Within five days I found out I had one simple ovarian cyst, one complex cyst, fibroids, stage 2 breast cancer and in the middle of all that, of course, I started my period.
I have to thank those pesky cysts, especially the ruptured one. It was the ominous and increasingly debilitating stomach ache that prompted me to to make the appointment for my routine girlie exam and check up. My awesomely comprehensive primary care doctor found a lump in my breast and sent me for a mammogram.
The mammogram didn’t detect the lump. I was temporarily relieved after the nurse accidentally told me the mammogram came back normal. Since I have two aunties that have had breast cancer, my awesomely comprehensive primary care doctor had also requested an ultrasound, to be on the safe side. It was that test which showed a dark one inch mass. The mammogram missed the lump because mammograms work better for women 45 and over. Younger breasts are too dense for it to see through and mine are young in mammogram years at only being 35.
I knew something was really wrong when the ultrasound technician gave me a hug. At my previous mammogram 5 years ago I was told my breast were just lumpy (cystic) and the doctors and nurses joked around letting me know I was too young and they didn’t want to see me back there for at least ten years. The nurse said goodbye with a jovial ‘get outta here’ tone. I never self checked because they were always bumpy to me and I thought I had nothing to worry about.
Now, just 5 years later there was no light hearted joking and no jovial send off. Instead, as I clutched my pink breast center gown, the ultrasound technician kindly guided me down what felt to be the longest hallway of my life. Her hand was reassuringly on my back, which let me know something was very wrong. A doctor briefly told to come back for two biopsies, his eyes lowered unable to meet mine.
One week later on a typically sunny Southern Californian Thursday morning, doctors biopsied the lump in my breast and a lymph node. They did not use enough pain killer. If anyone has to go through this, and I really hope you don’t, but just in case, ask for extra numbing. My biopsy went wrong, and feeling a three and a half inch needle searching to puncture a lymph node was excruciating. Almost as excruciating was the endless wait until Monday for the results.
I don’t like to take medicine, I rarely use headache tablets and I am even suspicious of vitamin supplements. This weekend, all my caution about pills went out of the window. To calm down I took Zanex, drank beer, smoked (medical) weed, ate chocolate and indulged in Vicoden. The haze I was in only slightly lessened the fear I’d felt when I saw the looks on the doctors faces. Their expressions belied any belief I may have had that biopsy was not the end of the road.
My friends all told me not to worry, offering reassuring phrases, “You’re too young,” “You’re a vegetarian,” and “My mother predicted you will be fine and she is always right about these things”. I tried to ready myself for a phone call that would mean either life would go on exactly as it always had, or my world would never be the same again. My friends sweetly teased me for being overly dramatic. I wished they were right, but my body told me they weren’t. I could not only feel the pain in the biopsy site which was in my left breast, but just beneath it, I felt my heart breaking . In the unknowingness, I grieved. Time stood still as I felt myself helplessly hurtling towards a future I did not want. I was desperate to hang onto every positive thought I could find, but each one slipped through my fingers as I remembered the nurses face and her eyes that told me everything.
On the day my results came in my lovely doctor was out of town. I sat at my desk at work as a soft but unfamiliar voice delivered the news. “I am so sorry to have to tell you…”
I glanced at the pile of binders in front of me, the phone lists pinned to my cubicle wall, everything looked the same, as it always had, in the right places, but suddenly it all became an alien landscape. My mind struggled to focus on the doctor’s words, but all I heard was “cancer” and “spread”. Only 7 percent of breast cancer patients are women 40 and under and only about 5% 35 and under. The odds had been in my favour but that was not the hand I was dealt.
After that moment, I no longer had the option of hoping, wishing and praying for a negative result. I had only one path and it was forward. In the unknown world of having cancer, my life became instantly clear. I knew what was important, what was to be cherished, what was special and my overly talkative negative voice fell silent. I was no longer depressed. I was sad and scared but at the same time suddenly happy for everything I had.
The few friends I told wanted to come over to my house to comfort me. I quickly thought of something I wanted to do instead. A drinks and positivity party. I invited several friends over for an impromptu get together around the fire pit on our garden patio and we spent the evening with wine, chocolate and laughter. A night that might have been filled with tears and tragic desperation instead turned into a night I will always remember as wonderful. I truly appreciated their presence, their voices, their crude jokes and kind words . I know there will be some dark days ahead. I know there is a strong chance I may not be able to have a baby. I know that treatment and surgery will be painful. I know everything has changed, but at least for the first day, at least to begin, the love and support,made that night perfect.
I decided to keep the drinking and positivity party going by starting this blog.