to hear the phrase, “I’m just trying to help this poor girl” and know that you’re the poor girl that the person’s talking about. After some awesome haggling on the oncologists’ part we finally get the insurance company to approve the procedures. I am then informed that I will no longer be doing “chemo light” (Yes, they actually used this phrase), but instead take much stronger chemo drugs that my doctor is certain will, “shrink that right up.”

Honestly, I have never felt more like a princess than I did at the radiologists that day. They were wonderful. They escorted my mother and me into a private waiting room. I was offered warm blankets and everyone was very kind and helpful. I was taken into another room where they put in an IV port into my arm, injected me with saline and some radioactive stuff and sent me back to the waiting room. I then enjoyed the witty banter of my friends while chugging three large Styrofoam cups of gross, yellow, pasty Kool-Aid. After about an hour they took me to get my CT scan. They had me lie down while they attached a solution to the port in my arm. The CT scan was actually pretty cool except that the solution they put in my arm burned like hell. The nurse explained to me that this was because I had such tiny veins (If one more person tells me I’m tiny or that something in my body is tiny….). I was returned to the waiting room and given a fresh blanket. An hour later, I had my bone scan. The bone scan was easy. I just had to lie there while this flat block glided slowly over my body. Mom and I then packed up and headed back to our hotel.

Friday was a pretty easy day. We found out that my bone and CT scan were both normal Sven had only doubled in size and that the cancer had only spread to Minerva so far. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and took a long, hot bath. Later, Mom and I headed back to the clinic so that I could have an echocardiogram. This has been my favorite test so far. The nurse was really nice and had also had cancer (When she was 18). She was pretty down to earth and one of the few people I have talked to that had cancer at a young age. That’s one thing that has really bothered me about everything so far. All of the information I have been given so far is obviously geared towards older women. Every time I talk to a doctor they start out with, “We usually do _______, but your young so…” It was such a relief to talk to someone who really seemed to get it. She was also awesome about explaining everything that she was doing while she performed the procedure. I got to see everything on a screen while she was working (Heart valves are so cool!). The results of this test also came back normal. Overall, I’m pretty damn healthy. Except for, you know, that whole cancer thing…

My oncologist at the clinic scheduled me to meet with a new oncologist with an office that is located in my hometown so I wouldn’t have to drive so much. Mom and I met with him today. Unfortunately, chemo again eludes me. I just want Sven and Minerva to shrink and/or die!!! However, it was good to meet with my new doctor and get the game plan. He also discussed some of the common symptoms of chemotherapy and what he was going to do to help make everything go as smooth as possible. Although he’s not grandfatherly, funny, or super sweet like my other doctors, he is very down to earth and “let’s get to business.” It was nice to finally meet someone to give me a straightforward answer as to what is going to happen to me. He looked me straight in the eyes when I asked him to give me his honest opinion about needing a mastectomy. Although I don’t need a bilateral mastectomy, no one has been able to answer my questions about a partial mastectomy. Everyone avoids making eye contact a gives me vague wordy responses full of maybes and we’ll sees. Needless to say this has been very annoying. However, this oncologist looked at me directly and said that I will most likely need a mastectomy. We are doing the adjuvant care to see how I respond to chemo and if Sven shrinks a great amount. If Sven shrinks a lot then I will have a lumpectomy. However, if Sven stays relatively big in comparison to my breast, I will have a mastectomy. He says that my breast is simply too small and my tumor too large for him to be too hopeful. Although, on occasion, the Svens of the world do shrink down to nothing and so we are going to go ahead and put a clip in. At the same time they are putting the clip put in they are going to put a chemo port put into my chest. Yet again, my tiny self and my tiny veins are a bit of an inconvenience (I have never really considered myself tiny until after this experience. Short maybe, but not tiny.). The port allows them to administer chemo treatments and draw blood without repeatedly stabbing me. Also, because my veins are small and tend to roll this will ensure that they don’t accidently rip/burst any veins. So, two minor surgical procedures to come this week and Chemo finally starts next week. It’s been a long week, but I imagine it will be one of several to follow. This is not so bad. I’m looking forward to moving along with treatment and even more excited for Sven and Minerva to get hit, and I mean hit, hard. I have never been more excited to have poison pumped into veins in my life.

