It was about a month from the time I felt the rock hard pebble for the first time to the official “I wish I had better news for you” call from the radiologist. Every cancer diagnosis has a unique timeline but it seems to me that mine took a relatively normal and banal route.
If you are reading this as someone who is waiting to hear back from a test result, my heart is with you! So get off of the internet and go do something fun! Or if it is 3 am and you can’t sleep and you also can’t move because you are exhausted or there’s a child or dog or lover sleeping next to you or on top of you, which is likely, please read on.
I remember my mom had a self breast check diagram hanging in her shower when I was in high school. It is probably still there. I imagine most young women with breast cancer discover their tumor by chance. We are not going in for routine mammograms. And I think the last time I did a self check was in my mom’s shower around the age of 15.
I had just weaned my two and a half almost three year old. And I was so looking forward to having my breasts back to myself! Oh the ignorance. It was August and it was hot and I was walking around in the kitchen with no bra on underneath my tank top. I felt my gloriously saggy, ultra glamorous mom boob hit my arm and it was as if someone had hit me with a marble.
Honestly, from the second I pressed down on that super solid little mass and wondered what it could possibly be, I knew I was screwed.
Do not freak out if you feel something but make sure you get a full examination.
I went to Urgent Care that week nearby my work. The doctor felt it and smiled at me, “I’m sure it is nothing. I will refer you for a mammogram and ultrasound just in case.” I knew she had just jinxed me.
When one or two weeks later, I found myself in the mammogram room surrounded by insane machines and fluorescent lights, I could sense I was in my new reality. The nurse technician came in to find me sobbing and reassured me, “It is easy to get upset. We all know someone whose life has been touched by cancer. But no need to get upset over something that will probably turn out to be nothing.” I agreed and apologized, “I don’t know why I’m so upset!”
But by the time they took me in for the ultrasound, just ten minutes later, the mood had already shifted. I didn’t even flinch when they told me to come back in for a biopsy the next week because I already knew.
Wear a sassy outfit to all of your appointments, something sexy that makes you feel confident.
I’ve flashed a lot of people in my life. I really have. But constantly flashing doctors is another story. And if you have breast cancer, you are about to fight to feel sexy every day.
And you will win that fight if you follow my advice! I say if your poor, precious, life giving breasts are going to be squished and stabbed during what may be the last weeks of their lives, especially after years of being child bitten milk producing machines, the least you can do is be proud of them until the bitter end. Or maybe that was just me.
I wore a tight, low cut black and white sweater with black jeans and black high heel boots. Of course I had to change into a gown right away but it was fun while it lasted. While the radiologist gave me another ultrasound to find the exact location of the tumor, he asked me what I did. I was teaching part time at a charter high school.
People love teachers. Love to pity them. We laughed about an episode of Portlandia where the students have an intervention for their teacher and tell him, “You can be anything you want to be! You could even have a career in marketing!” and the bedraggled teacher is so convincingly astonished like, “Really? You think so?”
Stay upbeat and keep making jokes with your doctors
Of course, as we were laughing at my job and life at that point, I was watching the screen. Here I am on my back, boob out, cracking up the radiologist and staring at my cancer. Not every day you get to do that.
He stabbed me with his little biopsy torture device and I could tell the examination was coming to a close. I had broken the ice enough at this point to ask him his personal opinion about this very black, very dense looking sphere staring back at me from the screen. All I said was, “That doesn’t look too good, does it?” And scrunched my nose.
I had spent hours researching what the chances were that it really, truly, actually, incredibly could be cancer. The radiologist lifted his eyebrows. He sort of had a baby face.
“I wouldn’t say this to everyone because not everyone can handle it at this point but I feel like you can. The way you said – that you don’t have a good feeling about it and – how hard it is to the touch, I would say this is probably cancer,” he sighed.
Finally, someone else who sees what I feel and is talking to me straight! He told me I would probably need surgery and some medicine. Medicine?! Chemo? Me? I had not prepared myself for that somehow. He couldn’t say for sure that I had cancer at that point of course. I had to wait until the next week to find out the official results of the biopsy report.
Have as much as fun as possible until you get the official diagnosis
I panicked. I don’t remember exactly what I did after I left that appointment. I got a huge bruise from the biopsy. Eventually, somehow, I picked Monty up at preschool. Now that someone else, an actual doctor, had confirmed my worst fears, those fears became real.
But I did not stop trying to have fun. Instead, I actively tried to ward cancer off with “fun” which was not that fun at all but I did not sulk. I got really expensive highlights. I got a blowout. I worshipped my hair. Chemo, me!? I was very concerned about my hair from the beginning.
All of this uncertain certainty time leading up to the official diagnosis coincided with Spirit Week at my work. I dressed up for all of the goofy themed days and enjoyed being with my students. It was the last week before a three week break and in my heart, I sort of knew I wasn’t coming back. But I wasn’t completely convinced. I didn’t do anything differently or say anything. I think I wrote the students something kind of weird like “Have a peaceful break.”
From that moment in the radiologist’s office until he called me back, I wanted to freeze time. I started to confess what had been going on to my closest friends but they were mainly incredulous.
Here is the last picture I took of myself before finding out for sure. I had bought a piece of black tourmaline to suck the negative vibes out of my body and Monty grabbed it and cracked my screen with it. This is the moment right before he whacked it.