28
Sep
18

down the rabbit hole

So I have breast cancer.

mindblown

I know, right? Like I could have led in so much more gracefully, cushioned the blow a little for all of you.

But that’s not how it feels when you find out. Hits you more like a sucker punch in the gut.

So there it is.

I found out 9 days ago, with the whole process starting 7 days before that with a screening mammogram. The first one in 6 years, which now kind of seems like a mistake, but the surgeon actually told me it kind of worked out well, because it’s small enough and my breast tissue is dense enough it might not have shown up a year ago, in which case I might have decided every 5 years was often enough, and 4 years from now we’d be having a completely different conversation.

Please know that I’m not recommending going 6 years between mammograms. Two might be reasonable, unless there’s a family history. If I’d gone every two, we’d still have caught it when we caught it.

Anyway.

We’ve all had those moments when we realize that life will never be the same. My 5 would be:

  • the Challenger explosion (senior year in college, my best friend came and interrupted my piano practicing to tell me, I didn’t believe her at first and couldn’t believe she would make such a cruel joke);
  • 9/11 — working on a doctoral project, my now 17-year old daughter an infant in her little bouncy seat, watching the television footage of the first tower while the commentators speculated on how such an accident could happen when the 2nd plane hit;
  • the day I realized that I couldn’t stay married to my first husband and father-of-my-three-children anymore;
  • finding out my daughter, then 13, had thyroid cancer, with a tumor the size of a sweet potato; and
  • this.

I won’t bore you with the details, as they are much the same for everyone going down this road: mammogram, follow-up mammogram, 3-D mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and you find your life has been hijacked. A barrage of phone calls and pre-ops and appointments and blood work. They measured my head for crying out loud! (apparently there’s a link between large head size and cancer; sorry kids!)

My mind is full of platitudes, and mutually contradicting thoughts that I find myself forced to hold in my head at the same time. Principally: gratitude (it could be so much worse) + anger  (I have four sisters, and I’m the youngest of the five; why do I have to be the one to get cancer [first]?)(sorry sisters, it’s not that I’m wishing this on anyone, but it does seem to be a little unfair)(I know, I know, life’s not fair) + fear (whatifthey’rewrong, whatiftherearepositivelymphnodes, whatifitcomesback, whatifthegeneticstestmakes-mysurgeonthinkIneedtohaveadoublemastectomy, whatifwhatifwhat???). Along with those, which are probably obvious to most of you, are a whole lot more: I love my job, my job exhausts me and often involves shitty hours; my husband is the best person in the world, why does my husband chew like that; my daughter is precious and dear and what would she do if I died when she wasn’t yet in her 20s, my daughter is making me crazy with her selfishness and moodiness and shallow concerns; I want another dog, one small enough to carry around in my purse who I can take everywhere as my “comfort object,” the dog I have not peeing in the morning even after a 30 minute walk is making me crazy [Idon’thavetimeforthis]; I will eat nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables and drink green tea, I want to go to bed every night just a little bit drunk from the half bottle of wine I (used to) have with dinner.

I actually feel a little bit like, maybe for everyone else’s sake, I should just go live in a cave until it’s all over. Maybe a cave on a beach in Fiji.

fijiisland

It could actually be much worse. It’s hormone receptor positive, so very responsive to hormone blocking therapy. Which of course means I’ll be pushed into full menopause immediately, at which point I picture myself a dried up old woman who has gained another 40 pounds and lost all of her teeth. There is, of course, a chance that this scenario is a little alarmist. It’s also HER2 negative, which means I probably don’t need chemo, unless the lymph nodes are positive, which we won’t know until after surgery. It seems to be slow growing, non-aggressive (Ha! Is it just me, or does cancer in general seem kind of aggressive? I mean, what else shows up where it’s not wanted and makes you fight like hell to kick it out of your house?Lucy_Ninja

 

Does it matter that I don’t want it?

As if anyone does.

I had a dream the night after I got the call with the diagnosis. Glowing angels came with golden bowls and scooped the cancer away.

angel

I liked that.

I’ve found a couple of new friends already. Well, not really found. They were friends already. But I would call them better friends now, and I am very grateful.

