This post isn’t an update. This is a continuation of the story of how everything went down from finding the lump to the present. It’s for me, for Brent, for our kids one day and, of course, for you. To see where this fits into my cancer story, you can view the timeline.
I’ve had a heck of a time trying to write this post. I realized it’s because I was holding back. One of my default fears is feeling like a fool. And, oftentimes, underneath the sadness or anger or distance is a deep fear that I’ll be seen for the fool I am.
I wasn’t a fool on June 4, 2015. But, I felt like one for awhile after.
It was actually a beautiful day. It was sunny and comfortable. We were heading back to The Breast Center at the University of Minnesota to learn more about my diagnosis and treatment. All I knew was that I had breast cancer in my body. I didn’t know how advanced it was. It couldn’t be that bad, right? I didn’t know how it would be treated. My aunt had surgery a few months earlier for breast cancer and maybe I’d need surgery too. And she was doing great. Maybe a few months down the road, I’d be on the road to recovery. I hadn’t walked this road with anyone before, really. I wasn’t doing any internet research. I knew cancer kills people, but I wasn’t settled on whether it would kill me or not.
Short version: I knew nothing.
I went through the motions of getting dressed. White skinny jeans and a hot pink tank top. I wore bright pink lipstick. I’ve always liked pink. I wasn’t thinking about pink and breast cancer awareness or anything. I was nervous and numb. I just wanted to feel pretty.
We had a trip planned for Naples, Florida five days after this appointment. I was hoping we could still go.
We met with the surgeon first. When I try to recall this conversation, it’s all fragments. “We are still waiting to hear if you are HER2+” “Diet, exercise, chemo, radiation, surgery and hormone blockers are all ways to treat cancer” “You definitely can go on your trip. Where in Florida are you going?” As he is palpating my breast, feeling the tumor. “Nipples. Just kidding. Naples.” Because comedy is a survival skill and I’m never one to pass on an easy joke. Thank goodness, he laughed too.
He suggests that we will do chemo, then surgery (extent of surgery will depend on chemo, he says), then likely radiation. They suspect that there is lymph node involvement. He orders a PET scan, lymph node biopsy and a breast MRI. These are all scheduled to be completed before we leave for Florida.
And then I met my oncologist. She says almost all the same things, and because it’s the second time, I can almost hear them. And it doesn’t come across as a suggestion. This is my life.
I’d like to note that, at this point, I hadn’t broken yet. I was taking all this in stride without tears until the moment when I remembered another trip we had planned. In August. It seemed so far off. My sister turned 40 this year and we all planned to head west and be cowboys and cowgirls for a week in Wyoming. Getting rid of cancer–it dawned to me–was a drawn out process and it started to sink in that I’ll be on chemo for months. “I’m supposed to go to Wyoming in August. It’s been planned for a year. Will I be able to go?” She did some quick mental math and answered, “You should still feel good as you’ll still be on Taxol. A lot of my patients take a break around week eight due to neuropathy. That should be fine.” And then I did my mental calculations. Didn’t she say I’d lose hair at four weeks…And all I can utter is, “I’ll be the bald girl at the rodeo.” And that’s what broke this cowgirl. The tissue box slid over. And I began picturing my new life as the pathetic-looking cancer patient everywhere I go. I looked at Dr. Beckwith and wondered aloud, “Who will I be in a year?” More tears as her voice said who-knows-what in comforting tones. And then I temporarily pulled it together and smiled and shook hands and said thank you and we left.
The rest of the day is mostly a blur. We grieved through many tears. I recall saying multiple times, “I’m not afraid of dying; I’m afraid of living through it all.”
I will never forget that our friends, Josh and Sara, dropped off lunch at our house. It’s amazing to me how good it felt to fall into their arms sobbing. For such a horrible day, that comfort was real and I’m still thankful for it. It still brings tears. I think I might have actually been embarrassed as this broken feeling was so new. But I’ll tell you right now, let yourself fall into your friends’ arms and let the tears come. Let them be the arms of God to you.
As I’ve thought about this day, the day I learned that I’d have months of sickness, baldness, disfiguring surgery, and radiation. The day I felt my future had been hijacked and any innocence I had left was mocked. I’ve thought about my foolish self putting on my pink lipstick, cracking jokes, oh…and posing for the picture below. Yep. I’m making a big C for Cancer. Like it’s all a joke.
But, I was just being silly old me. And time has proven that I’m going to keep cracking jokes. It’s not foolish or naive to keep being yourself, the way God made you. Fear isn’t a virtue. Innocence is not foolishness. And neither is laughing at the future…it’s downright biblical.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. ~Proverbs 31:25