As I’ve been processing this journey of mine, I realize I need to continue to fill you all in a little as to how I learned I have breast cancer and the initial chapters in this story. Here goes!
My family and I had just returned to Boston from a lovely Easter trip to see family in Virginia and to introduce Fredericksburg to the kids as their new hometown. Feeling hopeful about our future, I got my to-do lists ready, made lots of final appointments with physicians, and went for my annual exam; a lump was found in my right breast.
It was April 24, 2014 when the lump was found. I quickly tried to trivialize it to my OB/GYN, the nurse, and the medical student who probably was thinking “holy crap, this is cool that I’m seeing something abnormal, but crap, that’s bad to be thinking that.” Given that I had experienced a lifetime of cysts in my ovaries, wrists, and head, I just figured, this will be benign. But, at the same time, I thought to myself, this is it, this is the answer to the looming question of why I just could never feel better, why I continued to struggle to work, live, and play.
From that very moment of discovery, I was supported with helpful information, but thrusted into a head-spinning array of appointments, tests, and procedures. May 1st was the mammogram, May 8th was the biopsy, May 15th was the diagnosis meeting, followed by multiple pre-operative appointments before my June 2nd lumpectomy. All of this while trying to leave (as gracefully as possible) my higher education career, raise 2 kids, sell a house, and finalize moving plans.
My type of cancer, HER-2 positive, dictates a treatment plan including chemotherapy for one year, radiation, and hormonal therapy, so it was recommended I get a port (portacath) on June 10th. Because cancer was found in my lymph nodes, I had to then go through a variety of scans to check for cancer in the rest of my body. I had to endure a liver biopsy on June 25th - it was like child labor all over again. Seriously, if a man has this type of biopsy, cut him a little slack in that he has just a wee bit of understanding when we describe back labor pain and contractions. No lie. You have to be awake while they insert a needle that looks about a foot long. Then, you have to move, breathe, hold your breath, move, per the surgeon’s instructions. Yes, you are given a topical numbing agent and something to make you “relax”, but nothing prepares you for someone poking your liver, while awake, nothing.
Ironically, as difficult as it was to enter the world of oncology, receive an exhausting number of phone calls, go to appointments, and see new faces, I think my project-event-management-self appreciated that I was given tasks that might make a difference. I guess I was feeling validated for not feeling well all those months, even years. Since 2005, I had been on a roller coaster of lows (ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and treatments delaying dreams of becoming pregnant) and then highs (being pregnant, having 2 healthy children) back to lows (migraines, cysts all over my body, and unthinkable pain and fatigue). I think this is what is fascinating about the mind, body, and spirit connection. My body had been in such rough shape and since my mind and spirit hadn’t been getting any answers as to why, I was just stuck with no direction. Then, the answer of cancer seemed to make sense, like my body had been trying to tell me something. And, of course, life is full of surprises, so my body found one mysterious time to give me an answer.
In Boston, I had a team of really strong, empowering women doctors with answers about my body and they helped my mind and in some ways, my spirit understand the breast cancer diagnosis, even embrace it. Knowing that my doctors had probably seen every type of early to advanced stages of cancer, I again felt validated for not feeling crazy about all my ailments when my surgeon said to me, “You are a warrior!” It was then that I felt somewhat released from the burdens of my past health issues and ready to tackle my cancer.
My team of Boston physicians “delivered” me to my Fredericksburg doctors ready to start my treatment. I’ve been going to chemo since July 17th - my “bartender” at Chemo Clubhouse mixes me my own special cocktails (9 IV bags) that last about 4-5 hours. The doctors, nurses, and staff work hard to help my mind and spirit stay positive so that hopefully my body will come along for the ride. Their support, along with family and friends, also helped me to feel good about my new look as bald Gin. Of course, I wish I was doing something else on Thursdays, but I’ve yet to enter or leave the Chemo Clubhouse depressed. Plus, where else could you go sporting a Sir Elton John look and truly be accepted 100% for it?