You have cancer

You Have Cancer

If you ask any woman on the street what disease she fears most, she will likely say breast cancer not heart disease, diabetes or something else. No, breast cancer is the disease that conjures up the most fear in a woman and creates feelings of anxiety over body image alterations, illness and even death no woman is prepared to face.

I was no different…

Yes, you do have a cancer there, were the words calmly spoken to me over the phone on an ordinary Thursday afternoon last spring by a doctor who was not even mine. I wondered how he could deliver such news so matter-of-factly, as if he were simply telling me I had an ear infection or strep throat.

When you hear those words, they sound unbelievable. They cannot possibly pertain to you, especially if you are feeling strong, healthy and in control of your life and body. The words hang in the air as if unsure of whom they describe. You hear the words, but yet you do not. You are disconnected to them at first, unable to take ownership of their meaning. You are numb and in a state of disbelief and shock.

You Have Cancer
You Have Cancer

The words contradict the image you hold of yourself. They seem to describe some other person, a stranger. Cancer happens to other people – older people, strangers, people who never exercise or get mammograms – just other people. Cancer happens to other families, not your own.

Initially the diagnosis feels surreal, unfathomable and just plain impossible. You wonder if there has been some kind of mix up. The meaning of the words cannot be absorbed instantly, but rather must be allowed to seep in gradually. Once they do, you are catapulted into a reality you never thought you would face. Your life, as well as your family’s life, is forever altered.

Yes, the words you have cancer change everything.

How has hearing these words changed things for you?

Do you struggle to take ownership of them?

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27 thoughts on “You Have Cancer

    1. Allison, Thanks for your comment. You are so right. It can feel like the treatment is worse than the disease if you felt strong and healthy before being diagnosed.

  1. Nancy, thanks for sharing your precious tender heart with me. I honor your feelings and thoughts. Your writing just magically draws me in. I realize maybe this is how I feel just finding out I have high cholesterol and diabetes. My path may be the other one you mentioned! I pray I can live a balanced and joyful life…..

    1. Sheryl, Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I’m sorry about your high cholesterol and diabetes. I guess we’ll all keep striving for that balanced and joyful life. My best.

  2. It’s funny you post this. Just last night I was remembering that first infusion of chemotherapy and how I sat in that chair and thought: “this can’t really be happening.” Other people, indeed, until suddenly we become the other person.

    Thank you for the beautiful water photograph. That is what I’d rather remember when reflecting at night.

    1. Catherine, I know what you mean. It’s beyond strange when we become one of those “other people.” Thanks for the comments.

  3. As usual, I’m supposed to be working and find myself reading your blog. I still can’t believe this is happening to me either! It pains me to know that so many others are going down this path I’m on…thanks for your words that definitely touch us all!

    1. Sandy, Oh my, I’m so sorry you have to be on this path, too, Sandy. It’s been a while since I wrote this post, but boy do I remember the beginning. I remember all of it! Well, you certainly are not alone and I hope remembering that does help a bit. It’s good to know you are reading my blog, even if you are supposed to be at work! Ha. I hope it helps. That’s why I write it. Take care and keep me posted on things. My best to you as you move forward.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    I must’ve missed this post, or perhaps I was unaware of your blog back then in 2010. Anyway, boy does this post resonate with me. I’m not sure if I believe in taking “ownership” of the disease; I guess I have to think about this point a bit more.

    I remember you writing about this doctor saying “a cancer.” That “a” is so annoying; it’s as if he said “You have a pimple there.”

    I remember that I was on the examination table when my surgeon said that I couldn’t wait any longer to have the biopsy (mine had gone awry, so he was going to do it) because he had a feeling I had breast cancer. I literally felt the table jolt down, as if were going through the ground. I didn’t have confirmation on that day, but I knew. I really did. And the horror was unimaginable.

    I’m sorry you’ve had to go through so much: first losing your mom and then being diagnosed yourself. Hugs.

    1. Beth, I don’t think you “found” me until later. So glad you did by the way. Your experience sounds horrifying, but then cancer is exactly that. Thanks for taking time to comment on this oldie. Hugs back.

  5. Hi Nancy,

    This is a topic that is always relevant to those of us who have heard the three (or four) words. It is the beginning of a whole new world. There are some phrases in life that are permanently sealed in our brains, mine included.

