Thank you for reading part one.
If you shared about your diagnosis day, thank you.
Below, I’m sharing part two about the day I first heard the words, you have cancer, and about my first meeting with oncologist #1.
Note: This post is a slightly edited excerpt from my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person: A memoir about cancer as I know it.
April 29, 2010
Finally, the voice deep within me that decides enough tears have flowed for now, summons me to stop. I pull myself together. I collapse on the sofa, worn out and ashamed of myself for crying more today than on the day Mother died.
On top of everything else, I must be shallow and self-centered. I am a bad daughter.
About half an hour passes, and I hear the back door open. Dear Hubby enters the house, reluctantly I’m sure, unaware yet of what he must deal with tonight.
Elsie and Sophie race off to greet him, and he knows his answer because I do not follow. I wonder if he wishes he could turn around and leave. I would like to.
He wisely takes his time changing clothes, allowing me a few more minutes to be alone. I mindlessly turn on the ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer, and I am envious of her cancer-free life. I am envious of all who are leading cancer-free lives.
Ironically, one of the news stories is about some sort of possible cancer vaccine, one for prostate cancer, not breast cancer. It’s a potentially major breakthrough, perhaps to be available in five years.
“Wouldn’t you know it, naturally the breakthrough will come for a man’s cancer first,” I say out loud to no one.
Dear Hubby comes into the family room, slowly sits down beside me and gently puts his arms around me. He says nothing, there is no need. He is now a man with a wife who has “a” cancer. His old life is over too.
We don’t get to sit around for very long though. Cancer doesn’t allow for that. In the morning, we have our first appointment with Dr. N, my oncologist.
It seems impossible I need such a person in my life.
April 30, 2010
After a night of little sleep, I’m not sure I will be able to keep myself together, but miraculously, I do. I must. I have to pay attention.
The nurse who checks us in is named Jo. She is almost annoyingly nice, and then I realize she is an oncology nurse. She deals with cancer patients, even dying patients. She has to be nice; it’s part of her job description. She realizes I’m a “fresh one,” newly diagnosed. “Cancer” might as well be stamped across my forehead.
Waiting in the exam room feels like deja vu. Just like Mother. It’s happening again, just like Mother. Only this time it’s me. Like usual, the room is tiny and poorly ventilated. Unfriendly fluorescent lighting glares and buzzes.
Sitting on my chair, I fidget nervously because it seems if I sit too still I will more easily crumble.
When Dr. N finally appears, we are openly relieved. He has dark hair and wears dark clothes and dark glasses. After studying him briefly, as well as his certificates hanging on the wall, it is obvious he is from a different corner of the world, and I wonder how he ended up in Wisconsin. All I want is for him to be competent and knowledgeable. Compassionate would be a nice bonus.
Almost immediately, we realize he is all of these things and more. He is calm and serious as he listens to my now familiar story about how I ended up here today. He listens attentively, asks questions about family history and carefully writes down my answers as if I am giving him important pieces to a puzzle, which I guess I am. I am the puzzle. Next he listens to me breathe and examines my lymph glands.
“I don’t feel anything evident in your lymph glands so your cancer probably hasn’t spread,” he says.
Hearing him call it “your cancer” sounds out of place. It forces me to realize this cancer indeed “belongs” to me. Such ownership feels unimaginable.
I don’t want to own my cancer.
“I don’t think your chest pain is related. I think you did injure yourself raking and it’s unrelated to your cancer,” he adds sounding like he knows what he’s talking about, so we believe him.
“Don’t I need a chest x-ray or scan of some kind,” I ask him. (How much proof do I need anyway?)
“You had the CT in the ER, a mammogram, an ultra-sound and your biopsy,” he reassures me. “Nothing else was picked up.”
These are the best words we hear today.
At the conclusion of our appointment, we all concur it is essential for me to have the blood test to determine if I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation like Mother. If I have the mutated gene, a bilateral mastectomy will most certainly be recommended. If I do not have the gene, there may be other options.
I don’t like any of the options. It’s a joke to call them such. These are not options. They feel more like traps and no matter which one I choose, I will be unable to “escape” from it.
Surprisingly, I’m still calm. I guess I’m in “cancer shock” or something. I no longer fear the words bilateral mastectomy so much. What I fear are words like stage IV, untreatable, unclear lymph nodes, and chemotherapy.
And, oh yes, dying. I fear those words most.
How did you feel when you met your oncologist for the first time?
Were you offered many options at the time of diagnosis?
Has your cancer diagnosis ever made you feel trapped?
Read more in my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.