What is cancer, anyway? Cancer sounds like a really scary word, right? But really, what is it? It’s not exactly a complete unknown anymore. Yeah, no one can say what causes it, at least not with breast cancer, but what’s to be scared of until they tell you to be scared?
I’m in a little denial right now, a little disbelief. I just got my results back from my last biopsy – I have breast cancer. Me. I still don’t quite believe it, and I feel a little defiant. One day my boobs were normal (my right boob has a tendency to fibroids) the next day there’s this huge mass. I’m not quite 50, it’s not unheard of for a woman my age to be pre-menopausal, and for her breasts to change. My tumor came on suddenly, and it is big. I thought, it’s just funky hormones, or maybe a cyst. I just had a mammogram and a biopsy on a very small benign fibroid a year ago; cancer doesn’t move this fast. It isn’t cancer. They’ll tell me it’s another fibroid, hopped up on hormones, that I can have it out if I would like, or live with it, like I live with the three other freaking little fibroids I have parked in that breast. I did not expect to be having a conversation about me, about my breast, and cancer. I’m not anyone’s cheerleader, I’m not strong, or brave, or a poster-child for survival. I’m boring. I work, I come home, I do laundry and take care of my family. I do not champion causes, and I do not “stand” for anything.
Cancer doesn’t define me. This tumor doesn’t define me. It’s a thing I have to deal with, that’s all. Like a bad knee, a leaky roof, or car trouble. Nobody needs to raise awareness around a faulty transmission, nobody crys and hugs you, tells you how strong you are. They say get it fixed, deal with it, and don’t be late for work again tomorrow.
Me? Breast Cancer? WTF?
On a Tuesday, I had an appointment with my general practitioner about this giant glob in my breast. I’d noticed it a couple of weeks before, but it was during my period, and I thought “Oh, it’s just hormones, I’ll make an appointment just to confirm my suspicions, it’s nothing.” So I go to the appointment, and all the while my doctor was poking and prodding, she didn’t say it wasn’t nothing, but she also didn’t say it was nothing. And I really wanted her to tell me it was nothing. I asked her at one point “It’s weird, isn’t it?” She confirmed, oh, yes, it’s weird. She didn’t give me any clue as to what it could be – at all. She said she wanted me to have a diagnostic mammogram (no surprise, I’ve had them once a year for three years). No problem. The scheduler calls me the next day, and I have an appointment on Thursday morning. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Thursday, Big Day, arrives. This is the day I’m going to get some answers. I’m nervous as all get out, but at least I’ll get the radiologist’s diagnosis – it’s a cyst, it’s a milk gland gone haywire, it’s hormones. I’m going through the breast mashing for a good cause, right? I read all the funny poems they have on the wall, how they hurt you because they care; I get to see all the OTHER mammographing trays they have – oh, my gosh, you’d think that mashing them flat would be good enough, but NO. You thought those little plastic trays with the indentation and the pink arrows were just hanging up there to look cool, but they do have a purpose. Don’t ask me what they do, because I never look. I believe it hurts less if I don’t see how my poor breast looks when it’s mashed flat under the plastic tray. But the radiologist is going to say what he always says – it’s a fibroid, you can go home. Or he thinks it is, but he wants to biopsy the fibroid to confirm. Not this time. I have “We need a biopsy to find out what we’re dealing with.” He doesn’t say it is cancer, but he also doesn’t say it isn’t. The closest I get to reassurance is “Cancer doesn’t grow this fast.” Great. So we talk about the biopsy, and what’s going to happen. I’ve had biopsies before, they don’t scare me. I’m just annoyed, because I still don’t have an answer. I am freaking pissed.
The radiolgist leaves, and the ultrasound technician sets me up with a time for the biopsy. Tuesday morning, 8am. Great. Fantastic. Shit, that means I still don’t have an answer, and I get to champ at the bit all weekend long. Crap, crap, crap. Oh, well, deal with it.
Tuesday comes, sample day, and a day I don’t expect answers. I have a new radiologist, and she’s awesome. But we’re having a tougher time than usual, because the tissue keeps moving, and she has to kind of burrow down to get to the mass. It is not excruciating, but it is more intense than my previous biopsies. I suck it up and keep focused on the fact that I must do this to get the answers I want. Or at least an answer. What I was dealing with must have registered on my face, as the ultrasound technician at the breast clinic dubbed me “boobs of steel”. She and the radiologist agreed, the tissue was “like Wonder Woman,” I guess they meant like Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman costume from the 1970’s series. I liked the term so much, I texted my sister about my “boobs of steel” and she texted back “It’s nice to know you have some kind of superpowers.”
Looks like I’m going to need them.