I just knew in my gut something wasn’t right. There was a lump that wasn’t supposed to be there, things just didn’t feel the same as they usually did. My intuition told me that this was something to have checked out, even though I just had a “clear” mammogram six months prior, so I called to make an appointment. The receptionist gave me a date for two weeks down the road, and I surely wasn’t going to wait that long, so I asked if there was anyone else I could see. She scheduled me with a Nurse Practitioner and assured me that she knew her stuff–she had been doing this job for 25 years. Sounded good to me.
As she examined me the next day, she said in a very calm, matter of fact voice, “I am almost positive this is just a cyst, by the way it feels. I will still need to send you for a diagnostic mammogram, but I’ve been doing this for a long time and I just don’t think it’s cancer, and I wouldn’t say that if I wasn’t pretty sure.”
Whew. What a scare that was. I felt such relief at that moment, all the fear that I had washed away and left me feeling good about the situation. I could deal with a cyst, even if surgery was needed to remove it. Piece of cake.
I left the doctor office, imaging orders in hand and rushed to my car. I called my husband to let him know there was nothing to worry about. “See, I knew that couldn’t be a tumor already when you just had a clear test.” My husband replied. He is not a worrier, never gets worked up over anything, so when I was freaking out the night before he assured me that it was probably nothing. I always hate it when he’s right, but this time I was happy he was. I then called the radiologist office and they had an immediate appointment available, so I could go right over. That worked perfectly, since I already had the afternoon off from work. “Thank God I can just do this today and be done with it,” I thought as I drove to their office.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Boy are they right. As the technician was taking the pictures, she had the most solemn face I’d ever seen. She was borderline frowning. I thought it was interesting, but I figured it was just her demeanor, I had no idea at the time that there was actually a reason behind it. She took picture after picture after picture. Turn this way, stand straight, hold your breath. A little more intense than the mammogram I had six months ago, but I just thought at this point it was all part of it being “diagnostic” and not “routine”. They just wanted to get different angles and views for my medical file. I still thought I was dealing with a pesky cyst.
I was told to get dressed and have a seat in the waiting area for a few minutes. I should have started to suspect something was up because they weren’t sending me home with the usual, “we will send the results to your doctor and they will contact you” but I was still in the dark. I had no worry, but was getting a bit irritated that this was taking so long. “The radiologist would like to speak with you now,” the technician said with a pained look on her face. I can see it all so clearly now, but in that moment I just thought they were trained to keep a neutral face when dealing with patients. “Hmm, meeting with the radiologist must be protocol when you have a diagnostic mammogram”, I thought as I walked down the hallway. When I entered the room I smiled to the radiologist and sat down, still CLUELESS. The room was very dark, only the light was coming from her computer monitor and the other screen displaying the images, casting an eerie blue glow in the room. She started talking and I zoned out for a bit, just wanting to get this over with so I could go pick up my kids. “See, this is your image from 6 months ago. And this one is from today. You see this shaded area is new, wasn’t there before. And looking at the shape and the edges, and by the way it looks, this is highly likely to be cancer and I know that is not what you were expecting to hear.” I was stunned, sure I didn’t hear her right. I replied, “What? What does that mean?” I was confused. I thought I had a cyst. She offered me a tissue, I guess because she expected me to start falling apart. “I am not 100% sure, the only way to tell is to have a biopsy. But I am pretty sure it is.” I just sat there in silence. I couldn’t process what I was hearing. “Would you like to see about having the biopsy today?” she asked, sensing I might need that confirmation sooner rather than later. My husband wasn’t even with me, I was alone. And I couldn’t even comprehend what she was saying, I was in shock. “No, I will come back with my husband.” I replied. At this point, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. I didn’t know what was happening to me. She handed me a business card in case I needed anything and I left. I sat in my car for several minutes before calling my husband then my mom. I wasn’t bawling at this point, I was in too much shock and disbelief for that. My husband’s reply was filled with anger, “She shouldn’t have said that to you, you haven’t even had a biopsy yet. You don’t know for sure and she shouldn’t scare you like that.” Again, my husband is not a worrier and still didn’t think I should get upset until I had the biopsy. My mom, having worked in cancer almost her entire career first in records, then as a nurse, was calm but I could tell by her voice that she was worried about it because she knows too much about cancer.
