I won’t lie. I was super disappointed when the specialist delivered the news to us that more testing needed to be done, and that this whole health scare wasn’t over.
But as Mike subsequently pointed out, just being told it was nothing to worry about probably wouldn’t have been all that comforting in the long run.
He was right – I got it, but in that moment, that had been the news I was hoping for. It’s nothing – you don’t need to worry about it.
As much as I didn’t want to do more testing, given the circumstances, this was the ideal scenario. At least the biopsy would give us some definitive results and the unknown of this whole health scare would finally be over. Right?
Lucky for us, Mike’s step-mom was more than willing to come over to watch the kids for the biopsy appointment, my mom immediately stepped right up to visit us on the date of the results, and Mike’s mom was ready and waiting to help out again if more appointments were needed. (Have I mentioned we have amazing parents?)
And on a positive note, with all the support from our families coming to watch the boys so Mike could go to these appointments with me, we have had more date nights in the span of a month than in the entire rest of the time since our youngest was born! A tad hard on the eating out budget, but we very much enjoyed it.
While I don’t recommend a cancer scare in order to spend more time with your better half, if we were going to be dealing with all this anyway, extra date nights were not a bad little side effect.
So there I was, heading back to the cancer centre for yet another appointment. I felt I had already been to this place far too many times for my comfort, but this appointment felt like it was a level up from the last. This time around they would be freezing the area, making a small incision, sticking in a needle the size of which seemed like major overkill, and taking a number of tissue samples.
The thought of the incision/needle would normally stress me out big time, but much like the epidural during labour, at this point I was thinking “bring it on”.
Until I was laying on the hospital bed with the “tools” set out in an orderly array on a tray next to my bed. Then I felt nauseous again.
I recalled the mantra I had been repeating when I had the IV for my MRI and re-started that mental loop. Staring at the clock slowly ticking away on the wall, I reassured myself that in just a mere 30 minutes, this would be over.
Then I heard the nurses talking in hushed tones outside the room. The doctor performing the biopsy was MIA. One nurse suggested he had probably slipped out for a coffee, the other lamented that she thought he would be able to see me before his coffee break.
I pondered on this for a moment and decided that I would rather wait and have the doctor poke around with his elephant size needle after he’d had his caffeine fix rather than when he was rushing to get it.
When the nurse came in to apologize for the delay, I reassured her that I understood entirely “coffee is very important” I added, with all sincerity.
After 15 minutes or so of waiting, my theory seemed substantiated when the doctor popped into the room in a cheerful and happy mood. He seemed in no rush whatsoever and instead wanted to talk about the origins of my first name. His bedside manner was wonderful, and the idle chit chat distracted me from the menacing tools laying on the tray. I can only assume this was his plan.
He then went on to stare at all the images I’d had to date with a furrowed brow. He was not happy with something he was looking at. He subsequently illuminated me that he wanted to use his own ultrasound tool to examine the area himself. After a long period of viewing, comparing what he was seeing to what the old images showed, he excused himself from the room.
Once he came back in, he explained that it was very clear that there were changes within a large area of tissue, and that he felt my case was a bit of an anomaly.
Hmmm – an anomaly you say? I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I like being an anomaly in terms of the expected time frame of when the average person should retire. But having an anomaly in the same context as when you are talking about whether or not you have cancer did not seem good.
I decided I would just nod and listen to what further information this doctor could offer me on my “anomaly”.
The doctor proposed a plan of attack. He felt it was best to take tissue samples from two different areas of where the tissue changes were observed, rather than the spots that had been noted on the original ultrasounds, mammograms, and the recent MRI. This would require two separate incisions and collections, but he felt it would give us a more thorough understanding of what was happening on a more cellular level.
Sure – why not? If you’re going be cutting and sticking that needle in – might as well do as many of those as you need to right now.
Then came the actual doing it part. Turns out the over sized needle also made a sound similar to an awfully loud stapler when it was in action. It wasn’t fun – but the whole thing was over quickly. Back to waiting (accompanied by some serious bruising and no lifting for two days. Sorry kiddo – no carrying for a bit).
I was back in the limbo period where there was nothing I could do but get back into the day to day of life and wait for the results.
At this point, I had a rough plan of action for the likely outcomes:
Plan A – If the mass was benign, I would push for them to remove it, send it away for testing just to be sure, have a brief recovery period, and be done with this whole saga. Hopefully.
Plan B – If I had cancer, I would push for a double mastectomy immediately regardless of the stage or aggressiveness of the cancer. At this point, I had done enough reading to know that wouldn’t be the route suggested if the cancer was caught sufficiently early, which seemed likely in my case.
But, I also knew enough people who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had lumpectomy’s, and chemo/radiation, only to have the cancer return years later and have to do the mastectomy anyway. I know that getting it done wouldn’t guarantee that cancer would never be a thing I may have to deal with – but it sure seemed like the safest bet.
And worst case – I’d just go in for reconstruction. Weapons upgrade, right? Plus I promised Mike that he could do the re-design.
