Archive for April 1st, 2012

The call

Tuesday morning, March 20: My phone rang. It was my doctor. “I know you didn’t expect to hear from me until later this week, but we were afraid it was going to be the worst case scenario and it is. Invasive ductal carcinoma.” “Which is…?” I ask. “Invasive breast cancer.” Oh. I was already texting with Mike. He appeared in my office and we Googled it as soon as I was off the phone.

I was in shock. But she was pretty clear: she wanted to get me in with a breast surgeon as soon as possible and would call to schedule it herself so there was no delay. I made my own calls or sent texts to those I knew would kill me if they didn’t know immediately.

Wednesday, March 21: The surgeon was initially scheduled for April 2, but my doctor was concerned that was too far. So she got one to see me the next week, March 27. But that night over dinner, Kristen made me promise to get at least a second opinion at Dana Farber, where her brother Greg was treated and where they have a special program for young women with breast cancer. Of course Beth Israel is great, but it never hurts to get a second opinion, especially at the world-renowned cancer institute.

Thursday, March 22: By 10 a.m. Kristen had an appointment for me with a team of doctors at Dana Farber. The soonest available was April 4, which concerned me a bit since my doctor had thought April 2 was too late. But I called and talked to the patient coordinator at Dana Farber anyway. She understood my concern, but also warned me not to rush into anything and that it should be fine to have a second opinion then. I asked to be put on a waiting list and she assured me she already had my name plastered on her computer, but asked me not to get my hopes up as they never get cancellations. “I understand,” I said. After all, I certainly wouldn’t cancel that appointment!

It was less than an hour later that my phone rang again. “I know you didn’t expect to hear from me – I didn’t expect to call you – but we just had a cancellation for this Tuesday. And it is with the director of breast surgery, among others.” Done. Thank you, Kristen! Now it was just waiting five more days.

I told people. As one person put it: it makes sense, I’m a communicator. I wanted people at work to know why I wasn’t going to be there off and on for a while (although I didn’t know when or for how long, just that it would be lots of doctors’ appointments, then surgery, recovery and then possibly chemo and/or radiation). And I wanted my family and friends to know what was happening – I didn’t want anyone hearing it through the grapevine, if I could help it. And I wanted them to see and hear that I was fine. Really. I can beat this.

I think that has been my biggest coping mechanism to date: telling people and assuring them I will be fine, no matter how bad it turns out to be. If I promise that, then it has to be. I do not break promises, and I don’t make ones I don’t believe I can keep. I know I may not have real control over this, but I do believe all of the positive thinking, prayers, good vibes and, most of all, love emanating from everyone I know must be more powerful than some stupid cancer!

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Wednesday, March 14: Nick and I flew home from a few days in L.A. visiting friends. We were exhausted. Our plane had to make an emergency landing in New York because there was fog in Boston and the plane didn’t have enough fuel to circle. (WTF, right???) So it added many hours to our already long journey. I pretty much collapsed when I got home, but something – I have no idea what – made me think: I haven’t done a self-check for breast cancer in months. I should do that. So I did.

I always wondered if those self-checks were even worth doing. I only do it once a month – and in this case, it had been several months. I can’t even remember the last time I did one. Would I ever actually notice something different? If you’ve ever asked yourself this (and both women AND men should be doing them once a month), the answer is yes. You will notice it. I couldn’t quite believe it. I felt the lump on the outside of my right breast, and didn’t really believe it. So I felt the same place on my left breast – is this normal, does it feel the same on that one? No and no. I kept going back and forth, still not sure.

I was texting my cousin Tara at the same time. “I just found a lump on my right breast. But I’m sure it’s nothing.” “I’m sure it’s nothing, too. It’ll be fine. But go to the doctor just to make sure.”

Thursday, March 15: It was a crazy morning at work, even more than usual since I’d been away for a few days, even though I had my computer and did some work during my trip. It was lunch by the time I got around to trying to find a doctor. I hadn’t found one since I moved into the city and since Nick uses the car to commute to school, it would be impossible to keep my old doctor who is over an hour away. I was just starting my search when Tara texted: “I’m sure you’re very busy, but please call your doctor.” I assured her I was working on it.

I found a seemingly well credentialed female doctor on Berkley St. I called, they said she was accepting new patients and I explained my situation. I went in that afternoon and was glad I did. She was great. Asked many questions (including if it hurt – I said yes, but probably because I kept poking at it to see if it was really there and make sure I wasn’t bothering her for nothing) and was the right mix of concerned but reassuring. And action oriented: she wanted me to go to Beth Israel for a mammogram (my first) the next day.

Friday, March 16: I left work early to go to my appointment at Beth Israel. A few people asked if I wanted them to go with me. No – why would I? It’s just a mammogram. I can handle it. Well, the mammogram turned into a breast ultrasound – which is much easier than having your breast squeezed flat between hard plastic/metal whatever (so not fun, although the woman doing it was so nice, cheery, sympathetic and distracting). During the ultrasound, a second (smaller) lump was found. I listened as other doctors were called in to consult. I heard “not cystic” and my heart sank a little. That was what several people had told me it probably was: “It’s probably just a cyst. My aunt/mother/ex-boyfriend’s cousin/neighbor had one and it was all fine.”

The lead doctor turned to me and said, “We’d like to biopsy both of these. Can you stay?” Uh, yes. Do whatever you need to do. Take them out now, for all I care. Just get this whole thing over with! “Is anyone with you. Do you want to call someone?” No, but I’d be fine. I just wanted to get it over with.

Thank goodness Doreen had told me what a biopsy was! Forewarned was definitely forearmed in this case! Everyone at Beth Israel was wonderful and thoroughly explained everything, but definitely in more medical terms. Doreen gave it to me straight: Huge needle. Painful. Not fun. And she was right.

Before she left the room, the lead doctor said we’d probably get the results Thursday or Friday of the following week, and she would go call my doctor now to update her on the events of the afternoon. Then she told me one more thing, “You’re a young woman. I have to tell you: whatever is in there is not good. It’s going to have to come out. Please prepare yourself for breast surgery.” Okay…

I left with an ice pack clutched to my breast and two more in my bag. I’d be bruised and hurting for at least a few days. I settled in on the couch as soon as I got home. Nick, Alivia and Kevin had some pizza with me, went and got me tylenol and a frozen yogurt, then went out. Several people offered to come over and keep me company but I was so tired, in shock and just needed to be alone. I couldn’t believe this was my life. Still can’t.

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I still can’t believe it. I guess I’m in denial. It feels just like it did when I was 16 and pregnant. This can’t be happening to me. This happens to other people. Not me. Not young (ok, maybe 38 isn’t exactly young, but it’s young for this!), healthy women with no family history. Breast cancer. I’m so sick of it already. Yet here I am writing about it! Only because I have to. I have no choice. The journalist in me is mad at myself that I didn’t start documenting everything two and a half weeks ago when I found the first lump. (Yes, I found it, and yes, there are more then one – I’ll go into all that soon.) I’ve also felt guilty for awhile that I’ve neglected this blog. So now the blog is evolving with me. It’s going to be about a different type of journey now – more of a life journey than traveling from place to place. Feel free to unsubscribe if this just isn’t your type of thing. (I’d like to unsubscribe myself.)

It just didn’t feel right giving all of my updates on Facebook- and I know not everyone is on Facebook (right, Dad?) . So I’ll put major updates here instead, and you can either subscribe by clicking the ‘Sign me up!’ box on the right, or check back here every now and then… Thank you for sticking with me on this journey. I know it’s not going to be fun like the last one, and certainly won’t have similar photo ops, but it will be … real.

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