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You Have "a" Cancer, Part 2 #breastcancer #cancer #cancerdiagnosis

You Have “a” Cancer – Part Two

Thank you for reading  part one.

More thanks to those who left comments. Your feedback is always important to me and, of course, motivates me to keep plugging away at my writing. If you shared about your diagnosis day again, thank you. Sharing helps everyone.

Now, here’s part two.

April 29, 2010

Finally, the voice deep within me that decides enough tears have flowed for now, summons me to stop, and 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 thing.

April 30, 2010

After a night of little sleep, I’m not sure I will be able to keep myself together, but miraculously somehow 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.

You have "a" cancer, part two  #cancer #cancerdiagnosis #breastcancer #womenshealth
I need what?

36 thoughts to “You Have “a” Cancer – Part Two”

  1. That moment it went from ‘a cancer’ to ‘your cancer’ must have been quite something. Surreal. The chapter is good, Nancy. To see how quickly priorities take shape (blood tests, mastectomy, treatments) will be eye opening for those never diagnosed (or never given care) and familiar for the rest of us who relate all too well.

    Great writing. Keep it up!

    1. Catherine, That’s a very insightful comment. I hadn’t really thought about that. It did go from being “a” cancer to being “your” (my) cancer in a very short time. That was a surreal moment for sure. That’s exactly why hearing my oncologist call it “your” cancer felt so very odd. Thanks for pin-pointing that for me!

  2. I liked my Oncologist. He was short, cute and a fireball full of energy. He literally ran constantly with a load of binders in his arms. He and I have butted heads a few times over my treatments . There was a lot I didn’t know that I felt I needed to.
    The options I was given A Mastectomy, Chemo & Radiation and likely on Tamoxifen or one of those.
    I constantly feel trapped.. It’s the worst feeling knowing your pathology was botched, no full disclosure just a guessing game.There’s nothing I can do about it.

    Nancy your story is very poignant.
    Love Alli.

    1. Alli, I’m so glad you liked your oncologist. I think butting heads once in a while can actually be a good thing. Do you still see the same one? I’m sorry about your botched path report. You’re right, not much you can do about that now… I know you feel trapped at times. I think we all do. Thanks for reading and for your kind words, Alli.

  3. Ye gawds, Nancy, forgive me for using a bad word here, but doesn’t it just suck? I have tears of identification, empathy, remembering, all streaming down my face. Honestly, I don’t know how we don’t all just lose our ever-loving minds.

    And your poor husband, too. Oh, I just wanted to leap in and hug you both. Very tightly.


  4. First off, Nancy, thank you for sharing your writing. Something about it seems much more personal, more intimate than usual and I know that can’t be easy to do, so thank you for that. We all have these moments.

    I didn’t meet my oncologist until after surgery. I just thought that was the way it was done. For me, that’s when I had the final pathology and info to go on. I liked my doc right away. Very reassuring, calming, almost grandfatherly. Nice. I’ve heard stories of oncologists making patients feel like the end of the world is coming… can’t imagine that and wouldn’t stay with anyone like that.

    Oh, it was my breast surgeon that presentated all the options, but weighing my history and seeing as much as I had in life, I decided on the bilateral mastecomy. Eventually! Not an easy choice. xoxo

    1. Stacey, A lot of what we share is quite personal isn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard to know how much is too much…It’s great you hit it off with your oncologist so well. Calming and reassuring are nice qualities for an oncologist to have! Actually for any medical professional. Thanks for reading, Stacey, and for your encouraging words.

  5. Nancy,
    I can relate, as many of us can, to most everything you shared. It’s heart wrenching to read but I admire you for digging deeply and sharing your story on such an intimate level. You helped many more people than you can possible imagine with this post. Big Hugs, my friend,


  6. Those words strike fear in my heart, too, Nancy. In all of our hearts.

    I was so nervous when I met my oncologist for the first time. I had a zillion questions to ask, but was afraid I’d use up too much of his time. But I kept a stiff upper lip and realized this guy would be my advocate for quite some time. I better get to like him.

    I was only offered lumpectomy (or mastectomy), CMF chemo, and radiation. Not a lot in 1996. In 2003 I had more options and was so pleased to learn how far the field had advanced.

    Yes, my cancer diagnosis makes me feel trapped. Trapped in a body that is missing a few parts and swollen in others. Trapped into chemo and radiation. I like that word.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

    1. Jan, Who wouldn’t be nervous meeting an oncologist? It’s not something one is “supposed” to be doing is it? Glad to hear you were offered more options in 2003, though it must have so frightening to have a recurrence… I understand how you have felt trapped at times. Many relate. Thanks so much for commenting, Jan.

