Guest blog: my run-in with cancer
Today is my 1 year cancerversary. One year ago today, I got a call in the morning before I left for work that my preliminary pathology report from my biopsy came back negative. I could expect to hear more from them in the next day or 2. At about 4:30, I was wrapping up my work day, when my Apple Watch rang. I recognized the number as my Dr’s office, so I took the call on my wrist, expecting the “all clear” message I had been told to expect. It was an oncology nurse, calling me to say that they received my final pathology report, and that it showed I had breast cancer. Wait, what? “Oh my gosh I have cancer I have cancer I have cancer…” is all that was running though my head as I tried to make my way to my desk and switch over to my cell phone. Why didn’t I tell her to slow down for a minute, I needed to get to my phone and my desk so I could write down everything she was saying? I was so worried she would be done talking and hang up before I was able to get to my office. Why didn’t she ask if this was a good time, and did I need to sit down first? I scrambled and found a sharpie and a box of printer ink to write on. Preliminary diagnosis of Stage 1 Invasive Breast Cancer. Not enough tissue to test for anything else. It would be 10 days before they could get me in to meet with a surgeon.
And that was it. Phone call over. I think it lasted about 2 minutes. I sat at my desk. I called my husband, then my mom and my sister on a conference call. I texted a few friends. I finished my work day at 6, and dove home. I decided I would call the office the next day, see if I could get in sooner. The mantra in my head for the next 12 hours or so was on constant repeat. “I have cancer, I have cancer, I have cancer…”
Early the next morning, my sister had a colonoscopy scheduled. It was her first one, and she had some concerning symptoms, so I wanted to be there, you know, just in case she got bad news. I was in the recovery room with her when her surgeon came in to tell her that she had colon cancer. My mantra changed. “We have cancer, we have cancer, we have cancer…” There was a man a few curtains over, laughing loudly on a FaceTime call. It was his 50th birthday, and he was having a colonoscopy. So he FaceTimed his friends and they had a laugh about it. I wanted to SCREAM at him for his insensitivity. Of course, he had no idea what was quietly happening a few curtains away. 2 sisters, scared and stunned, listening to a surgeon tell one of them that she needed to be admitted right away for emergency surgery the next day. I went into the waiting room and told our mom and my niece the news. I stayed calm. We stayed calm. How is this happening? 2 sisters diagnosed with 2 different types of cancer less than 24 hours apart? This is crazy. The next day was my sisters surgery. We probably had 20 people in the waiting room, all there to show their support. After several hours, the surgeon finally came out with an update. The surgery had been more complicated than they expected, but they had a good outcome. She was recovering and we could see her shortly. Someone asked if he knew what stage her cancer was. His reply was very serious. “It’s stage four” he said. We thanked him. He left. I fell to my knees and sobbed.
I try not to let dates have power over me, and I just let the feelings come when they come. But these 2 dates last year forever changed our family. My surgery and treatment came and went. With the exception of hormone therapy (which I did NOT tolerate), all is well. I’m cancer free. My experience with cancer was a short race, a sprint. My sister is running a marathon. She’s had 1 complicated surgery to date, so many chemo treatments I’ve lost count (22? 23?), constant doctor’s appointments, hundreds of blood draws and tests. I could say so much more about my sister, and her treatment, but her story is not mine to tell. She’s still running. It’s a tough race. But she’s in it. And we are right here to cheer her on.
For all of you out there facing cancer (*or any chronic illness, for that matter), whether it’s a sprint or a marathon. We see you. We love you. We are with you. Keep on running.