I promised myself I’d write about the bad times as often as the good. After all, what good is a blog if it’s all happy, fun times? That’s not realistic. I’ve morphed and so has this blog, but the intent remains. If I can help just one person feel less alone in what they’re feeling, then I’ve succeeded.
This week I had moments of feeling very alone in something scary.
I went to the doctor Monday for an annual checkup. “Do you feel that,” the doctor asked, putting my finger on my left breast. “I feel a tumor,” she said with no emotion as I felt a hard mass. My eyes bugged out. “Not necessarily malignant,” she added. She explained that I needed to go for a mammogram and an ultrasound to measure the mass as soon as possible. The next step will be a biopsy.
I nodded like a good little patient, my mouth unable to form words. Why did she sound so calm. She just said the word tumor!
I honestly never thought I’d be a candidate for breast cancer. I’m fairly certain my family doesn’t carry the Angelina Jolie gene. (My great-aunt was in her 60s when she had breast cancer. Neither my mom nor her six sisters have had breast cancer.) While I drink a lot of coffee, have a sweet tooth and eat processed foods a little too often, I do most things right. I eat fruits and vegetables every day. I eat red meat, white bread and greasy foods sparingly. I work out four or five times a week. I brush, floss, don’t smoke or drink soda. I call my grandmother. I treat people with kindness. Why me?
The next two days were agonizing while I waited for my appointments at the radiology clinic. My friend Tara gave me the pep talks I needed. My sister, Kelly, told me she’d share worrying with me, so I wouldn’t have to take it all myself. My mom filled me up with love. I could tell she hated having to wait as much as I did.
But when I hung up the phone Monday night, I felt so alone. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to listen to music because music is emotional. I didn’t want to write or read the pile of health magazines on my shelf. I turned on “2 Broke Girls” then fell asleep at 9:30.
I couldn’t hold the news in at work Tuesday, so I told two friends, asking Quyn to come to my appointment with me. She agreed. “I want to be there,” she said.
She asked if I wanted a Tuesday night distraction. I could go out with her and her friend who was in town. He is here celebrating his own win over cancer, but I declined. I didn’t want a cancer buddy. Not yet anyway.
Later in the day, my friend James texted to ask if we are still going to an upcoming Mets game. I didn’t know if I should commit. What if I’m sick? But I decided I’d deal with that later if I have to. I confirmed I was in for the game.
Even though I didn’t want to go out with Quyn and her friends after work, I knew I didn’t want to sit at home all night either, so I thought I’d go somewhere I could feel powerful and in charge: the treadmill at the gym. I put it on a random hill setting and bumped my fitness level up two steps higher than I normally go. I powered through every hill the machine threw at me. I felt good. I could do this!
Until I got home and felt anxious again. What if my aunt’s cancer does mean I have the cancer gene? What if my niece and nephews have to watch their aunt get sick like I did? Will I have to move home with my parents? Who will ever love me after I’ve had a double mastectomy? Wait, didn’t Mom accidentally say “malignant” instead of “benign”? What if she prays using the wrong word?
Then I resumed my positive thinking. It’s probably not cancer. My doctor said it could be benign. Tara reminded me that many people get picked for extra testing and it is nothing. I’m only 32. Even if it is cancer, people come back from that. Angelina Jolie, Giuliana Rancic, my own aunt Jane.
I worked half of Wednesday, then got to the radiology place in Chelsea, where the receptionist handed me a clipboard with the regular paperwork plus one with a drawing of boobs on it. I was supposed to draw in where my mass was located.
While I was sitting there, a man and woman with heavy Staten Island accents sat down beside me. The woman was filling out the forms for the man who was there for a lump in his breast. “You’ve had syphilis, right?” she asked. “No!” he said sounding offended. “I’ve had gonorrhea and chlamydia, but never syphilis!” They loudly argued about which two it actually was, clearly not caring who knows about his sexually transmitted diseases – or “VD” as they referred to it. I alternated between being annoyed and amused while I finished my forms.
After a few minutes, I was called back. The woman showed me the gowns and changing rooms, then she showed me the lockers where I could stash my belongings and a kitchen with snacks and beverages I could help myself to. Odd, I thought as I stashed everything except my phone. I’d be keeping that despite the “no cellphones in this facility” signs all over. And I’m glad I did because I was left waiting in a TV room with the other gown-clad women for over an hour. I’m just here to find out if I have cancer! But take your time. Let’s all catch up on “Days of Our Lives” first.
I went to find someone to ask about my appointment. “Usually we do the mammogram first, but you’re so young we want to do the ultrasound first instead,” was the answer.
“OK, so when is that?” I asked blinking back tears. Damn! I’d been so strong an hour ago! “You’re next,” the woman told me.
After 15 more minutes of watching Staten Island lady rip perfume samples out of magazines and shove them in her bag, I was finally called back.
“What are you here for,” the ultrasound tech asked.” I hate that question! Do you not have that information on that form in your hand, lady? I drew an X on the boob picture for you!
I started sobbing.
Why are you crying, she asked. You’re so young. It’s probably just a cyst. Lay down. I grabbed a tissue and laid back. She felt my breast. “That?” she asked. “That’s just a cyst. I’ll show you on the ultrasound.” She squeezed some gel on my boob and waved the wand over it. “See?” she said pointing at the monitor. “It’s just a pouch of liquid. Do you drink coffee?”
I said I did. She told me to cut down. “One a day is enough.”
She left to confirm with the doctor that it was a cyst and that I didn’t need a mammogram. I asked if we could do it just to be sure. “We don’t recommend it at your age,” she said. “Your breasts are too dense. They show false positives, and it’s unnecessary exposure.”
I asked a few more questions. Do these come and go? “Yes.” It’s not harmful? “Not unless it hurts. We can drain the fluid if it causes you pain.” No thanks. I’m good. I’ll cut back on coffee. I’ve been trying to drink tea anyway. “No tea either. One cup of coffee or tea per day.”
I thanked her and she left the room. I took the minute to text my mom, Kelly, Quyn, Tara, Navani and Lisa. I went to my locker to collect my things and saw a flurry of texts pop up on my phone. It feels good to be so loved.
I left the clinic and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to skip around New York, hug everyone and live my life. Quyn got held up at work, but asked if I wanted to meet up for gelato. Did I ever.
My heart goes out to all those affected by cancer. My two days of waiting for results were agonizing. I don’t want to think about how painful it is to have to keep fighting, wondering, waiting and ultimately knowing. Lots and lots of love and strength to you.