Monday, January 9, 2012

An End to the Waiting Game

The day after I learned I had cancer I had a myriad of appointments to go to. All of which seemed to serve the purpose of further explaining that I had cancer. It was nice and reassuring to meet with the doctors, all of whom were extremely kind and patient. However, none of them could tell me what was actually going to happen. They all kept telling me that I was very young to have breast cancer and that they couldn’t do anything for me until they got the results from a specific genetic test. So at the end of a very long day they took some of my blood and sent me on my way. Thus, began the waiting game.

I found out that I have cancer just before the holidays. This meant that I would not receive the results from the genetic test until the first or second week of January (I know, I know, lab technicians deserve their holidays too). This only made things harder. All I could do was explain to people that I had breast cancer and that I would be okay in a few months. I couldn’t give them any evidence of that fact. I could not tell them what people were doing to make me okay. This brings me to another point: Telling people you have breast cancer sucks. No one likes to feel like a sadness making machine (Seriously, if you want to make a person frown, tell them you have cancer). I wasn’t sure how to do this. I tried, in good old Michaela fashion, to make a video full of bad drawings; too many commas; and great Love’n Spoonful music, but that didn’t go over so well as very few people watched it. This may also have to do with the fact that it had a terrible misnomer, “I Believe in Magic.” Aside from that, I kept telling people in somewhat shocking ways such as unsuspecting text conversations, unsophisticated cancer jokes, and drunkenly responding to the “how are you?” question with, “I have breast cancer, but I’m okay. Now, drink!” Perhaps, now that I think about it, I didn’t handle this whole waiting thing as well as I thought…

However, the responses that I’ve gotten have been overwhelming. I never would have made it through all of this waiting without the amazing support of friends, family, and even people I don’t know. So many people have offered kind words and prayers that I am astounded. Many people have even told me their own stories about battling cancer or dealing with loved ones who’ve had cancer. People also relate to me through their stories about other life tragedies. The human capacity to reach out and make connections with others is truly amazing. My faith in humanity has been completely restored. Kindness really is everywhere. You may think I’m being naïve, but judging from the number of hugs I get now, I can tell you that you’re wrong. Personally, the hugs are the best thing about having cancer. Anyone who knows me knows that I never turn down a good hug. Even if said hug does squash Sven (my tumor—don’t ask, my friends are both strange and awesome) and therefore, hurt. It’s a good kind of hurt. It hurts so good it’s almost worth having cancer just to get the hugs in the first place.

All things must come to an end and so the waiting game has ended. I got a call on Friday explaining to me that they would like to make an appointment to talk to me about my genetic testing results. I, cursing myself because I yet again missed their call, called back as soon as I finished listening to the voice message. Of course, I was immediately put on hold. I’m sure you can plainly see me huddled in a ball on my couch with a pen and a notebook in front of me ready to write down new information. Regrettably, I was on hold for over fifteen minutes and thus, only managed to doodle and memorize their pleasant messages. Seriously, every time I felt like hanging up and calling back I would hear, “We appreciate your patience as we serve others. Thank you for holding.” Obviously, this only made me feel guilty and I stayed on the line. I finally did hang up and call back. Apparently, they forgot about me… I asked to speak to the nurse practitioner in charge of me and the secretary politely explained that they only wanted me to make an appointment to discuss the results. To which I responded, “can I please just know whether the results came back negative or positive? I will still come in to discuss the results, but I just want to know.” I obviously sounded pretty pathetic because the secretary hesitated and put me on hold for a few minutes. She returned to the line and said, “I’m sorry, but we really prefer to speak with you in person.” I thanked her for her patience and asked when I would be able to meet with the nurse practitioner. She gave me an appointment time for Monday and I politely ended the conversation.

Well, I was furious. Who calls a person on a Friday, this means I have to wait the whole weekend before I know what’s happening to me, and says, “We know what’s going to happen to you, but we won’t tell you.” What kind of sick sadistic people do this to a person?!?!? I’m sure they have very good reasons, but it’s still annoying. I then proceeded to call my dear friend and vent about the whole thing. Sadly, when I’m angry I’m not very intimidating because all I do is shake. It’s really quite funny. I can hardly speak and therefore, my phrases are kept blissfully short. My friend took it like a champ though and remained calm, which I appreciate.

