Wow

I’m completely overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received for my previous post. Whether its was a comment, an email, a text, or a Facebook message, just know that I seriously appreciate everything you guys have said. I didn’t post it because I wanted sympathy or anything, I just wanted to discuss a situation that not many people talk about. And, interestingly enough, the most common response I received was how the writer experienced a similar situation. How they were scared, too. How they’re okay now.

The thing is, I don’t think we should be quiet about something like this. I don’t think masses and lumps and Freds should be whispered about. Sure some people are private and what to keep private matters as such, but I want to shout it from the rooftops. I want to tell people that you’re not alone. That of the responses I received, 80% of the people either went through the same situation, or knew someone who has. Seriously.

We shouldn’t be scared to speak.

So, just know, I’m here. If you want to talk, or want to confide. If you want to share your story, your experience. It’s okay. Because the more we talk about it, perhaps the less scary it is.

 

Full Disclosure

(I rarely write about very personal situations, but I felt this one to be important. Plus, it’s how I dealt with it, really. When I don’t know what to do, I write. So here’s what I wrote.) 

There’s a line in a book, I don’t recall which, where the main character uses the phrase “my traitorous lungs.” I kept thinking of that, running the line through my mind over and over again, as I felt the lump under my arm. It was right on a lymph node, I suspected, having seen how far they stretch, how vast they run. And despite being scared, I just kept repeating the word over and over again – my traitorous body, my traitorous skin, my traitorous muscle – until it made just as little sense as the situation did.

You hear about these situations and assume they’ll never happen to you. I’m 28. I’m relatively healthy. I shouldn’t find lumps the size of the tip of my pinkie finger hiding out under my skin, polluting everything around it. I shouldn’t – and yet I did. So I called my doctor, scheduled an appointment for later that day, and logically planned my attack. Also, I cried.

Samir was out of town, and really I didn’t want to tell anyone about my will hopefully be nothing situation, so I took myself to the doctor after leaving work early. He felt the lump, confirmed my suspicion. It is, in fact, there. It is, in fact, a random mass. It definitely should be looked at. So that’s when I started to make the calls.

Having just gone through this with my mom – a year of breast cancer treatment  which, thankfully, is finally over – I was well accustomed to hearing the stats, scheduling the appointments, and, really, just playing it cool. That’s who I was during her time. I was the observer who jotted notes down to research later. Who asked the questions that needed to be asked. Who kept everyone calm. I resumed that role again as I scheduled my mammogram, as I told my mom, as I researched my situation. I played it cool because it was the only thing I knew how to do.

I hated referring to it as a mass, as a lump, as an anything thing that shouldn’t be in my body. So I named it Fred. Fred sounded less frightening. Fred wouldn’t hurt me.

Two days later, yesterday, I had my first mammogram. Most women start later, at 35 or 40. I started at 28. I sat in a room wearing a blue cloth gown tied tightly around myself as I noticed each woman walk in. Each woman was almost double my age. They all gave me the same “oh, poor you” face that I hated. I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted to leave.

My mammogram went smoothly, if not uncomfortably, and then the ultrasound was cold and wet and weird. I figured my first time having one would be when I was pregnant. I assumed wrong. I took a picture to text Samir, who was waiting for me patiently in the other room.

The black jellybean is Fred, my mass.

I waited, waited, waited for the results. It’s cliche, but it did feel like it took a full day. A week. A month. But the doctor came in and showed me the films, showed me the pictures.

And I was right about so many things. Fred was on my lymph node. Fred was quite large, 5 mm. It was smart to get Fred looked at.

But despite all that? Fred was nothing. Fred was, in fact, simply an enlarged lymph node.

And I was completely fine. 

I think I asked her if I was okay at least seven times. Perhaps eight. I think it took me at least seven minutes to process the information. Perhaps eight.

Of course everything was great after that. I called my parents, my friends who sent me encouraging texts throughout the day. It was over, and I was fine.

