I’ve been absent lately. That’s the funny thing about life, days go by like normal and then one day it just gets busy. That’s where it’s been the past few months and if it hasn’t involved work or family, then it’s taken a back seat. There just hasn’t been room or energy for anything else. What could be so big that it could slow me down from writing? The C word. No, not that one; the other one. Cancer.
Recently I received an email from a family member encouraging my mom and I to go in for cancer testing. She had tested positive for the BRCA mutation and was about to go through a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy. It wasn’t her first round with cancer, and after losing my maternal grandmother to breast cancer, it was time for me to go in.
I’ll say it now, I’m horrible at self-care. Do I do my monthly breast exams? No. When was my last pap?? Ummm…well. My last mammogram? 10 years, but you know…life. I was out of excuses.
I sat in my doctors office in that sassy yet breezy paper gown thing and listed my family history of cancer. I listed my own health concerns, including the small lump that’s been there long enough that I named him, my history of breast feeding, my eating and drinking habits (sigh), and my overall concerns about leaving my family before my time. The doc agreed that we needed to get in some additional testing, including a mammogram, skin cancer testing and even genetic assessment to figure out whether I was a carrier of the mutation. Basically, I had the “welcome to 40, you’re somewhat old, but let’s get a full work up” battery of tests.
One by one, the tests were done. I repeated the same history, the same concerns from doctor to doctor. More people saw me in that damn paper gown, my boobs were pancaked into a machine and I even awkwardly announced to my dermatologist and his assistant I wore my best granny panties. Then, I waited.
There’s this feeling when you’re waiting for big test results, it’s hard to describe. It’s consuming and you worry; what if the results come back and it’s bad? What if, what if… Life drags on slower than it should and it feels like everything is on hold, because it kind of is. There’s that moment of panic when the phone rings and the relief when you hear the good news. Normally, I’m optimistic, but I couldn’t get past the negatives. I have good health insurance, I live in a great city that is known for good medical care. I have life insurance like no one’s business if things go south. I was feeling prepared for the business of it all, but it makes you pause and think of all the things you have left to do, the emotional side, the things you want to be around for and the years you want to spend with your loved ones.
Happily my tests all came back healthy. After weeks of waiting, I felt like I could breathe, like I could sleep and I could start doing more than waiting. I’m lucky, but due to my family history, I’ll go in for a mammogram yearly as well as an ultrasound 6 months later; a rotation every 6 months for the rest of my life. It’s worth it.
But this story doesn’t end with me – because life usually isn’t that simple. My mom also went in for testing and much like my story, she had put off testing. She went in for a mammogram as well, where a spot was detected. Both our hearts sank; we had been so excited for my clean bill of health and I’ll admit, I had figured she’d be fine too. She went in for a biopsy and again we waited.
We agreed that as soon as the results came in that she would call or text – I’d keep my cell with me during the work day, just to be available.
And we waited. When the call came that the doctor wanted to see her, we knew it wasn’t likely to be good news, but we stayed hopeful.
The next day, the text I had hoped I’d never get came in, “I’m so sorry sweetie. It’s cancer”. I felt like wind had been kicked out of me. I had already lost my dad, Izzy had a rough start to her life, couldn’t we catch a damn break? My mom in true amazing spirit was positive and ready for a fight, albeit scared about what that could entail and I was too. If this life has taught me anything, it’s this: Life isn’t always easy, it surely isn’t always fair, but if you have good support and love, you can get through the tough so much better.
So here were are now, getting through the tough and looking for the positive. Mom’s genetic testing came back great, which means that we don’t move towards radical surgery. While her tumor is an aggressive form of breast cancer, it’s small, and this is her first incidence of cancer which also is a tick mark in her favor. We’ll take the positives where we can. We learn next steps this week and then we’ll go through the lumpectomy and lymph biopsy together. We’ll continue treatment until we’re in the clear. We’re still scared, and realistic about the challenges, but we have each other and an amazing medical team her too.
So there you go, why I’ve been MIA and one hell of a good reminder to keep up with your medical tests. Here’s to healthier, happier days and getting back to normal. Here’s a tiny feisty me, with an equally feisty mom.
Yours in kicking cancer’s ass,