October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It comes and goes every year, with NFL players wearing pink shoes, law enforcement officers wearing pink badges and stores selling everything from pink pens to pink yogurt. Back in 2014, that awareness kind of took on a new meaning for me. Because 2014 is the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had gone to the Women’s Center for my yearly mammogram, and I got a call that I would need to go the hospital for follow-up. Well, this had happened to me one time before, so I really did not even think about it. I went to the hospital, had another mammogram and then had an ultrasound. Again, I was still not even thinking about it, just something I had to get through so I could move on with my day.
And then the radiologist came in and showed me the ultrasound image. He showed me the ragged edges on the blob (because, really, who can tell what those shapes are?). The ragged edges that meant breast cancer.
It was all so crazy. There I was, sitting in the room where I had just had an ultrasound, hanging out in the dark, waiting to be released so that I could go eat lunch, and I find out that I have breast cancer. I guess I had always thought that there might be some moment like this in my life, a moment where I would get bad news of some sort, but in my mind, I always had someone with me when the doctor came in, looking very somber, to announce the news.
So on this day, I was confused. Not about the diagnosis. I mean, I knew I still had to have a biopsy, and it had to be sent off to see if it was, in fact, cancer, but the radiologist was certain that it was. So I was not confused about that. I was confused about what to do with this new information.
In the immediate moment, I did not know whether I should cry or not. I am a pretty easy crier, so I thought about it for a second or two ... but I was not really sad at the moment, and I did not know if the people in that dark room would think I was odd, so I did not cry.
I got dressed, walked out into the bright sunshine, got in my car, and wondered: Do I call my husband now? My mom and dad? My sister? Well I chose no and went to Food Lion instead. The one on 115. I saw an elderly lady walking to her car in the parking lot, and that is when I cried. And cried. Selfishly, I thought, I might not ever get to be her age.
And that was when the random thoughts started. Thoughts like, I have a 4-year-old, and I have not gotten around to making her a dentist appointment. I need to hurry up and get that dentist appointment because I might not be around to make sure that she goes. And, I want to go to the beach because I love the beach, and I may not ever get to go again.
I did not say that they were particularly intelligent thoughts.
I eventually did tell my husband. But I could not tell my mom and dad. I made my husband do it. And I made him tell most of our friends. I told one or two people in the office, and I told them to tell the others. I hated telling people about it. Not because it made me sad or upset, but because it made them sad and upset, and then they would say nice things and it would make me cry (remember? Easy crier).
My husband was the greatest during all of it. He went to those late-afternoon appointments that dragged on and on, and I will always remember that he called the exam rooms “tiny houses” — this was when the tiny house phenomenon was all over television — and proclaimed those exam rooms to be the worst tiny houses he had ever seen. I mean, they did not even have bathrooms!
In October 2014, the Tuesday before Halloween, I had a lumpectomy. It was surprisingly not that big of a deal. I was sore for a week or so, but I rallied in my cat costume and took my little Dorothy trick-or-treating. It became easier to tell people what was going on.
I only had to have radiation, no chemotherapy, and for that, I count myself lucky. Radiation was not fun by any means, but it was interesting. I left work every day at 3 or so, went to the hospital, took off my top, put on a gown and waited to be called. The interesting part was my radiation friends. For six weeks, I sat with my radiation friends and had conversations about everything. Well, everything but the cancer. I remember Valentine’s Day when one of them laughed and laughed when I told him I was getting my husband an Amazon gift card. Apparently, he did not find that to be all that romantic.
Radiation never made me tired, which the doctors said it could, but it did make my skin raw and painful to touch. And it is still red like a sunburn to this day! I will never forget that snowy day that I completed my radiation treatments. I got to ring a bell, and people whooped and yelled. AND I got a certificate.
I have not had that certificate framed, but now, at my five-year anniversary of being cancer free, it seems like it might be a little more important than those other things on my wall.