Cancer. The one word no one ever wants to hear. It is ugly. Vile. Frightening. Earth-shattering. Unwanted. Uninvited. Yet for some…inescapable. As of four weeks and four days ago, I became one of many for whom cancer is an undeniable reality.
It was a typical Thursday night and I was alone at the office attempting to make up for all the hours missed due to my recent run-in with bronchitis. An unknown number appeared on my phone yet I felt sure of its origin. Continuing to shuffle papers as I answered the call, I assumed it would be the results of my recent biopsies. I had no worry or concern about the results. The only troubles I felt my future held would be the scheduling nightmare I would most likely face in trying to have the annoying-but- what-I-knew-would-be-benign lump removed. A big believer in never worrying until there is something to worry about, I had convinced myself all was well. This time, the power of positive thinking failed me.
After only a few words of greeting from my doctor, the “C” word was spoken and from that point on, the conversation was a blur. Words were spoken…words like “invasive tumor”, “highly suspected lymph node involvement”, “chemo”, “skin involvement”, “full mastectomy”, “radiation”, “oncologist”, “urgent”.
Each word carried a sting…a bite…yet I was numb to it all.
I remember using my fist to stifle the sobs as I sucked up the tears that wanted to break free. For some unknown reason I needed to stay in control of my emotions…to grasp every word being spoken…to be in control of an uncontrollable situation. I remember thinking how often you hear of one’s inability to process bad news as it is delivered and this was definitely bad news. In that moment it became critical to my existence to get the facts straight. I felt like a child yet wanted to act like an adult. My mind was spinning at an alarming pace but I was fighting with everything in me to bring it back to a steady place.
I was alone. No one was there to share the burden of recording the facts. It was up to me and only me to take care of business.
I asked the doctor to repeat her words over and over. I wrote them down and repeated them back to her, making note after note of what was said. Upon returning to my office the next day, it was painfully clear what I had done. One Post-It note after another was scattered across my desk, each one saying the same thing. In sorting through them, not one could spare me the ugliness of what was to come. Each held the same horrid verdict… I have breast cancer.
In hindsight I remember so little, yet I remember so much. So many odd thoughts passed through my mind and I find it utterly fascinating where the human mind will go when faced with such earth shattering news. As I hung up the phone, I began pacing the hallway, finally allowing the tears to flow. Words came tumbling from my lips, but I have no idea if I was successful in forming coherent sentences. I kept running my fingers through my hair, wondering how quickly it would begin to fall out.
And I began to wail.
I’m sure the mourning was over far more than the loss of my hair, but it was the catalyst that pushed me over the edge of the cliff into the abyss where only heartache, sorrow and irrational thinking dwell. I could think of nothing else. No thoughts of death. No fear of pain. No concern for the eventual loss of my breast. I just desperately wanted to keep my hair. Strange, superficial thoughts. The only thoughts my mind would allow in that moment.
That was four weeks and four days ago. A lifetime has been lived in those thirty-two days. So many doctors visits, too many tests and scans to count, poking and prodding, needles and biopsies, port-a-cath placement and two chemo treatments… all this and more has filled my calendar. My world has been turned upside down and shaken equivalent to that of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. But through it all, I have found peace. The fear from that first night has been replaced with an acceptance…a willingness to work with the hand I’ve been dealt. My faith has always been a huge part of my life and God has come to my rescue once again. An enormous amount of information regarding my treatment has afforded me the chance to know what to expect in the upcoming months. To summarize, 24 weeks of chemo, a full mastectomy then radiation. The side effects have been spelled out. I don’t like them, but I can live with them.
I honestly don’t know the state of my prognosis. I’ve been made aware the journey will be a rough one and I know no one can know for certain what the end result will be. Anything can happen. But God gives me hope. He gives me peace. As one of my favorite songs says, “though He may not calm the storms around me, He will give me Perfect Peace.” As for now, I rest well in the fact that hope is alive and in knowing that God is with me each step of the way.
This road has been traveled by many. Sadly for so many women, it is not a journey unique to me. My wish is to fight the fight with grace and thanksgiving for all the good in my life. You see, I’ve discovered a truth. When faced with the worst, one can discover the best. That dreaded “c” word, while as ugly a word as can be spoken, has allowed me to see how truly blessed I am.