Wednesday, October 8, 2014

if this happens, you might feel this way.

You find a suspicious lump while you are in the shower shaving your armpits, so you call your doctor and she fits you right in that very afternoon. You have your 9-year-old daughter with you, so you tell her it's just a check up, and she stays in the waiting room. When your doctor feels the lump, you hope she says, "oh, that's nothing," but she says what you sort of expect her to say, which is, that you need to go get a mammogram.

She sends you out to the waiting room where you read Beverly Clearly with your daughter aloud. The doctor comes out and hands you a note that says "Mammo tomorrow at 9:15," and she knows to do this on paper because you told her that your daughter knows nothing, and if she did, she would worry.

You are relieved that the mammogram is scheduled for the very next day so you don't have to think about this for long, but you definitely notice the fact that your doctor scheduled this mammogram so quickly.

That night, while you are cooking dinner, you stop yourself from letting your thoughts get away from you. You remind yourself to stay focused on the facts: you have a lump;  you do not have cancer.  Telling yourself you have cancer, or that you might die, or that your children will grow up motherless, is just you telling yourself stories that are not based in facts. You try to practice the mindfulness you are currently reading about. You try to "watch" and "notice" your worries and fears without letting them rise up in your chest or push down on the back of your neck.  You think of your thoughts as a waterfall, and you try to sit in that quiet space just behind the waterfall, just like the book you are reading is talking about. And how timely, you think, that you are reading this book just now.

So you go about your business and cook dinner and think about how ridiculous it is to think you could have cancer just a month after you are happily married and settled down into this incredibly rich life. And besides, you do not have time for cancer because these sweet potatoes need to go in the oven and your daughter needs to practice piano and your 7-year-old son is waiting for you to sit down and look at lightsabers on Amazon.

The next morning, you go to your mammogram and the nurses are incredibly kind to you. After they look at the mammogram images, they send you to a different room for an ultrasound, and they point and click and measure this thing in your body that you can now say for sure you aren't just imagining, because it is real enough to be measured and felt. You go back to the waiting room and somehow you know this isn't going to be resolved on this day, and sure enough, the radiologist wants to biopsy this lump, and so you take in this news while you change back into your clothes. You decide to focus on breathing deeply and not crying, because you don't actually even have time for this, and you have to get back to work to teach your next class.  You don't cry.

You wait three days.  You practice staying behind the waterfall.  In quiet moments, you google things you should not google, and sometimes, the waterfall crashes right over you.

At the hospital for the biopsy, the nurse explains the whole process and asks you how you are feeling about all this. You are trying not to think about how you are feeling, so you sort of resent this question, but she is so kind, and her eyes seem to know how you are feeling, and so you say "this is a bit scary," and she says, "I know," and you say "I have little kids" and she says "I know," and your voice catches so you leave it at that. She knows.

During the needle biopsy, which involves two nurses and a doctor and a bit more intensity than you imagined, the nurse that prepped you stands next to you and squeezes your arm every time the needle goes in. She squeezes it hard, and you wonder if she always does this or just knows that it feels really good to you to have your arm squeezed really, really hard. The doctor says a few encouraging things that you latch onto and will repeat to yourself over the next few days.  He says that the mass has "smooth boundaries" which you learn to be a good thing.

Three days later, your doctor calls and you wait for the word "benign," but what you hear instead is that the biopsy was "inconclusive." You don't cry. You are referred to the best breast surgeon in the area. You are told that she can see you in three weeks, and this does not feel okay to you, so you call the office and the secretary is incredibly kind.  You tell her that three weeks will kill you, and you add "I have little kids," and she says hang on, and let me call you back.  She gets you an appointment for three days later because she probably has little kids too, and she knows.

This has now gone on for two weeks and you have tried to carry on with everything and keep things normal. You have, for the most part, stayed behind the waterfall, and you have been busy with shuttling kids to piano, guitar, soccer, and cooking dinner and packing lunches. You have also kept up with your marathon training, because you find that while running, you aren't thinking about where this all could be headed. You also know that stopping marathon training would be admitting that there was some reason you might not run the marathon.

Your appointment with the surgeon is at the Cancer Center and your husband meets you there. You try to smile and chat but your heart rate is flying. When the doctor comes in, she does another ultrasound to look at (and click and measure) the lump, and within a few minutes, you just ask what she is seeing, and she says that she does not think it looks like cancer, but that she wants to take it out anyway. When she leaves the room, you finally cry. You cry because you are relieved, and because this whole thing has sucked so much, but you are counting on this doctor to know what she is looking at. You cry because both your parents had cancer.  You cry because this is still not over.

