I met my new oncologist after my favorite oncologist Dr. Kenyon retired. This meeting happened to occur on Dr. G’s first day at his new practice and I was his first patient. I overheard the nurse inform Dr. G that I do not wear examination gowns, “she said she just brings them out”. Dr. G introduced himself – I let him know that I was Dr. Kenyon’s favorite patient – he nervously laughed. As he listened to my heart with his stethoscope, I noticed his hands were shaking; I had not even revealed my breasts yet! He let me know that he perhaps consumed too much coffee and it was his first day. I really liked this doctor – he was a “regular” person, helpful, compassionate, and respectful. The office gal Suzy – is a dream too! She was able to coordinate the diagnostic bi-lateral breast ultrasound with a radiologist I saw earlier this year. After leaving Dr. G’s Newport office, I traveled up the coast to Lincoln City where the radiologist happened to be for the day.
I was looking forward to planting my feet in the sand, getting grounded, and finding some peace. As I drove up the coast, between Newport and Lincoln City, I pulled over to the side of the road where I could gain beach access. Awe…it was divine! The beach always reminds me of my Grandpa LeGall; I replayed memorable moments, as though I were watching a movie. I can hear my grandpas voice “you have such an eagle eye!” my face lights with great joy. I look at footprints in the sand and am reminded of the many prints left of mine in comparison to his great strides. I say this often, nevertheless, I will say it again…I love the Oregon Coast!
Arriving in Lincoln City for the ultrasound appointment, I felt peaceful, grounded, and ready to hear the news. I checked in and took a seat. Understand, I wanted to be wrong. I wanted this mass I felt to be scar tissue or something else, just not a new cancer tumor. Unfortunately, I was not. The radiologist confirmed that what I was feeling was a cancerous mass – in fact, it has a little buddy floating around with it. The larger mass measures slightly greater than the one removed in March 2014; the little buddy is a slight little thing. Exhale. Breathe in. Exhale. Yep, it is kind of like that. What are my thoughts? During the ultrasound, I watched the screen, it was undeniable when the cancer tumor emerged; this is a vision concreted into the memory forever. When I saw it literally emerge from the light grey colored cloud, I thought shit, this is not good. I then thought I really need to get this implant out; the breast tissue is clearly rejecting its invasion. Next, I thought about recovery time and school. Then the biggy came – the dark thought of the day, has this cancer spread – I mean can it be stopped or is this how it is going to be? I am not shocked nor am I surprised. I am frustrated. As of this moment, 4:37pm on Monday, I have yet to shed a tear. There is anxiety and “something” going on, I am unable to put words to it at this moment. It makes sense to me – this is all that matters.
I went from learning the cancer had returned, to shifting gears and attending class tonight. When I arrived at school, my classmate Vicki, greeted me with a hug – tears welled for a moment. I felt as though she could sense my utter disappointment and the wind being knocked out of me. What followed was a “cancer story” from another individual that joined the conversation. As Vicki and I walked away, I told her “I don’t know if I can take another fucking story like that anymore!” Real Talk: there really are some things that may be better left unsaid to those going through a serious illness. I have held my tongue for three years – until now. I will first say that I understand often individuals offer statements and sayings they find comfort in hearing. These range from the following:
1. Everything happens for a reason
2. God never gives us more than we can handle
3. Everything will be okay
4. You have this beat
…these are some of the sayings often offered. Admittedly, I am rebuffed by no less than two says listed above however; I understand that these offerings quell anxiety and bring comfort to the one delivering the message. I accept all these graciously. Then there are those delivering “cancer stories” that typically have a great suffering or death ending. These are not helpful. Actually, I find most unsolicited cancer stories to be rather dismissive and insensitive as they rarely meet my needs or address my expressed emotions. My husband and I were discussing how often individuals offer these delightful “cancer stories” and he made a good point. He mentioned you know, when we talk about our son Carlos being in the Army, we don’t hear “oh my gosh, um yes, my uncle was in the military and he was horribly injured and then he ended up dying.” Yet when it comes to cancer – so many want to offer “cancer stories”. Therapeutically, I can see their goal is to somehow connect, yet it is missing the mark completely.
I received several messages today asking, “What is next” or “what are you going to do” and various other combinations. I want to acknowledge the few that offered comforting words without a bunch of questions. Imagine you just learned that cancer has returned a third time; a matter of months following tumor removal along with knowing the cancer had metastasized? What would you do? How would a decision be made? Would you be armed with all the information to make an informed decision? As you can fathom, there are many questions, not complete information, and a need for time to process. Due to the aggressive nature of this cancer, time is of the essence. I made an appointment with a local surgeon; I have an appointment next week. There are many things to consider.
Despite all the various thoughts twirling in my head, there are bright spots. The first being that I found the mass. There would have not been an “annual” breast screening if I had not found the mass; I would have most likely lost my life before I made it to March 2015. I now have a chance to intervene and perhaps change the course. The second is I have a new team of local doctors that present as supportive, respectful, and compassionate.
For now, I am gathering information, processing, and planning; it is the darker side of this thing called cancer. I am feeling a bit defeated, as though this lifetime is slipping away. It is a strange and humbling feeling that weighs heavy on my heart.
Today, I am hopeful~