I read back through the early posts on this roller coaster and I don’t have any about the process of finding out which has been something people have asked about, so I thought I’d share a more in-depth story of how that went.
A. and I quit our jobs in San Francisco so we could move to New Orleans which is where he grew up and is also closer to my parents. I also love New Orleans and am very excited to put down roots there. Since you rarely get time in life to take a chunk of time off without repercussions we decided to visit Thailand for a month (blogs about this), drive cross country, and spend the summer in Vermont while he studied for the Louisiana bar. Pretty damn exciting and it was an incredible experience for both of us, although we both could have easily done another month in Thailand.
We arrived in Vermont about a week before my 30th birthday. My requirement was that I did not want to celebrate on the road or away from everyone. A. actually turned 30 in Thailand, but I threw him a surprise birthday party when we got back to San Francisco to make up for it. I think it’s one of the only times I’ve ever surprised him, but then again it was almost a month after his actual birthday. Anyways, I wanted to do a friend and family day party at my parent’s house. I thought it would be a nice way to enter a new decade. I got beautiful weather and the party was a bit of a mixed bag, a bit too much of a family reunion and it was sorely missing the friends we’d spent the last 8 years with, but overall it was fun. I had some childhood and college friends make the journey and things got pretty silly by the end, which is all you can really ask for.
As mentioned before, I totally cried the night before I turned 30. It really surprised me because I had been looking forward to it. My twenties had some amazing times, but they also had some really hard times that I was through now and looking forward to being on the other side of. I was also excited for the New Orleans move, a house, kids, etc. A new adventure at 30. BUT I cried instead and A. made fun of me. I feel totally fine with sharing this because I know plenty of other people who have cried turning 30, but also I got cancer so totally justified!
About a week or two after the party A. found a lump (as detailed in Boobgate). I was kind of like “huh” and he was pretty immediately “you should see a doctor.” It was weird, but I wasn’t really worried. I get anxiety and this did not keep me up at night. I had put myself through a pretty traumatic experience earlier this year by getting tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes and had luckily been negative. So the chances of me having cancer at 30 were slim to none as I understood it. I did take A.’s advice and make an appointment the next day which ended up being almost a month later. It was weird even making the appointment because boobs are weird. They feel different at different times of the month and you can sometimes feel things in them, so feeling a lump inside my boob didn’t feel alarming necessarily. The person I made the appointment kept trying to get more information and me to say if it was a lump and I was like “well maybe? I don’t really know.” I was envisioning showing up to this appointment and them telling me “that’s your boob dumb ass.”
I didn’t tell anyone about what was going on, it was just me and A. I was really confident that it was nothing and just didn’t want to get people freaked out, especially with my family history (Mom has had it twice and Grandmother passed away at 38 from it, and some additional members too). It’s not a casual subject in this family. So I thought about it frequently and poked at it quite a bit, but I kept it quiet. The hardest time was when we went to NYC for fourth of July with two of our best friends from SF, but again, I thought it was nothing and I was also recovering from bronchitis so that was the hot story at the time.
So I went to my appointment alone. A. was studying for the bar and I was also going to go and take my little cousins to the movies afterwards and didn’t want to waste time by having to drop A. off at home. And again, I thought it was nothing. I also know enough about the medical process that they were going to tell me one of two things: 1. That’s your boob dumb ass 2. You need to come back so we can run some tests. No one was going to tell me I had cancer in that first meeting, so I didn’t see the point of bringing A. or telling anyone about it.
I actually felt relieved when the RN told me that it was something. I haven’t had my boobs my whole life, but we’ve spent a fair amount of time together at this point and I’d feel like a pretty big idiot if I made a doctors appointment to get something checked out that was always there. She was positive though that it was a cyst, which is gross, but not cancer. Basically it means there’s a fluid sack in the breast, probably would need to get removed, but harmless. So I left from there with another appointment and went to the movies with my cousins. We saw Malificent. On the way home I called a good friend and told her what was going on, but again, in the vein of “I don’t have cancer, that’s impossible, isn’t this annoying, cysts are gross.”
The most stressful thing for me during this time was praying that DHMC didn’t do an appointment phone call so my Mom would find out. We were going to Virginia for a family wedding and my plan was to tell her afterwards so that we could have a fun time at the wedding and not have this hanging over us. I knew she and my Dad would freak out and it was nothing right? I also made sure she was available to come with me to the next appointment (Tuesday after we got back) since I knew she’d insist. I just didn’t tell her what we were doing. So we went to the wedding and it was absolutely wonderful. Really great family time and bonding with my cousins who I haven’t seen in many years.
