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You Have “a” Cancer – Part Two

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?

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Read more in my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.

Carolyn Lawson

Wednesday 1st of May 2013

Nancy - I learn SO much from you - thank you for putting yourself out there for the benefit of others... you are making a difference.


Thursday 2nd of May 2013

Carolyn, Thanks so much. You just made my day!

Beth Gainer

Wednesday 1st of May 2013

It's so strange; I left a comment previously and didn't remember. I'm blaming it on chemobrain! Anyway, both comments are very true.

And your husband sounds wonderful, too.


Thursday 2nd of May 2013

Beth, Well, who can remember such stuff? Thanks for reading and commenting this time around too! You're the best.

Beth Gainer

Wednesday 1st of May 2013

Nancy, this is beautifully written and achingly sad. Yes, that moment when it was called "your cancer" must have been quite surreal indeed.

You capture the essence of the raw fear a person experiences when faced with a cancer diagnosis.

I totally get it.

I loved my oncologist from the start. He wasn't scary as I pictured. I remember that days before meeting him, I kept saying to myself that I refuse to have an oncologist. I was terrified.

In terms of trapped by cancer, yes. When I was diagnosed, I kept wanting to escape my reality, hoping it was just a bad dream. But it was real. Anguish. Now I'm trapped more by the emotional aspects of being a "survivor," whatever that means. I'm not defined by what happened to me, but what happened to me defined how my emotional state would pan out. I don't know if that makes sense, but life is harder in some ways, easier in others.


Thursday 2nd of May 2013

Beth, You always totally get it. Thanks so much for sharing. Your comments are always insightful and add so much.

Susan Zager

Wednesday 1st of May 2013

Thank you for being so honest and real. And yes calling it "your cancer" is so surreal. I am sure it is so hard with memories of your mother. Hugs and xoxo - Susan


Thursday 2nd of May 2013

Susan, Thank you for your caring and understanding comment.


Wednesday 1st of May 2013

"His old life is over too." I can't tell you how these words resonated within me when I read them. I hope you don't mind a breast cancer husband chiming in here. My wife was diagnosed very recently. I was with her. She tells everyone that I took it harder than she did. It seems like I've spent every waking moment since then researching, watching videos or reading blogs about breast cancer. My wife is the center of my universe. We will celebrate 38 wonderful years of marriage this month. Just a few short weeks ago, we were enjoying life more than we ever have before. But in the time it took her doctor to say "You have cancer," our old life became a cherished dream as the present became a nightmare of fears. I've come to despise the term "new normal." There's nothing "normal" now, and it can never be again. It can't even be "new." The term "new" implies something appealing; something free of harm. I want to return to the past so badly. The only thing I want more is the future.


Thursday 2nd of May 2013

Michael, Of course I don't mind! It's important to hear from partners, too, so I really appreciate you taking time to respond. Thank you. Sometimes we forgot how much this kind of news impacts our loved ones as well. I'm sorry about your wife's diagnosis. I'm sorry for the anguish her diagnosis has brought to your life as well. It's a lot to deal with isn't it? I hope things are going alright for you both. My best to you and thanks again.

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