Well today is my “lumperversary”. Over the next several months, there will be many significant days in my cancer journey. Be forewarned, I may be more emotional than normal.
One year ago, as I was getting ready for a long day of teaching and then night school, I touched my breast and felt the lump. I remember my heart started racing and then I sank to floor and cried. I felt both breasts all over to see if I was imagining it or if there were any others. I couldn’t feel any others, but it didn’t make the other one feel any less scary. Moments after, I called Jim at work and in tears, told him that I had found a lump in my breast. He asked some very investigative questions and then did his best to reassure me that I was going to be fine.
After I hung up the phone, I threw my deodorant away and then threw away all the plastic Tupperware. It may have been a slightly irrational act, but I still stand by the no plasticware and no chemical deodorant. I tried not to think about it throughout the day and to avoid crying, but it was inevitable. When I got to work, I called to get the first appointment available, which was the following Monday. During the day, Jim went into investigative mode, and sent me all sorts of articles to give me information about what it could possibly be.
A week later, Jim went with me to the appointment. My ob/gyn said she thought it was fine, it probably wasn’t cancer, it was likely a fibroadenoma (a cyst type of lump that grows with ones cycle over many years, common in women in their 20s). The lump felt like a oblong green grape. Very firm and oval shaped. She calmed my fears, but suggested that I get an ultrasound and a mammogram, just in case. I left feeling like it was going to be fine. My fear-o-meter was now on low.
The first available appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound was a week later and I had told Jim that he didn’t have to go with me to that appointment (I was feeling pretty confident). I had read that you could request to have the ultrasound first, and if they could be sure from the ultrasound that it wasn’t cancer, then you could avoid a mammogram, so that’s what I requested. They did the ultrasound and then had me meet with the radiologist. I remember walking into her office and seeing a box of tissues and thinking “why do they need tissues in here?” and then realizing, “oh, the tissues are for women that get told they have cancer”. The radiologist said that it did look like a fibroadenoma, but it had some irregular borders (I now know that’s because it was invasive and had spread to the surrounding breast tissue), so they wanted to do a biopsy to confirm. My fear-o-meter was now on medium.
Two and a half weeks after that, I went in for the biopsy. This was the most painful part of the whole process. They numbed the area (not well enough) and cut a small incision in the side of my breast and inserted a very large needle into the breast and also the lump (I later found out the needle was about the size of my pinky!). They used an ultrasound to guide the needle’s entry into the lump. After the doctor was done, the nurse put some skin glue on it and then applied a lot of pressure. I remember feeling like I was about to pass out while she was putting pressure on my breast. They gave me the world’s tiniest icepack to fit into my bra.
Over the next several days it was very painful and swollen. My right armpit (axillary lymph nodes) was swollen and in pain too. Fear-o-meter: on high. Up to this point, I really hadn’t told anyone except for Jim, my mom, and my brother. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk, it was that I knew that I was going to cry. Just the thought of talking about it with friends or family would get me tearing up. I didn’t want to have to tell people about it and be all emotional if it was going to turn out to be nothing. I honestly couldn’t wait until I could share with everyone that I had had a scare, but was in the clear. I was very anxiously waiting for the phone call from my doctor.
When I got the voicemail on June 3rd (Jim and I’s 13th dating anniversary), I thought about listening to it during the work day, but my gut told me to wait until the end of the day because if it was bad news, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull myself together enough to teach for the rest of the day, and then I would have to tell everyone. I listened to the voicemail after school and then called the doctor because the voicemail only asked that I call her back. The doctor picks up and says, “Katie, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s cancer. My heart sunk. Surprisingly I didn’t cry on the phone. I hung up the phone and called Jim. The first words out of my mouth were “It’s cancer”. I couldn’t muster a “hi honey” or any pleasantries (I have since apologized for just dropping a bomb like that on him; he didn’t care about that at all.) Jim asked if we should still go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary, I said yes. I knew I wouldn’t be able to celebrate as if things were normal, but I also didn’t know anything about the cancer I had. I thought this could be the last dating anniversary we celebrate, so yes, we’re still going out.
Next, I called my mom. She said, “how are you are you doing?” I shakily replied, “I’ve had better days.” She knew. I said, “it’s cancer.” She said she wanted to stop by on her way home from work to give me a hug. It was a pretty somber evening. When Jared and Amy were home, we went next door and I shared my bad news with them.
I knew that I still wasn’t up for calling friends and family and telling them about it, so I drafted an email and sent it out. I still remember every response that I got from friends and family. Each one made me cry. I was not ready to tell my coworkers yet, because I knew I would just lose it and not be able to pull myself together. We had three days left of school. I had report cards to do and promotion to get through. In my mind I needed to just get through the next few days. I was going to wait a little longer before “coming out”. Once I decided to share my news, I just needed to do it and get it off my chest (sorry, bad pun). Since I had known about this lump for 5 weeks, it was extremely hard not telling anyone. I felt that I was hiding a huge part of my life. I refer to this as my Cancer Coming Out. [I’m not trying to compare coming out of the closet to my struggle, but that’s what it felt like for me.] Side note: this Ted Talk about coming out does actually relate the two struggles. Great talk, highly recommended. https://youtu.be/kSR4xuU07sc
Well, there you have it, a recap of a very uneasy and scary time in my life, that began just one year ago. I’m glad to say the worst is behind me. I’m very much looking forward to all of it being behind me and soon enough it will be.
My love to you all,