But here’s the thing – while everything was fine, and Fred was just something I’ll live with, I’m really glad I still got him checked out. Because he could have been worse, he could have been horrible. There’s a part in The Art of Racing where the wife refuses to go to the doctor because she knows there will be bad news. I didn’t understand that when I read it – why refuse to know? But sitting under the ultrasound, I understood. Sometimes not knowing is easier. Especially when you know it will be bad.

But easier isn’t always better, and not knowing is not always the right way to go. We got my mom checked out just in time and it ended up being bad. I got myself checked out in time and it ended up being good. You really don’t know which way it’ll end, but in the end i’m so lucky that my mom is okay now…

…and, yeah, so am I.

High Five for Friday

Writing news:

Sent in my first revised manuscript to Agent. Crazy, right? I’m both nervous and excited. Nervous because…what if she doesn’t like my changes? Excited because…what if she does? It’s a weird profession, it really is.

Personal news:

As of last week my mom’s been cancer free for a full year. A full year! I wrote about her struggle with breast cancer when she was first diagnosed, but since then she’s recovered remarkably well. All of her surgeries were successful, including the reconstruction. And now it’s all totally gone. I’ve always believed in the possibility of miracles, but now I also believe in medicine.

Dinosaur news:

Saw this guy on my way to Sarasota. I’m 99% sure he waved to me.

Rock Star

Hi blog, remember me?

First off, my mom is okay!

That said, I’ve learned that cancer isn’t something that can just go away one day with a surgery. There’s so much more to deal with, prepare for, and undergo.

To back up, mom’s surgery went well. It was almost three weeks ago (!). Watching the doctor’s roll my mother away to the operating room, not knowing what to expect, was one of the most frightening and depressing things I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure there’s a more poetic way to write that, but certain situations don’t call for flowery language.

We were warned of all the side effects and possible outcomes. On the plus side, the worst case scenario was blood, swelling and pain – in cases of a surgery, things could be much worse, so we were hopeful. The ten hours we spent in the hospital (before, during and after the surgery) were draining. Every time the door opened, we jumped, hoping for news. People came in and out, some with smiles, some with frowns.

She spent the night in the hospital and came home the following day. Despite pain, she was able to walk around and have visitors. I stayed with my parents that weekend to handle the cleaning. Since then, I’ve visited most days during my lunch break and Sundays. (During all of this were midterms for grad school, of course. I didn’t sleep much.)

She had a full mastectomy and reconstruction. While the surgery did remove everything, in further testing of her removed lymph node, they found 2 mm of cancer. Fearing it may be in other lymph nodes, we’re deciding what to do next.

It’s interesting (and frustrating). Six years ago, after the surgery, it would have been done, over. They didn’t see any other cancer, they only found the 2 mm after biopsying the removed node after the fact…in a test that was only created six years ago. Since the test is so new, and research still going on, there’s no specific route to take next. It was believed that since it was found, surgeons should go back in and take away more nodes. Yet, recently, it’s been deduced that that doesn’t actually solve everything (thanks, by the way, to J who sent me the NPR article about this – EXTREMELY helpful). So, we’re meeting with oncologists and radiologists and whatnot to see what to do next. I say we because I feel like I’m in this almost as much. (Although I know I’m not.)

To my mom’s credit, she’s so optimistic. She’s gotten to the point of accepting the disease, and moving on. She can’t cry over it every day, so she admits it’s awful, admits her fear, and keeps going. She’s gone on walks, gone to Target. She still has drains in her (weird), but they should be removed by the end of the week. She’s a rock star.

I went to the OBGYN to get tested. Since it doesn’t run in my family, the doctor said there’s a strong chance I’ll be fine. Still, I’m to take precautious. Stay healthy. Exercise. Yearly checkups (which I already do). Mammograms starting at 30 or 35. (I’m 27 now, so I still have some time.)

My job has been amazing. Two people, including my boss, have gone through this, so they’ve let me take afternoons off, extended lunches, and days off to help out with driving my mom to appointments and such. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer present.