Then the drive home. Also, A. wasn’t on this trip because it was about two weeks from when he would leave to take the bar so he stayed home and studied and also took care of the menagerie. So all the drive home I was sitting there trying to figure out how to tell them and how to not get them to freak out. It’s a long drive from Virginia to Vermont so I had hours to agonize about this. Finally I said something like “Don’t freak out, but I found a lump in my breast. They’re sure it’s just a cyst, but I have to go get an ultrasound on Tuesday to check.” This falls under the large category of things that there are no easy ways to tell someone. I did my best. Mom immediately told me she was going with me and I said of course. I then tried to reassure both of them that it was nothing based on my age, test results, and previous doctor visit. Mom wanted to know why I didn’t tell her earlier and I explained that I knew nothing would happen in that initial visit and that I didn’t want to worry everyone prematurely and now I felt like she would be upset with me if I hadn’t informed her of what was going on. We all talked through it for a bit and then moved on. Poor Dad was at the wheel for this, I had planned on driving while I told them, but just couldn’t hold it in anymore.
So Mom came with me and A. stayed home at my request. I really wanted him to be able to study and not have to lose time over nothing. Mom desperately wanted to come in with me for the ultrasound, but the nurse said I was definitely old enough to be in there by myself (and I agreed). The ultrasound was traumatic because I had envisioned an ultrasound in my near future and this was very far from what I had looked forward to. At this point I’ve lost track of the number I’ve had for this, but still sad they’ve all been cancer related.
I imagine that the boob ultrasound is very similar to the baby ultrasound. They put some jelly on you and smooth the machine around on you to take photos. Not the most comfortable experience when it’s your boob. This is also when things started to get sketchy. It turned out that my lump was solid and not liquid so it couldn’t be a cyst. Not good news, but it could still very much be benign. The other issue was that the shape was abnormal. You don’t want the word “abnormal” used when looking into anything medical. It’s just not a sign that things are going well. So we ended that appointment with the scheduling of another appointment where they would biopsy my lump and check the cells.
The worst part of this was having to call Anton after the appointment and tell him that I was still in the not clear zone. I hated making him worry while he was studying and I know how I’d feel if it were him so it made me feel even worse. I really wanted to lie, but that wasn’t going to work in the long run. Everyone was more worried than me. I still felt like I had 0 percent chance of having cancer. However, now that we were up to biopsy stage it was time to tell some people.
My Mom reached out to her family and I think my Dad also talked to his. I had the tough job of calling my little brother. We weren’t speaking to each other due to a pretty big blow out over a month earlier, so it was weird to be making the call. I felt strongly though that if the extended family was going to hear about this that he should know. So I called him and I reassured him that it was nothing, but had to get checked out and that I was going to be ok.
A. came for the biopsy. I think I tried to get him to stay home, but he insisted and so he came with my Mom. My Dad probably wanted to come, but I think we convinced him it would be overkill and we also wouldn’t find anything out for a few days anyways. The biopsy sucked but I did really like my doctor which is always a plus. They numb you, which hurts, and then they use this needle that shoots out and retracts back in with the cells it’s collected. It makes a really loud noise when it does it which is totally not calming. Then they’re also using the ultrasound machine at the same time to squish your boob around so they can see what they’re doing. Lovely. They make a small incision to do the needle stuff so you’re bandaged afterwards and sore for a while (story of my life after just about every doctors visit I have these days). Then I went home and waited.
This was the week before the bar in Louisiana too. A. was scheduled to leave Friday and I had the biopsy on Tuesday or Wednesday (I could totally look this up, but who cares?). Every time the phone rang everyone got freaked out. It was a long couple of days. I however still believed with 100% certainty that I could not and did not have cancer. Friday morning the call came. One of my aunts was visiting with her husband, his sister, and her husband. They were out for a hike. I was still limited in action due to the pain from the biopsy so I was hanging out at home. The doctor who did the biopsy called and told me pretty early in the conversation that it was cancer. Then I went into shock. I started to cry, but the kind where tears come down your face, but you don’t make any cry noises. I sounded pretty robotic, which she took for calm. She said something like “oh, so you kind of knew?” because of how calm I sounded, nope. No idea at all. It’s just how do you respond when you’re told something impossible is true?
I got off the phone pretty quickly and then everyone fell apart like you do when you get news like this. A. delayed his flight, still went and took and passed the bar. He offered to stay, but the hardest part about the cancer news at this point for me was every single thing I had been looking forward to was on hold and I had no idea for how long and him taking the bar was the only thing that we could move forward. I told him if he could still pass he should do it and he did. I totally would have failed.
So that was my journey in going from BC to AC. I still haven’t emotionally accepted that I have cancer, which sounds weird, but it’s true. I start hyperventilating a little and crying if I go down that thread of thought because it’s hard to accept something you firmly believe is impossible to be true. So I concentrate on getting through each day and the things I need to take care of now. I’m saving that mountain for when I get through this and it’s no longer a daily struggle.