“Actually, it is a malignancy.” These were the five words that instantly changed my life forever. These were the words of my surgeon who was “pretty sure” two days earlier that the lump I found in my chest a few months before was just a cyst or dense breast tissue. Nothing to be too concerned about. “Of course, there is always the possibility of cancer,” he told me, “but not a large one.” I clung tight to these words and went in for my biopsy ready to just get it over with and head back to New York where I was living and loving my cancer-free life. Two days later I was told I have invasive ductal carcinoma. I have cancer.
I often wondered what it felt like to have cancer. Can you feel it? That may be weird but it is true. As a born and bred hypochondriac, intrigue regarding symptoms of life threatening illnesses was something I all too often felt. I was always sure I would never experience cancer first hand of course, but still I was always curious. I was a healthy girl. Vegetarian. Exercised regularly. Ate all the rights fruits and vegetables. So cancer could never happen to me. I was sure of it. Well, having cancer first feels like a car has run into your body. Seriously. I don’t mean I was just really upset. No, no. I mean I actually felt like I had severe whiplash for the first three to four days after I was given the news. The stress of knowing and not knowing what was ahead of me was taking a severe toll on my body.
After my mom and I wept in the office of my surgeon (which is oddly furnished with guns and whiskey bottles throughout—I’m just hoping he stays away from both during my actual procedure) my surgeon continued, “we are going to be spending a lot of time together this afternoon.” This was his way of telling me he had a plan of action and to listen up. Good. I love plans! Bring it on. Can we get all this done today?! He continued on while I was in some sort of cancer laden cloud floating angrily above him telling me about the different ducts in the breast—in particular the milk duct where my own cancer had originated, concerns about lymph nodes (what in the world does a lymph node even do? Am I spelling it right?! I don’t know! Why should I?!), explaining the cancer may have spread and we need to do more tests, the fact that it most likely is a genetic mutation because I am so young (I felt old before I got cancer, now I feel like the youngest person on the planet to be dealing with this which unfortunately I know I am not), and then there were bigger words that followed like MASTECTOMY and the biggest word of all CHEMOTHERAPY.
“Chemotherapy is definitely something that is happening,” said the surg. Man, this guy was full of wonderful news today. I instantly thought of my hair. Fine dude, take my boobs. I can get new ones. Big enormous ones that defy gravity. Won’t my friends in assisted living be jealous one day. That is all fine and well. But please, dear God, do not take my hair. My hair is my thing. What am I going to do without my hair? One of my first stops after hearing about my cancer was my hairdresser’s who happens to be one of the most fabulous people I know to see how she could help me. She took on the project like she was doing research for a dissertation (ok maybe not that intense, but she was thorough). She called all over town. She was going to figure this all out for me because if anyone understands my hair and its importance to me it is she. It is surprising what they can do with wigs these days. It will all be fine. I was already envisioning Katy Perry pink hair days, and sporting a blond shag at some point. Maybe red for Christmas. How festive.
Two more weeks of tests, one involving injecting a radioactive substance into my bloodstream—not a problem(?!), I am here today two days before getting a double mastectomy at the age of 28. I have come a long way. I don’t have cancer whiplash anymore. I am able to tell people about my diagnosis without crying or hyperventilating. And I am sleeping—only about 4 or 5 hours a night—but I am at least sleeping a bit.
This is a story about my trip down cancer lane—a real upper, I know. The purpose is twofold. First, for me this is therapeutic. It helps me avoid breaking down in the middle of Starbucks and telling random strangers to pray for me, which I have done. It also helps me avoid retail therapy, which has already cost my mother and me a pretty penny and if we keep it up we will be living at your house. I need to find a more fiscally responsible way to cope with cancer. In other words it is the healthy way of coping. I hope. Second, if I can give any young woman some guidance, hope, inspiration, encouragement, or a laugh then bring it. I will laugh, I will cry, but most of all I will get through this and I want to help others get through this too. I don’t think my story is special. I realize thousands of women are going through this every day. All I want is to put my story out there in hopes that it can be of some amount of help. For my friends and family who may read this, I want you all to know that without you I would be lying dead in a Starbucks somewhere. I would not have made it through these past two weeks without you. Thank you for all the calls, cards, flowers, cookies, etc. that you have sent over the last few weeks. Words cannot express my gratitude. I love each and every one of you. This is only the beginning of my fight with breast cancer, but I am going to make the journey as positive as I can and I intend to smile the entire way to the finish line.