A week later, you walk to the hospital at 6:45 am to have your surgery because you want to feel strong and capable and breathe in some fresh air before it starts, but as soon as you walk through the doors of the hospital and enter into the same waiting room where you sat while your mother had both breasts removed because of her cancer, all the benefits of the fresh air are gone. An hour later, you are wheeled into the operating room and the last thing you remember is the oxygen mask going on your face, and the next thing you remember is you are now in a different room.

The lump is now gone; you are thick-headed and sleepy, and you are left with a tidy, half-circle scar. You stay thick-headed and sleepy for two days.

On the third day, the surgeon calls; you answer, and she very quickly says the word "benign" and now it really is over, and except for letting the incision heal, you are done.

You sit on the couch and cry while you copy and send the same text to the ten or so dear people who are waiting to hear the word "benign." Your husband, who all along said that together you could handle any news, just presses his hand on your forehead.

When you pick up your kids from school the next day, you sort of watch yourself, as if from above, when they both come skipping out of their buildings and grab your hand. You just keep saying to yourself, "You are here for them. You are right here."

They have no idea about the implications of all of this, except to be gentle on the right side when hugging Mommy. You take them home and unpack their backpacks and cut up some apples for a snack before soccer practice.  You put ice water in their water bottles because you know they will be hot and thirsty during practice. You remind them to complete their reading logs for the day. You make a to-do list for your daughter's birthday party. You count days to determine when you will go for your first post-surgery run. You realize the weight of the fact that you get to think about these details, and not other details, like radiation appointments or surgery options.

You are surprised that even though it's over, you are still sad.  You are behind the waterfall, but you feel the spray.

You feel strangely guilty for your positive outcome. You know there is no real reason why you were spared this time.  You know you are not protected, just lucky. You can't stop thinking about the moms who get a different phone call. You hear them saying:  "But I have little kids."

You feel exhausted. You feel grateful. You feel your husband sleep a little more deeply. You feel the sweaty heads of your kids when they hug you after practice and ask "Momma, what's for dinner?"


Carrie said...

Super scary...I was holding my breath while reading this. I'm so glad it turned out okay. Hugs!

The Harmons said...

You need to get this published. It is in my humble opinion your best piece of writing. I am so happy for you and was very happy to get one of those copy and pasted texts!

nurseness said...

Been in those shoes but with a very different outcome! But all those feelings and emotions were SPOT ON!! On the other side things work out they way they do and life goes on. You gain a new clarity after the word "Cancer" enters your life. You welcome everyday as a gift and a blessing, not taking a single moment, a single breath for granted. XXXOOO

Amy Grzina said...

This is one of the best things I have ever read. I have not experienced a similar situation but I would feel exactly the way you describe. I had goosebumps as I was reading this and like another commenter, I was holding my breath. So glad to hear you are ok.

VanessaN said...

I have goosebumps and am holding back tears.. So so happy for you to have heard the words "benign." <3

courtney said...

I'm so happy for the positive outcome. I also had tears in my eyes while I read the post. So happy it's benign.

Aileen said...

I've been religiously checking your blog daily for a post update. I kept thinking how odd it was that a couple of weeks had passed since you had written anything. I thought perhaps after the wedding you'd been busy, but something kept feeling uneasy.
I'm so sorry to hear of this health scare. I just experienced a nearly identical situation with my mother. You feel like you've been holding your breath for an eternity and can't truly breathe until you hear the diagnosis.
I'm so relieved that you're healthy and this was benign! I hope you can move past this frightening situation and get back to the things that bring you joy.

Cat said...

So glad it was benign! I read very quickly to be sure. I've been going through a cancer diagnosis with "my person" over here. Her baby is just 2 days younger than my baby. We celebrate their first birthdays in 2 weeks, but she will know tonight if her cancer is the easily treatable type or the not so easily treatable type. The wait is awful for those of us doing the supporting so I can't imagine how it is for the actual patients. Thanks for shedding some light on your experience. Again, so glad it is benign. Good luck with your training.

Emilie said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for all of your kind words! Julie: I completely thought of you throughout this. You are a warrior.

Suzanne Carver said...

STUNNING. Simply and beautifully stunning.

Maureen Dionne said...

First I'll start off by saying, I am so glad everything is ok. Really and truly you have so much joy in your life that I cannot imagine the sense of relief you must have felt.

Second, I'll say that I look forward to reading your posts and other articles immensely. You have a way with conveying emotion through words that I honestly don't think many capture. I'm secretly hoping that you one day write a book so I can read more of your stories, thoughts and words.

Anna Sawin said...

Oh Emilie. What a GOOD outcome, and I am so sorry you had to go through this. So glad that you have so much love and support around you. Hugs.

Leah Clair said...

Happened. Felt the same way, minus having kids in the picture. Thanks for sharing.

Defining Moments said...

As I cried reading this post... I am so grateful that my dear friend is writing about it and a positive outcome was the words that poured out. I am grateful your kiddos and hubby and family and friends heard about a positive outcome. Thank you God.