    I also received the phone call at work after a biopsy the day before…”We have your biopsy results and it is cancer”. But I already knew that about an hour earlier because I worked for the hospital where the procedure was done and I couldn’t stand the waiting so I looked myself up in the computer system….and then sat and waited for the official phone call trying not to scream. (Looking myself up in the computer was an unpardonable offense but I did not care at that point). I saw the diagnosis….newly diagnosed left breast cancer, lobular). So when I heard the actual words the only thing I could think of to say was “Are they sure?”. Yes, they are sure. And then I did something I have never done in all my working years. I closed up my office, didn’t tell a soul at work and left without speaking to anyone. Shell shocked, I headed straight to the Social Security office to sign up for Medicare as I had turned 65 six months earlier. And all I could think of was this news totally screwed up my retirement plans. Go fiqure.

    Two years later I find that I have very little tolerance for petty issues, especially family issues. I have no patience for people who whine about bad hair days, long lines at stores and what the weather is or is not doing. I also cannot stand people who tell me about every ache or pain when their worst pain is that they don’t sleep well…good grief, get a grip. See it already gets to me. But I also have found that I have more tolerance for people who get devastating or really bad news and need someone to listen. And hearing “it is cancer” has helped me realize you never know what the person in the car next to you, or the person at the library, or in line in front of you at the store is dealing with.

    Cancer invades so much more than our body…….it is life changing for sure.

    Mary Ellen

    1. Mary Ellen, It certainly is the beginning of a whole new world when we hear those words. It must have been extra surreal to get the call while at work delivering the official news that you already knew. Ugh. And yes, talk about screwing up your retirement plans. Your last sentence is quite profound. Cancer invades so much more than our body for sure. It also invades our psyche. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. I have advocated for causes and try to help others cope. That is the way I have been dealing with it, having heard those words three times. Way too many! xxx

    1. Jan, I’m so sorry you have had to hear those words not once, but three times. So unfair, but cancer doesn’t care about fairness one bit. I admire you for all you have done and continue to do in the realm of advocacy. I know you’ve helped many others. You’ve helped me. Thank you for sharing. xx

  7. i was just diagnosed last week and will meet with the oncologist next Monday. Something that I don’t believe you have touched upon, perhaps it isn’t all that common. My husband has prostate cancer. He has been going through chemo now since July of last year. He’s a trooper, but I’m a little worried about both of us having treatment at the same time.
    I know that family and church friends will be there for us, but it sure puts a whole new spin on this hateful disease. My concerns about my hair and feeling sick are here with me 24/7. I just look at my husband and I see what it’s caused. I’m scared, and prayerful that I can take care of us both.
    Thank you for your book Nancy. It was very helpful!! xoxo

    1. Christy, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis, as if your husband’s diagnosis wasn’t enough. Cancer is so unfair. It will be rough having you both going through treatment at the same time and all of your concerns are certainly understandable. It’s normal to feel afraid; in your shoes who wouldn’t? Wishing you the best as you move forward. I’ll be thinking of you both. And thank you for saying my book was helpful. That means a lot. Good luck to you. Keep us posted.

  8. I got the news at work at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon this February, and the world stopped for a minute, kind of like my heart did. “You have Invasive ductal carcinoma, in three all places where we did the biopsies”. All the lumps, scares, all the calls back for ultrasounds over the years….this couldn’t be happening – I got regular check ups! My coworkers were fabulous – the boss let me go home early so I could make calls before the weekend and find out what to do next. The news was delivered by a radiology doc, a woman, who was very nice. I called my husband, then I called my oldest daughter and we both cried. Had my third round of chemo this week.

    I love your writing.

    1. Teresa, You are still a newbie then. I’m sorry you had to join this ‘club’, but since you’re in it, I’m glad you found your way here. I’m glad you have felt supported both at work and at home. That’s so important and not always the case. Good luck making your way through chemo and all the rest of it too. And thank you for the lovely comment about my writing. Take care.

  9. The surgeon referred to the Sentinel Node testing but did not describe it well, nor did she ever mention – even in passing – that temporary changes might become permanent. The physical therapist is helping me get back the use of that arm, and explained the lists of “cautions” run through quickly but not explained by the surgeon. I would very much have liked better preparation for the aftercare, physical therapy, and lifelong cautions!

  10. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer November 2,2015. I had a partial mastectomy December 1. Waiting to get a PET scan. The waiting is so cruel. Waiting to see oncologist. Loved your book. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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