Cancer is the bossiest disease ever.
The week of my diagnosis, I was excited to finally begin my final year in college. It has been a long time coming, and I was already anxiously planning a big grad party and thinking of a destination to celebrate with family and friends… and then BAM. Life said, nope. I call the shots!
What was almost eerie about this diagnosis is that I knew something was wrong about a week or so before I really knew something was wrong.
I had just put in my two weeks notice at my job because I was really feeling what I thought was just an ultimate burnout. I decided that I would take a moment to reset in life and focus 100% on school and finally get myself into doctors appointments for various screens and physicals to get me back to myself as I had felt exhausted for months.
The week that I put my notice in, I finally got myself into my OBGYN to check out the lump that I had discovered months ago, but finally slowed down enough to give it attention.
That was my first mistake.
I was too busy for my health and had only decided it was time to take care of myself only because I was finally getting too tired to function, and that’s not okay.
I hate to think what would have happened if there wasn’t a lump to discover, which is sometimes the case with breast cancer. I was “lucky”, and had a lump that scared me enough to go in, even if I DID wait too long to go in. – Please don’t wait, go in the SECOND you find something that’s off.
The day of my appointment, I cried on my way to work. I kept thinking, what will I do if I have cancer? How will my life change? What will happen to me?
My mind went C R A Z Y with “what ifs”.
Once I finally got to my appointment, the doctor comes in, asks me to lean over and asks if she can “guess” what side its on without me telling her. I said sure, and she called it right away. Not because she was that good, but because it was that big. Again, I can’t stress how much I regret waiting on this.
She then does the standard breast exam and feels around, but, and this is a HUGE but, proceeds to tell me that it’s a cyst and that I’m fine and that it isn’t what I thought.
Now, keep in mind, this was my very first appointment, there were no labs, ultrasounds, mammograms, anything, and she still felt confident enough to make this call – and reassured this to me even though I told her that almost every type of cancer has touched my family in some way and even lost two to breast cancer. I felt somewhat relieved, but still not convinced. Luckily, she still referred me for a mammogram.
The week of my mammogram which was only a few days later I was feeling anxious all around, not only was my husband out of town for work, but I still couldn’t shake that “it’s nothing” call.
I go in for my mammogram, alone. If I could go back and change this too, I would’ve.
When it comes to getting any kind of big news, whether it’s good or bad, I’d recommend having someone with you.
The mammogram was a lot more involved than I expected, a lot of jabbing, squishing, and pulling. Not going to lie to you, it kinda hurt.
After all of the images were taken, I was put in a little waiting room. I kept seeing other women getting placed into the rooms next to me, and then getting told that they could get dressed and go to the front, so I kept waiting for the same. After others came and left, I still sat there waiting, wondering if they had forgotten about me.
The nurse comes in and says, the radiologist would like to speak with you. I thought, well that can’t be good.
He walks me into a room with several screens and images of a big black spot and what looks like large white freckles in the the middle of that black spot.
I couldn’t stop staring at that large black spot not knowing at all what it meant (as this was my first mammogram) but couldn’t even pay attention to what he was saying.
Next, he says, “do you have anyone in the waiting room you can bring back with you?” I thought, why?
I said no, my husband was out of town and the rest of my family lives back home.
He says that he would like to talk to me about what all he was explaining in the images.
We walk into the room, he asks me to get comfortable, and the nice lady assistant slides me over a box of tissues. It was at that very moment I knew my life was about to change.
He says, “Ma’am, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I believe that you have breast cancer”. A single tear rolled down my face.
No, I thought. The other doctor said it was a cyst, you must be mistaken.
He said that in order to really be sure, they would still recommend a biopsy, but I won’t ever be able to unsee that look in his eyes, he knew. Everyone knew. It was almost as though they wanted to exhaust every test to just be “sure”, and it would be that persons job to deliver the confirming blow.
I left that appointment holding back the rest of my tears until I could make it back to my car, not because I was shook up about the news which was surprising, but because I had known something was going on with me, and this just confirmed it.
I returned to work and it continued to consume my mind. While I had already put in my notice to kind of recharge myself, I was in no way prepared for this. I had no idea what would come next, biopsies? Treatments? Oncologists?
I was in way over my head.
Here I thought that I was just going to take some time off, be better about taking vitamins, get some much needed rest, and I’d be back to myself again. This was not the case.
After this news, I called my mom and she was on the first flight to Austin. It was really awful to get this news and be alone, but I couldn’t even think about handling the rest on my own. As it was, there’s an almost haze that came over me when I heard those words and everything after just sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown.
Now here come the decisions…
Do I drop out of school?… In my FINAL year.
Do I look for another job?… Even though I’ll have to miss for treatments.
Can we afford this?… Do I sell my car?… Would we need to move back home for care?
Do I tell my family? … My Friends?…. Everyone?
Do I get a second opinion?
Those were just the initial thoughts. I would soon discover how many more major decisions I would need to make.
My first appointments came with my breast surgeon and oncologist and the next big decisions were here. The good thing is that one of them I was solid about without question, and that was on getting a bilateral mastectomy.
Two beautiful women in my family lost their battles with breast cancer and I thought, I’ll be damned if I’m the third. I have a lot of life left to live.
My tumor as it started was at 3cm, so I was past the point of getting a lumpectomy but still had the option to just get a unilateral mastectomy. I decided that I never wanted to go through this whole “process” again and would just do both to hopefully avoid this later down the line. My surgeon agreed, especially with my strong family history that it was probably for the best. Next came another big decision, kids.
I would say that for at least the last 2 years of my life I was pretty confident in the choice of not having kids, even after the first year of my marriage was questionable because my husband still wanted them. Now, I’m sure that most couples have this discussion before sealing the deal, but it hadn’t really ever come up, until it did, and then it was almost an argument. My feelings were that I might be open to having kids if I did all of the traveling that I wanted to and was in the career that I wanted. We’d go back and forth on this for a while, until we finally settled on not having kids as a joint decision after seeing one too many shrieking kids in public, and just got another dog.
I knew I didn’t want to have kids, but cancer made me sure. Right away the doctors informed me that because of the chemo regimen that I would be on, it would be almost impossible to have kids and if it was something I even had the slightest desire to do, I would need to see a fertility doctor ASAP.
After riding what felt like the longest roller coaster of my life for the last two weeks I was not about to put myself through much more, and it was in that doctors office that I said, “I’m sure, I don’t want kids”.
It’s too early to tell if I’ll ever regret this decision, but again, bossy cancer made me decide something way before I felt it was time.
It has a way of doing that for a lot of things.
If decisions aren’t your thing, which for me they definitely are not (I don’t even like picking a restaurant!), cancer will make you make those decisions. Cancer does not care if you are “ready”.
Cancer does not care if you are financially stable, if you are at the finish line of a major goal, if you are in a “safe place” in your life, or if you are enjoying life.
Cancer invites itself into your life and the lives of those you love and overstays it’s welcome the second that it arrives.
I am 29 years old and never in my life did I think I would hear those three big words, much less right now, but I did.
The decisions I make in my life going forward will forever change the path that it takes.
While I can be mildly jealous that some people have more options and time in making some of the decisions that I had to make in under a week, I have to be strong in knowing that for whatever reason it is, it was meant to be this way.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and even though it doesn’t quite make sense right now, it will in time.