The five stages of initially getting a cancer diagnosis as a mom

While I was waiting for my biopsy report to come back, I was already 99% sure I had cancer. I told a few people that I was waiting for the results: my sister, my wife/ best friend, my “husband” more like baby daddy, and my dad.

I have a really complicated family life. Anyway, my sister and her baby came down to be with me and Monty the day the radiologist was going to call me with the official news.

We met them at one of favorite places to spend the day, the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab. It is a really cute little research aquarium for kids that is part of the University of California- Santa Cruz. I studied marine environmental history before I had Monty and I love to nerd out there. It’s also the perfect mix of ocean, light industrial buildings and open space.

It was a beautiful day and the kids didn’t really want to be inside. So, we ended up taking them to a nearby park that I had never been to. At that time, going to a park with Monty was pretty scary. He would climb to the highest opening in the colorful guardrails and threaten to jump.

Stage One: Hear the news but be too busy to do anything other than know for sure 

It was a crazy game of chicken to begin with but got really stressing once I was on the phone with the radiologist. I was trying to control a wild daredevil baby while being told I have cancer. I barely remember anything the doctor said except, “There are women who come out of this looking better than they did before!”

It sounds like he is a psychopath but I think I remember that part because that was a heartening thing to hear. Probably the only heartening sentence of the whole call. So I focused on that and I actually still focus on that idea constantly as my hair thins and my eyebrows fall out.

One of the cool things about having cancer with a small child around is that they are completely unfazed by the news. Toddlers don’t slow down for anyone, especially not Monty. Having cancer suddenly changed my identity drastically forever but it hadn’t touched my momliness at all.

As soon as I was off of that very intense phone call, I was immediately thrust into trying to catch Monty, ultimately having to chase him across the street to a random lemonade stand in someone’s front yard. I did not have a second to react to the call.

Stage Two: Stay up all night wondering what will happen next

It wasn’t until Monty was asleep many hours later that I was able to think about what to do next. I had already thought about it quite a lot. I imagined that I probably had cancer for about a month but now it was 100% game on. The adrenaline was literally pounding through me. I didn’t sleep or eat for few days.

Stage Three: Try to get an appointment with the best doctors possible and fail

The next morning I called Stanford trying to get an appointment with a surgeon specializing in young women with breast cancer. The radiologist had referred me to a local Santa Cruz surgeon who he trusted. But the guy had mediocre yelp reviews and, even more importantly to me, was not a specialist at Stanford.

The first time I tried to get an appointment, I couldn’t. I got bounced back and forth between the office who diagnosed me here in Santa Cruz and the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center. Both refused to communicate with the other until the other requested the communication first.

A week or so later I was finally able to get myself an appointment after calling back and insisting I could refer myself. But that first day after my diagnosis, I felt completely defeated when both offices shut me down multiple times.

I also called a home organizer. I suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to throw everything away, which isn’t an unusual feeling for me to have at all. The weird part was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. I was exhausted.

Stage Four: Give up on life and go back to an aquarium 

By midday I was feeling really sad and decided to take Monty to the Monterey Bay Aquarium even though we had just gone to the Long Marine Lab the day before. I needed to be around sea creatures and the ocean.

I followed my favorite person in the whole world through the fish tanks and tourists, crying. Not sobbing but tears just streaming down my face. It is hard to explain how much I’ve sacrificed to be with Monty. Watching him wander around, I felt so deeply over and over again how intensely I wanted to be with him.

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He apparently wasn’t wearing shoes.

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And ate a giant cupcake. Not totally out of the ordinary.

Stage Five: Call the person who makes you feel like everything is going to be OK 

The only thing I remember other than constantly thinking about how much I love Monty is talking to Kevin Rohde on the phone while we were sitting at this table drinking milk and milky coffee.

I had bought Monty a set of plastic sea animal figurines. So while I was talking to Kevin, the whole conversation was interrupted by me saying things like “Oops, where did the otter go?” in between tears.

In the eighth grade, my mom met this guy online and moved us from Maryland to upstate New York. I grew up on the Beltway and suddenly I was in the middle of nowhere and for some reason, I cut all of my hair off.

And I hated it. My hair is like my whole personality. And yet somehow, under those hairless and depressing conditions, Kevin and I fell in love in a totally wild way. He is my oldest friend and whenever I am scared I always think of him.

I like the way I spent my first cancer day. It was very me.

What would you do? Or what did you do? Leave it in the comments 🙂

 

 

 

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