The day of the surgery, I received some of the nicest emails, text messages, and Tweets in regards to the situation. I wasn’t very public about it – this is really the only forum I’ve posted about the situation (I’m not very personal on Facebook-go figure), so it was lovely to see everyone’s concern without a status message to remind them. When waiting in the hospital to get the results, I thought about all the people from all over the country – world even (we had messages from UK) – wishing my mother well. It was incredible, simply amazing, to see so many names all coming together to hope for the same thing. It makes the world seem very friendly.

And so, we’re still going. There’s more to undergo, but we’re positive. We’re just one more step toward putting this all behind us. There’s just so much more to look forward to.

But, I have to admit – it’s put a new spin on everything. Deleted document, forgotten lunch, cut off by a bad driver…none of those ordinary things are as bad as cancer. None of them. Days seem so much more pleasant knowing that.

Best!

Quick update – mom’s cancer isn’t spreading! It’s in one place, and still only 1/2 a centimeter big. She’s getting it out at the end of the month. In the scheme of things, this is the best news we could have gotten. Yay!

In Addition –

When in the room, after the doctor (who is absolutely lovely) revealed the news, we were waiting for the nurse to come in and set up my mom’s next round of exams. Upon looking at a poster, I saw a bug on the wall, climbing…climbing…climbing.

Of course, neither my mom or I would touch it, so we grabbed tissues and gave them to my dad. He smashed the bug on, of all places, a poster for breast cancer.

“Uh, dad,” I said, “you’re totally touching stage four melanoma breasts.”

And for some reason, it was the funniest thing in the world. My dad touching a poster of breasts.

And we laughed and laughed and laughed. And it was the best I’ve ever felt, despite it all. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, beats that first communal laugh after something tragic happens.

Nothing.

Whisper It

I’ve become a statistic. Not by choice, or because of something I’ve done, but because of something I’m going through. Or, more so, my mother is going through.

Before Christmas, my mom found a lump on her breast. Due to the holiday, she couldn’t get it looked out for another week; the emotional tension surrounding our festivities was almost visible. After her mammogram , doctors realized that although the mass was small, it didn’t look good. Last week she had a biopsy and today we got the results back.

As it turns out, my mom does in fact have breast cancer.

It’s so weird to type. I almost didn’t, as if jotting it down would make it come true. And yet, it is, so I could type it all I want and nothing will change. I don’t even have to whisper the word; the gods have already heard. It’s weird, almost surreal. A situation you hear others go through, but never someone you know. You’re too strong, too healthy, too invincible.

But we aren’t, are we?

On the positive side, the cancer is only 1/2 a centimeter big. This week she’s going for a full round of tests to see if it’s spreading. We find out the results next Friday. Thankfully, since it’s so small, if it isn’t spreading, she’ll have a lumpectomy shortly after and then radiation for a few days – and then she’ll be fine. If it is spreading (fingers crossed it isn’t), she’ll have to go through chemo, but still – it’ll be a simple lumpectomy. It’s not in our genes, so hopefully this will be it.

My mom is…okay. She’s optimistic, and not looking for sympathy. And we’re all extremely hopeful. The doctor sounded very positive about everything, and she even said my mom would be fine by my wedding (of course, the only thing on her mind). There’s no need to rush right now since it’s so small, but we’re really hoping to get rid of the mass as soon as possible. Then, happiness.

When we received the news, we all acted as we normally do during such times. My mom was a bit hysterical. My dad froze, not knowing how to react to a situation he couldn’t fix. I took notes, asked questions, got specifics. We’re going through the motions, taking everything step by step.

Because what else is there to do?

My mom will be okay, I know she will be. I have high hopes for everything. It’s just a lot to deal with right now. We’ve got things under control, and even the doctor said she’ll be wearing her best slinky dress by September. I swear she’s trying to upstage me then…and obviously I’m a okay with that. I hope for that. She’s my mom, after all.