I found a small lump in left breast yesterday. At first I thought I was just being paranoid. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t true. How could I have a lump? But I did. It felt small and hard, and seemed to be between my skin and the implant. I kept checking. Was it real? It was.
And just like that the wind was out of my sails. And the all too familiar feeling of fear crept its way into me. I showed Joel. The color changed in his face. He spoke with confidence that it would be okay, but we both just stared at each other. How could we be back here? We were frozen while life continued to swirl around us.
The boys were getting dressed for school. Someone needed to make breakfast. Alex couldn’t find his shoes. Andy wanted to show me his Lego creation.
But I couldn’t breathe. I hid in the closet and called the oncologist, the cancer surgeon, the plastic surgeon. I left crying messages…”I found a lump. I need you to squeeze me in today, I can’t wait . . . please . . . please.”
I told Joel that I couldn’t go to work, but I continued getting ready. I didn’t want my boys to see me broken again. I wiped the tears from my face and kissed them, and straightened their backpacks, and squeezed their hands, and smiled as they loaded up into the car.
And when they were gone I buried myself under blankets and curled into a ball clutching my phone. Willing the nurses to call back, praying they could get me in, give me answers, make this go away. And they did. A scheduled ultrasound in the afternoon. I tried to talk myself down, but the anxiety was too thick. It pinned me to the couch and forbid me to eat.
When it was finally time to go, I started to shake. Joel met me there and took my hand as we made our way to the very place we started this journey. It felt surreal. It felt like moving through mud. The tightness in my throat grew with each step. After filling out paperwork, they made me leave Joel to change into a pink robe and to wait in another room without him. There were so many women there in pink robes. The room buzzed with small talk making my head spin. It was all too much. The tears spilled out. There was nothing I could do to stop them. I just closed my eyes and let them run down my face.
They called my name and brought be back to the room where I had the original mammogram before my stage 2 diagnosis. The nurse held my arms and tried to get me to stop crying. She was kind as she asked me to show her the lump, and then pinched and stretched my skin attempting to get just the right picture. I heard her sigh, and I tried my best not to read her face. What did she see? Was there cancer there . . . again?
She left the room to review the pictures. I stood there the pink robe hanging down one side. I was shaking and crying. She came back in and told me I would need an ultrasound. More waiting. Joel was texting me: “are you okay? what is happening? can I be with you? what do you know?” No. I don’t know. No. Nothing yet.
More waiting. More time for it all to sink in. More tears. Two more radiologists. Ultrasound machines. New angles. Try lying this way. Try using this gel. Try turning up the light. Nothing was working. They needed more information. Back to the waiting room.
I rested my head against the wall, and concentrated on the hot tears on my face. I felt so much. I felt angry. So angry. Angry at the stupid pink robes, and all the waiting, and all the small talk, and all the signs that said HOPE, and all the clip boards, and doctors, and exam rooms. I looked at the faces of all of the women. Who would be the next victim to this ugly disease? If they knew what it was like, they wouldn’t be small talking. They wouldn’t be using the nice coffee machine, and calmly flipping through magazines. I had to keep myself from screaming.
They needed another mammogram. They needed more information before they could give me answers. This time it took two nurses to pinch my skin, to smash my implant, to ask me to hold my breath. And then the words that never bring good news: “we are going to get your husband to meet you in an exam room, and the doctor will be in with the results shortly.”
Finally, Joel’s hand in mine. Color drained from his face. No words. He squeezed me as we waited. I started whispering, “how can this be happening again? Please don’t let this happen again.” He wanted to comfort me, but he was scared, too. It’s never good news when you are waiting in an exam room for the doctor.
When he finally came in, the words, “it’s benign, just a small bead of fat.” didn’t even sink in. We just stared at him until he said it again. “Are you sure??” I asked? “Yes.”
Would you believe me if I told you that I could barely feel relieved? The trauma of the day had left me numb. The doctor apologized for all of the tests and for all of the waiting, and closed the door behind him. Joel and I stood there holding each other both crying tears of relief, and tears of sadness. Even with good news, it all felt like too much.
At some point during my waiting, I snapped this terrible, red-eyed, puffy-faced picture of myself. I wanted you to see this other side of my journey. The one that I hate acknowledging, the one that still tries to steal my spark, my sparkle. Cancer still pokes me with it’s fingers every now and again. And this is what it looks like. It is sad, and hard, and it makes you want to look away. But there are so many women right now who are hooked up to beeping machines dripping with medicine that will anchor them to their couches, that will prevent them from tucking in their kids, or driving to their jobs, or from having a glass of wine with their husbands. There are so many women who go through this kind of day, but end it with the words, “your cancer is back.” There are women who know it will kill them. They know it will steal the opportunity to watch their sons dance at their weddings.
My day ended with benign words. But it was not a “benign day.” It was a day that reminded me how close we are all to being broken.
But today. Today I woke up and left yesterday where it belongs. Today my brother and I took my dad canoeing to celebrate his 70 years of life. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We laughed and drank sparkling water, and watched for birds, and admired baby turtles.
And just like that, my sparkle returned.