I believe there is a reason for things happening the way they do, and my mom not only has a lot of knowledge about cancer, chemo, radiation, but she actually worked in San Antonio for a while for a cancer center before moving back to Florida. So she was already in action mode by the end of the call, recommending doctors and planning who she would contact for some advice and information.
Contrary to my husband’s theory, I knew deep down the Radiologist was right, but in an attempt to make myself feel better I pulled the card from my purse and looked up her name to check her credibility. Maybe she went to some no-name school and wasn’t really the best at her job. Harvard. That was all I needed to see. The next day I got the biopsy and felt this was really not necessary. I had cancer, no additional testing was going to change that.
When I went back to the doctor to get the “official” biopsy results, I was prepared for the news, or so I thought. The Nurse Practitioner that told me it was a cyst called me and walked my husband and I back to the doctor’s office. Her face told me everything. I could tell she felt incredibly bad about giving me false hope and her eyes said she was sorry without her even saying a word. I could have been mad and screamed at her, but everyone makes mistakes.
When the words came out of the doctor’s mouth, I immediately thought of my 2 boys and that I was going to die. You don’t know anything when you are diagnosed, only that the word cancer is an ugly one and people die from it. I was advised to go see the nurse navigator for more information that she could help me sort things out. That meeting saved me from completely losing it. She took my hand and said in a soothing voice, “you are not going to die. You will have chemo, surgery and likely radiation to treat it.” Then she told me she would make some appointments for me with a surgeon and the oncologist, handed me a book to read and gave me some diet and vitamin suggestions. I heard what she was saying, but the only thing I could focus on was the word CHEMO. My mom had worked around chemo patients for a long time. I immediately thought of her stories of women puking, so sick they couldn’t even sit upright. And my hair. My thick, long hair. It would fall out.
I still thought I was going to die, despite what she said. Nights were the toughest. I was having nightmares in reverse. I would lie in bed in the dark crying and thinking of all that was to come and the what ifs–what if the intense treatment didn’t work and I would be left wasting away and then leaving the young boys that meant so much to me. I would fall asleep with these fears raging through my mind, but then would be in a happier peaceful place for a while, dreaming of normalcy and happy things, only to wake up and realize I was in the nightmare again. Nightmare was reality. I would cry out “I just want to be normal again. I just want life to be boring again.”
The first few days after you are diagnosed with cancer are the WORST. You haven’t really met with your medical team yet about the plan, so you have no idea what is going on, what your chances are to survive. And you are sent for test upon test to see if it already spread, to see if you are Stage 4. PET scans, MRIs, bone scans. It is the scariest thing you can go through and waiting for your results are unbearable. You think of all the movies you’ve seen where the lead character gets cancer (when you have cancer it seems EVERY movie ever made has a character with cancer) and dies and everyone is sad. You think that will be you.
I drove to work during those days in complete silence, which is not like me. I always listen to music to charge my batteries in the morning. But I just wanted silence so I could think. One morning I was in the shower and I was terrified. I started crying and I begged for some sort of sign to tell me it would be okay, that I would make it. I pulled myself together, got ready and drove to work, and half way to the office I decided to turn on the radio. I hadn’t listed to anything in about a week, so I had no idea what would come on, what was in queue. I pushed the on button and my favorite band came on, the song was fading out and ending. The next song, “What Happens Tomorrow”, started and at first I couldn’t remember it too well because it had been a long time since I’d heard it. It was a bit slower than what I was in the mood for, so I almost skipped over it to hear something really upbeat and cheery but something told me not to. As the song unfolded and I listened to the words, I got the chills. This was my sign. The words told me everything I needed. And from a band that brought me such comfort through my life. Amazing.
Duran Duran has always been there for me. And this time they proved they would be there again. My guardian angel was watching out for me that day, and it wouldn’t be the last time he or she sent me comfort through Duran Duran.