Following the phone call with my friend I called the plastic surgeon because they had called me about an appointment that I had scheduled (just in case I should need any sort of reconstruction) only to find out that the woman I needed to speak with was in a meeting and would be finished in half an hour. I then waited for an hour and a half before I finally called back again. Upon calling, she pointed out that they were going to change my appointment day, but that they had heard from my other surgeon that I was meeting them earlier on the same day. So, they decided not to change my appointment. I had no idea about this appointment with my regular surgeon. Apparently, it had been made without my knowledge (This was later confirmed by my visit to the oncologist). Obviously, worse case scenarios were running through my head after this. So roughly three weeks of patiently waiting were followed by one weekend of extreme waiting. Pretty much, my family and I just kept super busy.

Finally, Monday arrived. After some slight confusion over which building the office was in, my parents and I showed up at the oncologist’s with ten minutes to spare. A nurse took us into your typical exam room. It was a bit cramped and we were all trying to talk about light and happy things. The nurse practitioner came in with a smile on her face. She quickly informs me that I do not have any genetic mutations. This means that I’m not genetically predisposed to have cancer and, even more importantly, that I don’t need to have a bilateral mastectomy. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The NP further explains that there is one more DNA test she would like to have done, but that it may take some time to convince the insurance company to come around. Also, the likelihood of this test coming back with unhappy news is less than 3%. To sum up, I get to keep my breasts. HALLELUIAH!!!! I am so happy! I immediately went out with my parents and had a beer and a large, elk burger to celebrate. I also called both of my grandmothers and assured them that I’m going to be okay. It’s easier assure others that I am going to be okay now that I know what’s going to happen.

I might still have some reconstructive work done because Sven happens to be a very large tumor, but I get to keep most of my original tissue. Which is great. They’ve gotten pretty great reviews over the years from friends and boyfriends alike. Also, I’m pretty attached to my breasts (Get it?) and I was not looking forward to being separated from them. The downside is that I have lost my chance to have perfect breasts of my choosing and getting the chance to ask for an Inspector Gadget model. Now, I will have four rounds of chemotherapy to try and shrink Sven before the surgeon gets rid of it. This will be followed by possible reconstruction, four more chemotherapy and then radiation. Yep, the waiting game has ended. Now, a new game begins. This next phase won’t be a picnic, but thank, God for the small victories.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting the News

The only thing that learning I have had breast cancer has proven to me so far is simply how melodramatic I really am. Picture me sitting in the back of a small town coffee shop literally hiding while watching an angst-ridden television show about fairytale characters and simultaneously skyping with friends about said show. Suddenly, my phone rings and I realize that I have missed a call. I check the voicemail and learn that the results are back from my biopsy. I haven’t been too concerned about this, as everyone thus far has assured me that the strange, funky shaped lump on my breast is but a common, unwanted, non-cancerous guest to many young females. I call them back. I am immediately put on hold, which is completely absurd considering I had just missed their call less than one minute before.

After being on hold for a while I finally get to talk to the nurse. She’s a nice lady, with frizzy blond hair and a kind smile that I met at my previous appointment. She hesitates. I am immediately put out of funk. She asks, “Are you somewhere where you can talk?” I respond, “Sure, of course I can talk (sounding blasé as I overlook my Skype window).” I then hear the words, “I’m sorry, but they found (seriously unnecessary pause here) a cancer.” I pause as the thoughts, “What exactly does that mean, what time is it? 1:38 p.m., and Oh, Dear, God” run through my head. I manage to utter an, “Oh, okay.” She goes on to say that she’s sorry and that no one really expected it because I’m so young blah, blah, blah. . . To which I start crying, sobbing really, but I’m trying really hard to be as quiet as possible because I am in the coffee shop for goodness sakes. It certainly would not do to be seen sobbing in the coffee shop. She asks me if I’m okay to which I, attempting to stifle my crying, respond that I will be fine in about ten minutes, but that I am currently in shock. She then goes on to inform me that I have a number of appointments the next day that it is imperative that I go to them. Luckily, some part of my brain was still functioning and I pulled up a word document and typed what she was saying. I really have no memory of what was said from this point on. I hang up the phone.