The next two weeks crawled by. I focussed my energies and thoughts on getting overly organized for Christmas.
I repeatedly impressed upon Mike the absolute importance of us having all of our Christmas decorating, baking, shopping, gift wrapping, the renovations of our boys play room, etc. done before November 25th.
Why November 25th? No idea – it was just an arbitrary deadline I had set in my head that ensured I would be incredibly busy for the next two weeks straight. While not entirely intentional – even I could sort of see what I was doing.
Pretty sure Mike new exactly what I was doing – but he took it in stride like a champ, and went along with my incessant need to be ready for Christmas a month early.
The Health Scare Finale
Then there we were – back in the cancer centre. Ok – this time it was going to be over – right?
I could feel the sweat building on my palms as I was sitting in the waiting room. I looked at Mike and gave him a calm smile. He did the same.
We were full of it.
Our calm exteriors were convincing to others, but we both knew that on the inside, we were trying to reign in our fears of what might be coming. I appreciated his effort nonetheless.
Neither of us had really talked about how scared this whole thing had made us. We talked around it. He hinted that he’d had thoughts about the worst case scenario, but couldn’t let himself go down that path. I’d hinted that I was worried.
The truth? I was scared. He was too.
All our lives we have been risk mitigators, looking for ways to control the scenario and build in safety plans. This was completely out of our control – and our comfort zones.
Finally we were ushered into a private room and the doctor came bustling in. I slowly took off my jacket and drew in a deep breath, bracing myself for what might come. Before I had even sat down the doctor blurted out “It’s not cancer.”
I paused – mid way into the seat. Do I even need to sit down? Part of me just wanted to say thank you, stand up and leave. But I lowered myself into the chair assuming that there would be more to this.
While it wasn’t cancer, they needed to keep a close eye on things. Treating the issue wasn’t as simple as removing a lump or a benign cyst might be. The “issue”, which still wasn’t quite clear, was throughout the tissue. For now – the safest and most prudent course of action was to continue to monitor the situation.
I inwardly sighed as the doctor informed me that she would be scheduling me for two additional appointments/scans in the coming months, begrudging the fact that I would have to return here. But, as I walked out of the office I couldn’t help but realize it felt like an elephant had just been lifted off my chest.
I didn’t have cancer.
I did a a little happy dance in my own mind. It bore an awfully close resemblance to Elaine dancing. Yikes – even in my own imagination I dance like a middle aged white girl.
As I walked out of the building I took a deep breath of fresh air – somehow it felt a lot fresher than when I had walked in that morning.
I’ve learned more than a few things from this whole 6 month health scare.
1 – I need to slow down and smell the roses.
I know that’s cliche. But when I thought about the moments I would miss with my kids if I wasn’t here, my priorities became crystal clear. Even in retirement I’ve found ways to keep myself busy. I still need to dial it back a notch.
2 – Being financially free is the bomb.
It gives you the power and ability to focus on the bigger picture rather than stressing about the financial/job ramifications.
3 – And this is the big one. Sometimes you just need to lean in to your fear.
My entire life I have been a person who has believed in the value of stoicism. Of maintaining a calm demeanour. People who freak out and get all emotional annoy me.
But then all of a sudden, here I was, feeling emotional about an issue that I didn’t have near enough facts to be emotional about. Or so I thought. To combat those umcomfortable emotions, I went into positive self dialogue overdrive in an effort to put on a brave face for those around me.
But I quickly learned that throwing a bunch of positive messages around (and receiving them) in response to an uncomfortable topic does NOT help. When people took that tact, despite their best intentions, it only increased my feelings that I needed to maintain a positive, unworried, facade. But now it was for their benefit.
There were however a handful of people around me who handled it beautifully. They acknowledged the suck factor without being dramatic, asked me some pragmatic questions about what I planned to do given various results, and ultimately left me with an open ended offer to talk about again, if I decided I wanted to.
It was lovely – and I aim to forever remember this lesson when talking to other people experiencing difficult situations.
There are many people I didn’t tell about it at all – because it didn’t seem reasonable to talk about what I was going through unless the actual diagnosis came back badly. Which was basically me telling myself that I could only be scared based on the outcome, not the experience.
In hindsight – I probably should have just had a solid cry it about it and admitted that I needed a hug. One where I wasn’t trying to fight back the tears or feeling embarrassed that my eyes had welled up, or that I was showing emotion about the whole thing.
I probably should have just told my family that I was scared. I probably should have told a few more of my friends what was going on and been more open about my feelings. I used this blog as an outlet instead, because it granted me a degree of anonymity. But I probably didn’t need to feel embarrassed about showing some vulnerability and weakness in front of the people in my life.
I’m not advocating being a blubbering mess when crappy things happen, or indulging in a woe is me mentality when life hands you lemons. But after going through this, it is totally okay to acknowledge (out loud) when the lemons are darn sour and kind of suck, before you get on with making some lemonade.