Kicking Breast Cancer's Butt

TinaH

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I’ve known this for a long time, but it never fails to amaze me.  If you freely share yourself, your  life and experience with people, if you tell them what you’re dealing with, they ALWAYS come through for you in a BIG way.  100, nay, 1000 times more than you could ever imagine or expect.

I’ve had one negative response, and so many more uplifting, empowering, wonderful, loving responses, that the negative is overwhelmed and washed away.

There are so many of you out there fighting battles similar to mine, and you all tell me that you are not only surviving – you are thriving!  I have a hunch that in my previous life I was merely “surviving”, that I had not even begun to live, really live, before my battle was begun.  I choose to change my life, the way I live it, in order to keep moving forward.

I’ve had a fairly blessed and easy life.  We weren’t flush with money growing up, our parents weren’t perfect, we didn’t have some of the things other kids had growing up, but we had the best thing.  A dad who worked his ass off to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table.  He was a strict dad, but I knew he had my back when things were really tough.  I wrecked his jeep, being where I shouldn’t have been, and I knew he would be furious with me.  But as that jeep was rolling down our driveway and crashed into another vehicle (the jeep would be totaled and my dad loved that jeep), it was my daddy a screamed for, not my mom or anyone else.

When I wrecked my knee for the first time, it was my dad I wanted, because only daddy could fix this.  The moms were there, my mom and our friend’s mom, all the kids (we were visiting, they had four kids, we had four kids).  My dad and the other dad were out and about, doing guy stuff.  This was before cell phones, so the moms called the paramedics to come pick me up.  They took forever.  They finally showed up, no lights, no sirens, at the same time as my dad.  I was super pissed, and I couldn’t wait for my dad to cuss them out.  My dad was a world-class cusser.  He and the other dad drove me to the hospital, and my dad sat with me the whole time.  Looking back, I realize now he was more scared than I was – but I knew I was fine, because he was there, and would kick someone’s ass if I wasn’t taken care of.  And he was making me laugh with his corny jokes, such as “Just think how good it’s going to feel when it stops hurting.”  He was right, it did.  When my knee cap was put back into place, the rush of endorphins gave me a euphoric high, and it did immediately felt so much better.  I was so relieved and grateful, I don’t know if it was to the doctor I was grateful, or my dad for being there.  But he was always there, and I took it for granted.  I’d love to be able to call my dad right now.  I’d love to hear one of his corny jokes when I’m having another biopsy, or when I wake up after my surgery.  Makes me even more grateful for my husband, who’s right there with the booby jokes when I need him to be, talking about mastectomy bras as naturally as he can talk about Super Bowl commercials.  I love him for that (and for so many other things – he is truly a God-send).

I’ve been suspicious of the content of my own character for many years now - certain that if my character was really tried, I would fail.  I have noticed something recently.  This is perhaps the biggest trial I have ever undertaken, and I do not think my character will be found wanting.  I truly believe that I have the same guts my dad had, the same fighting spirit that my sister has.  I’m made of the same “right stuff” as both of them.  I don’t know how that is, but it is.

It is pure grace, and I accept it as grace, and do not ask why.

Today we told our daughter what we’ve been dealing with. She was naturally very upset, as we all were when we found out.  Once we explained things to her a bit, she was calmer, but I can still see the tears, the fear brimming on the surface. Kind of the way I feel some of the time. We’re lucky her dad is so calm.  I wimped out, and made him start the conversation with her.  I was there, of course.  I just couldn’t start talking about it. It is important that she not see me afraid or crying.  And I was sure that if I started, I’d break into tears,

Yesterday we had our first day of relative normalcy – back to a full day of work, and no doctor’s visit, yay!   Wednesday was a marathon as you know, and so was Thursday.  So a regular Friday was a welcome relief.  I had my normal coffee run with my good friend C., who is like family.  The admins who run our front desk were cheering for Boobs of Steel, and had already planned out who would cook what to bring to the house so The Husband and the Child would have hot meals while I’m in the hospital and recuperating.  I didn’t get much done, partly due to being distracted (and reading too much on the internet again), partly due to everyone stopping by to talk.  One of my colleagues was so NOT helpful in her comments. “My mother had breast cancer. I wish I had something positive to say” and looking at me as if I were on borrowed time.  My doctor’s office called right then, or I might have said to her, “Take your gloom and doom away from me.  I frankly don’t need it, and you are not being helpful with your “sympathy.”

