I had always been lumpy bumpy and so when the doctor found the lump, I was worried - but not super worried. I hadn't gone for my mammogram because I was breast feeding, and because I was breast feeding, I had convinced myself that I had a certain level of immunity against such things as breast cancer. I decided to get the mammogram after my son's tonsillectomy. I only had enough bandwidth for one major issue at a time. So, once he was out of the hospital, I made my appointment.
When the doctor wanted to perform a biopsy immediately, I became more concerned. It wasn't my first biopsy. I have had several biopsies. I tried to calm myself by remembering that all of the biopsies to date had come back negative. Why would this one be any different? I left the office concerned but within a day, I had determined that I simply had fibrocystic breast disease.
The doctor called me two days later on Friday, August 3rd. I remember the kids playing and the living room being too noisy. I took the phone into my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed. And she told me. "The results came back from the biopsy, and I am sorry. It is cancer." She didn't know much more than that, but wanted me to have the preliminary results so I could make the necessary appointments with an oncologist, surgeon, and radiologist for that Monday. My husband had followed me into the bedroom and was sitting beside me on the bed. I remember him holding my hand and searching my face for clues as to what was happening. "I have cancer." The doctor told me that she felt I would be okay... and that she had seen people in much worse shape than I was. Knowing someone out there was suffering worse than I was did very little to comfort me.
The tears came after I hung up the phone. Not dainty pretty tears - but the kind where your mouth is wide open and your nose is dripping and you look like hell. I felt like I didn't have bones. That entire weekend is foggy to me. I remember calling family. I remember the late night internet searching. I had no idea what any of this meant. I just knew that I had cancer. It felt unbelievable.
Two days later, I met with my first team of doctors. They stated that I was stage 2 and had lymph node involvement. They would begin with surgery, then do chemotherapy, and follow up with radiation. I felt like I had entered some type of weird breast cancer factory. I decided that because they didn't have any kleenex in their office, that they were not the doctors for me. My husband made me an appointment at Stanford. I will forever be grateful.
Unfortunately, Stanford staged me as stage 3. They recommended neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, then surgery, and lastly radiation. I remember thinking, "Okay, I will take four months off of work and then things can go back to normal." I didn't actually return to work until 10 months after my diagnosis - and I am not nearly done with treatment. I am still getting infusions and have additional surgeries planned for later this year. I will be on tamoxifen for the next decade. I live with neuropathy, difficulty sleeping, and pain in my chest. My joints feel as if I am eighty years old. And the worse side effect of all is the fear. Anxiety has replaced the cancer that had once taken up residence in my body. One minute I will be laughing with my children, and the next I am being emotionally hijacked by wicked thoughts of my own mortality.
So what do you do for a "cancerversary"? I have decided that I am going to celebrate. For if they didn't find the cancer one year ago, it could have spread past my lymph nodes. I am going to give thanks that I am cancer free. I am going to spend the weekend with my family making memories traveling to the redwoods. I am going to honor this woman who never ceases to amaze me with her strength and courage.
A few nights ago, my daughter caught me crying. She asked what was wrong. I told her that I was sad because of all that we had been through in the last year. I told her that I knew it had been hard on her as well as me. She smiled and said, "Mommy, you did it. You did chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. It was really rough - but you did it. And now you know that you can do anything." Pretty wise for a six year old.
I want to dedicate this post to everyone who has been there for me this past year. Thank you to my doctors who entertained all of my questions and treated me like someone intelligent enough to be given the information necessary to make good decisions about her care. Thank you to friends and family for all of your prayers, positive energy, and words of encouragement. Thank you for your phone calls, e-mails, facebook messages, cards, and packages. Thank you for watching my children while I was at doctors appointments or in the emergency room. Thank you to my family for flying to be by my side, shaving my head, and listening to me cry. Thank you for the financial support that allowed me to focus on healing. Thank you for telling me that I am beautiful and reminding me that I am strong. Thank you to my children for making me laugh and for understanding when we couldn't do all of the fun things I would have liked us to over this past year. I will make it up to you. Thank you to my husband for being such a present caregiver, for sitting up with me in the middle of the night when fear wouldn't let me sleep, for dealing with my angry cancer moments, and for loving me through it all. I am an extremely lucky woman.