I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on October 17th, 2017 at 1:50pm in the afternoon. I know that is super specific! How do I know that from memory? Two reasons. October 17th, 2017 was a typical uneventful day until that call, but I remember the date because it was my friend’s birthday. My plans to call my friend and wish her a happy birthday were derailed by my diagnosis. There was no way I could call her without breaking down and I didn’t want her special day to be overshadowed by my diagnosis.
How do I know the specific time? Because everyday I am scheduled to pick-up my daughter from school I set an alarm for 1:50pm. That alarm ensures I have enough time to wake-up anyone who is napping, get shoes on both my boys, get them buckled in the van and to school in time to pick-up my daughter. However, right after my alarm sounded that day, my cell phone rang. The caller ID made it clear, this was the call I had been waiting for.
I walked into my bedroom, shut the door behind me and answered the phone. It was a medical assistant from my doctor’s office. I knew immediately by the tone of her voice the results were not good. She was talking to me as if she felt sorry for me. Her reluctant, strained and drawn-out “Hello. How are you doing?” said it all. She was stalling. Eager to make small talk, she asked about my youngest. Anything but talking about what she had been tasked to do. In a last-ditch effort, she asked if the lab had contacted me directly. When I confirmed they had not, she finally told me I had CANCER. Well, actually she told me I had ductal carcinoma in situ. Carcinoma is the fancy medical term for cancer. I was shaken to say the least and I knew I would remember very little without writing it down. So I grabbed a pen and asked her to repeat the term.
In that moment I felt like someone pulled the rug out from underneath me, but I didn’t completely hit the floor. The messages God had been surrounding me with were a buffer that caught me. As I mentioned in my post – “Do Not Worry,” I had been bombarded for weeks with the messages – “Do not worry” and “Do not fear.” Even still, I had so many things going on in my life. I could not seem to focus on anything but the fact I had cancer. I walked out of my bedroom, got the boys in the van and drove to school to pick-up my daughter, thankful for large dark sunglasses and a sunny day. As I sat in the pick-up line my eyes welled up with tears, but I held them back. This was neither the time nor the place, but the news was sinking in.
When we returned home I announced it was naptime for everyone, including my way-to-old-to-be-napping less than thrilled 6-year-old daughter. Luckily all my children complied. Looking at the clock I knew my husband was wrapping up a major deadline at work. He had already forewarned me he might be home late. Besides, this didn’t seem like the kind of news to tell him over the phone. This merited a face-to-face conversation.
I phoned a close friend and asked if she could come over. Surprisingly, her parents happened to be visiting and she was able to come over kid-free. Without any idea as to why she had been summoned, I opened the door to my friend and broke down in tears. I simply told her I had cancer. Not at all what she had been expecting (let’s be honest, nor I). We walked into my living room and sat down. I just needed someone physically with me in that moment. A friend to cry with me. A friend to hug me.
After my friend left, I called my in-laws and asked if they could take all three of my children for the night. I don’t think I had ever called my in-laws in the middle of the day and asked them to immediately pick-up my kids before. They graciously dropped everything and did so without a question. However, when they arrived my mother-in-law asked if I was ok. I simply told her “No, I have cancer and I need some time alone.” My children were nothing but excited for a surprise sleepover at Nana and Papa’s house, a treat for them on a week-night.
Alone in the house I walked into the kitchen and looked at grocery bags on my counter. I had committed to hosting a diaper shower the following morning at my home for a friend. In those bags were all the necessary supplies including ingredients to make cupcakes. I went to preheat my oven and I stopped short. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything at that moment. Everything seemed so trivial considering my recent diagnosis. Time for plan B, I grabbed my car keys, got in my van and drove to the store. Store bought cupcakes would have to do. As I drove, I called a restaurant near the grocery store and placed an order for take-out. No sense cooking dinner tonight either.
As I was driving home I received a call from my husband: “Where are you at?” He had beaten me home. I told him I was on my way. When I walked in the door with dinner, cupcakes and no kids in-tow, my husband had a look of bewilderment. Normally the kids would have been running ahead of me yelling out “Daddy” and tackling him with their hugs. He looked around and finally asked where the kids were. I told him I had sent the kids to his parents’ house for the night, that we needed to talk.
We sat down, and I shared the news with him too. “Why didn’t you call me at work?” “You had a deadline.” “Are you kidding me?! This is way more important than a deadline!” “I just wanted to talk to you face-to-face.” He enveloped me in his arms, my head resting on his chest. We cried. He told me:
“We are going to get through this. I am sure it will be a pain, but we are going to get through this!”
The following morning, I hosted a diaper shower at my house for a friend. I was struck by the fact that everyone around me was rejoicing, happy and so care free, as they should be. Yet there I sat with a secret. The best scenario I could equate it with is when you first know you’re pregnant, but you aren’t telling anyone yet. Except I wasn’t growing a baby like the mother-to-be, I was growing cancer. She was growing life. I was growing, well if left unchecked – death. Sharing such news at a shower would have ruined the event for everyone involved, but especially the mother-to-be. So I kept quiet and settled into my role as host. I may have harbored a secret, but that morning was devoted to celebrating and celebrate we did!
My husband arrived home that evening with a gift. Knowing me all too well, and my tendency to exhaustively research everything, he spent his lunchbreak at Barnes and Nobles selecting the perfect book for me. He selected “The Breast Cancer Survival Manual” by John Link, M.D (I would highly recommend this book to anyone facing breast cancer). He then proceeded to explain how he had carefully scoured the book selection on Breast Cancer and found this particular book to be the most informative.
It took me very little time to read every pertinent chapter. Once I exhausted that resource, I took to the internet. Not random website mind you, but credible websites like the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society. I was interested in only credible information. Nothing sensational and nothing that would evoke fear or worry. There was no need for that.
In the days that followed I found myself lying in bed most mornings praying for the strength to keep it together. To not let my day be dominated by worry and fear. To not fall apart at every little thing. To not lose my temper at every little annoyance with my kids. To not spend my entire day on edge. I was not depressed. I was emotionally spent before the day even began. I was stuck in a constant state of raw emotions.
I knew I had a choice each day. I could focus on the unknown or I could focus on the positive. I chose to focus on the positive. Thanks to my husband’s gift, I already knew my cancer was not terminal. His gift also allowed me to research and inform myself while waiting to meet with the next specialist. I had some answers. Less than 5% of breast cancer occurs in women under age 40.1 Not the minority I hoped to find myself in, but thanks to my doctor’s proactive approach, we found it early. It hadn’t spread. If I had begun screening at age 40, as is typical, my outcome could have been vastly different. With cancer, early detection is paramount!
- American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2017-2018. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2017.