I get it, cancer is a scary word.  It’s hard to know what to say, or to know how to act.  My advice? If you don’t have something genuinely positive to say, simply say I’m glad to see you and leave it at that.  Because I’m not your mother/friend/Great Aunt Hilda.  I’m me, and my tumor is like no one else’s, my cancer is like no one else’s.  Please don’t make deductions about my survivability based on anyone else’s experience.  And for goodness sake, do not pity me, or I will kick your ass.

Yikes, there is that word again – cancer.  I’m waiting for my first appointment at the VM Cancer Center, and I’m nervous as hell.  We check in, check out the “Café” (it’s just a coffee area), there is Wi-Fi everywhere, and it’s surprisingly bright and friendly.  More friendly than my regular doctor’s office.  Don’t get me wrong, I have an idea what goes down here.  But it’s not as hospital-y as I thought.  Not quite the spa, but it feels kind of okay here.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes after my first appointment.

Today is the big day, the day we meet with the team, and as excited as I was yesterday, today I am so nervous.

I just wanted to give a shout out to Ken’s AF Family.

Your prayers, your love, your words of encouragement, and your willingness to share your own experiences brings tears of joy to my eyes.  I can never express how much it has meant to me on this day.  It is magical, it is inspirational, and it is empowering.

I am so grateful.

I love you all.

Tina

Breast cancer doesn’t just happen to you.  It happens to your whole family as soon as you tell them.

I found this out today, and I have been expecting it.  My husband, who has been my rock and my calming voice, came to his break-down moment.  It’s the waiting that is so hard right now.  Waiting to hear what the doctors say about what they’ve found, what we do next.  And the not knowing is getting to him, and to me.  We can’t plan for what we don’t know, and when I don’t know, my first thought in my less positive moments is the worst-case-scenario.  Every little ache and pain, every time I feel fall-down-tired, makes me wonder.

I started this post about 3 hours ago, and how much can change in such a short time.

I just got my results from the MRI.  They confirmed the tumor we knew about, and they found another something they want to biopsy in the other breast.  But the news I really latched onto was they found NO worrisome lymph nodes.  I’m trying not to get too excited, but this makes me feel a whole lot more positive about my marathon appointment tomorrow.

Today is the MRI, which I am very nervous about.  Wednesday is the big day, the day I talk to my medical team.  Two days ago I was terrified thinking about what they might say.  Today, I’m excited to hear what they might say.

I have just as much chance of it being very good news, as very bad, right?

So yesterday afternoon thinking about my preliminary diagnosis, I was a bad-ass warrior.  I was sassy, and I had a take no prisoners attitude.

Last night, not so much.  Last night, I’m constantly on the verge of crying, if I’m not flat out doing so.  It doesn’t help matters that there is a TON of information on the internet, and I am obsessively searching and reading about things that only serve to confuse me more.  I can’t keep doing this.  I have to be patient, wait for my MRI on Monday, then here what the team has to say on Wednesday.  And what they could say terrifies me.

Again today, I am frequently on the verge of tears.  However, occasionally, not as often as the emergent tears, there are pockets of calm.  I exhale a sort of cleansing breath, and think “just wait and see what they say.  Once we know exactly what we’re dealing with, we can attack it.”  I go back and forth between completely freaking out – this tumor is huge!  – and saying “It is going to be okay.” From what I can feel, this tumor is bigger than any stage III tumor description I have found on line.  I kept thinking last night, it must of gone farther.  But last night, talking to my husband in bed, it occurred to me, my tumor is also estrogen positive - it’s fed by estrogen.  Maybe that’s why it grew to large, and so quickly.  It’s possible.  One of the things I noticed in all of my obsessing last night – every patient is different.  You can’t go by what is a “textbook case” because human beings don’t come out of a textbook.  There are endless variations, surprises, and just plain old funky genetics.  Just now I’m remembering something a former co-worker used to say – don’t catastrophize.  She meant don’t go worrying about things that haven’t happened, and may never happen.  I have to keep that in my head.  I don’t know yet what exactly I have.  I shouldn’t create a story around it, especially when that story is not a happy one.  I’m not cut out for long-term depression.  I never have been.  Even when things are darkest, something in my psyche won’t allow my spirits to stay down very long.  I always pop back up.  Granted, the last two years have been hard, and I am not the happy-go-lucky innocent I once was.  Horror has come into my life, since my dad’s murder.  The kind of horror you think only happens on crime TV.  But you can’t just lay down in the road and quit living, can you?  Not in the middle of Hell.  Who wants to stop for lunch there?

As Churchill once said, If you’re in the middle of Hell, keep going.

That’s what I have to do.  Keep going.

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.

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