Now, picture me sitting in the back room of a coffee shop staring blankly ahead holding a rather lovely coffee mug full of delicious coffee. I am no longer crying, but I am definitely shaking all over. Come to think of it, I probably looked like an over-caffeinated, crazy woman. I put the coffee mug down and my first real thought is, “I should probably tell someone.” My computer is sitting right in front of me and it just so happens that I have had a running commentary with friends going on about my current health situation. I write out the phrase, “Hey, so my results from the biopsy came back positive. It turns out that I have breast cancer... I meet with the doctors tomorrow. I love you.” Honestly, really? Could I possibly have told them in a more blunt way? It’s followed by a short mini conversation with a friend of mine ending with the conclusion that I should probably tell my parents. I also come to the conclusion that I should let my friend know that I can’t make it to her dress fitting the next day. I tried to call, but she didn’t pick up so I sent a text somewhere along the lines of, “I can’t make it to your dress fitting tomorrow because I have breast cancer. I’m sorry.” Dear, God! The poor thing was terrified. To my dear friends, I would like to point out that I am really sorry about scaring you all to death. To my poor mother and hairdresser I owe an even bigger apology.

It just so happens that my mother is about a two-minute walk away on the other side of the town square getting her hair done. Once I have come to the conclusion that I should tell my parents about the whole breast cancer thing, I immediately state this in my conversation with me friend online; shut down my computer; and put away all of my things. I take one very deep shaky breath and stand up. Everything seems very weird at this point as I walk my mug over to the counter. It’s like I’m looking into some sort of glass enclosure where people are sitting on couches laughing and others are conversing over counters and small tables. I catch some weird glances as I walk by. I’m obviously acting strange and probably have a wide-eyed doe look and creepy, must look normal smile on my face. Even weirder, I step out of the coffee shop into the fifty-degree, December day and am immediately hit by the loud streaming of Christmas music playing to a town square practically devoid of people and filled with empty cars. Acknowledging that I must be in some sort of Twilight Zone, I then get into my mother’s car and drive around the square and park it in front of the hair salon. Never mind that it was completely unnecessary for me to drive somewhere I could walk in five minutes or less. I take a moment to compose myself, fix what must have been a slightly manic smile on my face and walk into the salon. I enter the salon and politely yet forcefully indicate that my mother is getting her hair done and that I am going in to see her. I then pass our regular hairdresser, smile and say, “hi.” I walk up to my poor mother covered in tin foil and a smock and bend over resting my hand on the arm of her chair. Here, again, I burst into sobs. My mom is immediately concerned and at the same time can in no way fathom what I am trying to say. I finally sputter out a halting, “I, got, my, re-port, back.” Somehow, from seemingly nothing my mother looks at me and goes, “You have cancer.” She stands up and hugs my sobbing self and asks the poor distraught hairdressers if there’s somewhere we can talk. They send us upstairs, where we sit for five minutes, make a plan, and I compose myself. I then walk out of the salon, not smiling, but seeming perfectly okay. Well, except for my puffy, red face.

You would think that the madness stops here, but it doesn’t. I have a brief telephone conversation with two shocked friends, the one I sent the text message to and another from the newsfeed. Feeling much better, I then proceed to think that I would like to stop by my aunt’s house and talk to her since she has had breast cancer and it might be helpful. Again, I feel that I am completely composed and will have no problem simply stopping by and informing my aunt that I have breast cancer and would like some information. My poor, dear uncle . . . I arrive at my aunt’s house only to realize that she is a teacher and will not be home until after 3p.m. My uncle, it so happens, was taking a nap in the living room. I waltz into the house and, standing politely on the doormat inside their door, ask if I can talk to my aunt. Sadly, the man was asleep and I only managed to wake him up. He responds, “what?” To which I again, a bit louder, ask if my aunt is home. He is still not awake and again repeats, “What?” At which point, for the third time within the last two hours, I break into sobs. My dear uncle is immediately alarmed and comes over to hug me and ask what’s wrong and why I specifically needed my aunt. To which I explain to him I just found out I have breast cancer, which is indeed followed by more hugs and a very strange repetitive conversation about cancer and how I can’t make it to my friend’s dress fitting the next day. I abruptly compose myself and take my leave.

So you see, even though I’ll be perfectly fine in about 6 months, I had to make a terrifying scene at not one, but three different locations. I made a mad-eyed, crazy woman appearance at the coffee shop, I broke down in front of my foil-covered mother at the hair salon, and I marched into my aunt’s home and practically pounced upon my poor uncle. Perhaps, having cancer will teach me to be a little bit less dramatic either that, or, it will only make me worse. Let’s hope for the former.