  7. The hardest part for me was walking in the door of a CANCER center to see and ONCOLOGIST – kind of what the heck am I doing HERE feeling.
    My oncologist looked to be about 12 years old, drew great pictures, and didn’t make much eye contact – so I was a little nervous at first, but by the second appointment we had good rapport, and though he had only worked in the clinical setting for about a year, before that he was in cancer research. Now 2 years later, I’m I can’t even imagine a better oncologist, he’s easy to talk to, funny, caring, knowledgeable….and on and on.

    1. Linda, I had that exact same feeling. I even said out loud to my husband while we waited, “I can’t believe I need an oncologist.” It seemed unfathomable. “Well, you do,” was his simple and honest response. I’m so glad you are satisfied with your oncologist and now have a good relationship. That’s so important. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I had positive lymphs… nothing else picked up, but I find it difficult to stop the thought: “just a matter of time before the seeds germinate”.

    1. Lynne, My lymph nodes ended up not being clear either, so that exam was not accurate… I completely understand your “germinating” thoughts. Many of us do. Thank you for commenting.

  9. Hi Nancy,

    I love the way this book is panning out! I’m so saddened by how difficult things were for you — and of course all of us. Your husband sounds like a wonderful support.

    I LOVED my oncologist, but I was so scared prior to seeing him. The thought of seeing an oncologist scared me, and I was in denial beforehand, figuring I could just bypass seeing him. In fact, that’s a posting I’ve been working on.

    I guess we are in sync again.

    Like you, I had options, but let’s face it, it was more like choose the lesser of all the evils. No real options. I chose to get rid of my breasts ultimately, but what kind of choice did I really have?

    1. Beth, We do seem to be in “sync” a lot don’t we? I’ve many times felt like the word options is totally inaccurate, but… You’re right, it was more like choosing the lesser of other evils… I’m glad you loved your oncologist. He must be very good. As always, thanks for your encouraging words about my writing. And yes, I’m very lucky my hubby has always been so supportive. Thank you for your comments.

  10. Nancy,
    Amazing how quickly “a” cancer becomes “your” cancer, isn’t it? In that moment, “your” really means everything else about your life falls away as though it never existed, or like “your” life happened to someone else. The real heart brake is that “your” is really “ours.” Our family has cancer; our family is devastated and angry. It takes a long time for “us” to heal.


    1. Brenda, You’re right about the diagnosis also impacting the entire family. “Our” cancer is fitting in many ways, but still when all is said and done, it “belongs” to the person diagnosed. Even with much support there are times it feels very lonely.

  11. Nancy – I met my onc after umx (only option given due to 3 masses) and although he was pleasant and informative, he seemed to be too busy to read my file thouroughly. He was unaware of the possible liver mets detected on an US and later did not read the complete biopsy report. He only read “no mets”, not the “inconclusive due to poor quality picture” So I was not originally impressed with him, but I did learn the importance of becoming my own advocate!
    I was very impressed with the resident MD however. He spent a great deal of time with my DH and myself and helped to quash some of our fears. The last couple of appts, I have been seen by another onc who assists my onc. I did find the secret to getting back to seeing my own onc though. (it’s all in the scheduling) I am sure that if I can get my onc to slow down a bit, we would really hit it off.

    1. Barb, I guess you certainly did have to be your own best advocate didn’t you? You make a key point, not only do we as the patient need to slow down, sometimes the oncologist needs to do the same. If necessary, we may need to remind them of this and that’s entirely appropriate in my view. Thanks so much for sharing.

  12. So many memories and emotions come up reading the two instalments of this chapter, Nancy. Please share future chapters with us if you’re game! Fortunately I liked my surgeon (the first specialist I met), oncologist and radio-oncologist enormously the first time I met them all – mind you, you’d hope so as I travelled across the country from our remote location for treatment at their breast cancer centre. I think of them as my ‘Dream Team’ and don’t know how I would have coped without the level of faith I had in them. I am so glad you liked your oncologist – I’ll be very interested to (hopefully) read more.

    1. Liz, Thank you so much for reading. It’s wonderful when the doctor/patient relationship is a good one. That’s as it should be. I’m so glad you found your own “dream team.” We all deserve such a team don’t you think?

  13. Nancy,
    Thank you for sharing a chapter of your book, You Have “A” Cancer. Great title! You are a gifted writer with a perceptive writer’s voice. You view life’s situations through a unique lens. I know you are writing about your personal situation, yet somehow it is about all of us. It is about the human condition.
    As I was reading your chapter, I pulled one of my old favorites off my bookshelf. It’s time for me to reread Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety.
    You have a gift to take everyday occurrences and make them extra-ordinary. This is what I enjoy in Anne Tyler’s writing. When I read the preface to Ladder of Years I was hooked on her writing as well.
    Your audience is much larger than cancer sojourners.

    1. John, Thank you very much for you kind words about my writing. I appreciate “hearing” them more than you can possibly imagine. I’m glad you enjoyed “You Have ‘A’ Cancer.” It felt quite personal to share and so I hesitated somewhat to do so. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  14. “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.

    1. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

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