March 21st, 2017
And so today I was diagnosed with breast cancer, just a little over a month until my 43rd birthday. I am grateful and overwhelmed, but mostly overwhelmed by my friends and family and their show of support. It is surreal– I imagine myself celebrating milestones — nipple tattoos, the end of chemo and it is overwhelming. How many times have I told women as a surgeon, “We will get you through this, when all along it was them getting themselves through. And now it’s me. 1 in 8 they say, and I’m lucky number 8. Already it’s 6:41 pm, and I found out at 9″10 am. Already several appointments and then an endless stream of phone calls and texts and Facebook replies. Listening to my husband try to make sense of everything on one hand while screaming in my head when did this become about you and keeping silent because I know that isn’t fair. Nothing’s fair. I thought to write a poem — a farewell ode to my tits and have a bye-bye boobies party but I’m just too tired and numb at this moment. Maybe I will — one day– but not today. 5 days until I meet my oncology team and we get started.
I suppose for posterity I should explain what went down. Last night I found a mass, a lump, in my left breast at the 3 o’clock position/ 2 cm lateral to the nipple. I called my mom, I called my surgeon friend, and I called my husband who was at the gym. I knew it was cancer the moment I felt it, after all I’ve been feeling cancer in women’s breasts for awhile now. But I had to prove it. Today I woke at 5:38 am, after sleeping maybe 3-4 hours (I’m surprised I slept at all) and drove into the hospital to catch the breast cancer care coordinator when she came in. I ran into several providers I knew, smiling, I said hi…didn’t say hey I think I have cancer.
I was expecting to get sent to my primary care manager for work-up but instead I got fast-tracked…1st to mammography, who sent me to ultrasound across the hall after obtaining what seemed like a 100 pictures of my breast in all angles and dimensions. In ultrasound, I knew for sure. I was suspicious when the mammographer was suddenly super sweet to me, but when I saw the ultrasound I just knew. The mass was asymmetric, heterogenous with nothing smooth or solid about it — ugly. Everything that was cancer in an ultrasound snapshot. I heard “satellite lesions” “abnormal axillary nodes” and my heart dropped. I talked calmly with the radiologist — no tears and no quaver of the voice. Biopsies: I wasn’t leaving until I got them he said. I have to move my neurosurgery appointment…I’m 6 weeks out from spinal fusion and disc replacements you see, so I’m in prime shape to be dealing with this news. I go back for my biopsies, watching on ultrasound as the needle stabs the mass, my mass, over and over. A loud click at the count of 3–five times for the mass, my mass, and 4 times for the lymph node. I don’t cry. I do tell the ultrasound technician to talk to me and when she freezes up, I tell her to talk about her hair, and she does which keeps me from panicking.
I don’t cry until I see my surgeon, who I’ve decided on earlier in the day and who has waited for me all this time to tell me what no one else has said until now but me: it’s cancer. “We’ll get you through this/” he said and I cried for myself and for the women before me to whom I said the same. I focus on the plan, the medical lingo, and that helps me get through the questioning, the family and medical history….half of which I screw up because I just can’t focus. Finally, it’s done. My nurse coordinator cries and keeps apologizing, I tell her it is fine and give her a hug, sharing in mutual grief and small comfort together. Seeing her tears dries my eyes, and I am able to walk the long halls to my car to go home and start the process of reliving the day again.