One just finished her chemo, and had some wise ideas to offer. The most helpful of these was not to get too ahead of myself. Just to focus on what I need to do next, and then I can worry about what to do after that. I expressed to her at one point that I was trying really hard to stay grateful, given how much worse the news could have been, and she texted back that gratitude was overrated. I snorted with laughter. Maybe it would be clearer to say that it’s important, but probably insufficient to the task at hand. At least some of the time.

They gave me a form to fill out the day of my meeting with the surgeon and oncologists. It asked you to rate your anxiety, from 0 to 10. I bracketed the whole thing and wrote along the side “depends on the moment.”

Sheesh.

The thing that feels the worst to me is that I fear I will never feel completely carefree again. I know that I’m 53 years old, and the time for never believing I’m actually going to die is long past. But there is a line now, before which I never COMPLETELY believed I would actually die, and now I know I will. Even though it won’t be from this*. This kind of pisses me off.

And yet.

What I’m not grateful for:

  • the nurse scheduling my biopsy pushing kleenex on me and telling me and my husband how awful this is, that we’ll get through it together, what a “terrible diagnosis” (this was BEFORE my biopsy, note)
  • calling my primary care physician to set up my pre-op appointment for my lumpectomy and the scheduling woman at the desk telling me that there were no appointments available and that they usually get calls for pre-ops more than two weeks in advance (I’m so sorry my cancer didn’t give you all more notice, are you f*ing kidding me?)

What I am grateful for:

  • *that this won’t be the source of my demise–at least that’s what the nurse on the phone said
  • that my husband is my best friend, an excellent cook and lover and cuddler, that he’s willing to accept and forgive me when I’m snappish and defensive (even when I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer)
  • that my children are healthy and beautiful and independent and strong
  • that I have access to some of the best healthcare in the world, and some of the best doctors I’ve ever dealt with, especially my biopsy doctor who was also the radiologist who caught the cancer in the first mammogram
  • all of the friends who have sent me such generous and loving emails and texts and phone calls; my heart is full with their love

I do realize that some other friends will find out through this post, and I hope you will forgive me for not calling each of you personally, and understand. I find I can deal with only a couple of these conversations a day, on my best days.

Love you all.

 

 

 


15 Responses to “down the rabbit hole”


  1. September 28, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    I don’t want to say platitudes but don’t want you to think I read this without responding. I wish you all the very best in your journey. Martn Buber said: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

  2. September 28, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Sheri. I’m going with the golden angel healing – however that looks as it unfolds. Along the way I’m celebrating that “apparent contradiction” paragraph as your embracing of you. Thrive on!

  3. 6 Jill Kloosterman
    September 28, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Oh, Sheri, I’m so sorry you have this path to take. Wishing you strength and peace as you find your way through.

  4. 8 Nancy Summers
    September 28, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    I am so very sorry to read this. You are strong. You will win. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but you will win.

    In my thoughts.

  5. 10 Deborah Coyle
    September 28, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. This just sucks. There is no way to predict how each of us would process this kind of news, but I am grateful that you have been so open about it. Please know that I have always cared for you and will continue to do so. Brian and I are sending our love, and – if there is any way we can be – we want to be helpful. In the meantime… all our love to you!

  6. September 29, 2018 at 12:28 am

    Oh Sheri, this is terrible news. My own experiences of receiving a cancer diagnosis two years ago, and my observations of a friend who got her endometrial cancer diagnosis a month ago and has now found a possible breast cancer, still only give me a very small insight into the emotional turmoil you and your family must be feeling. I’m not one of those people who sees good in everything or is perennially optimistic, but I have a strong feeling that you’re going to come out of this and we will be blessed by your continued presence in our lives for many years to come. You inspire me. I’m hoping and wishing for that to continue.

  7. 14 John Cheek
    October 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Sheri, you are one of the best people I know. Why do I say that? Because you are truly thoughtful, full of mirth, empathetic, smart, unselfish, clever, accomplished, generous, interesting, talented and take yourself seriously while never making it all about you! Perhaps more than anything you are a person who can be counted on to come through for your loved ones! I am truly sorry to hear that you have to take this on and wish with all my heart that it would just go away! When you get to that beautiful beach think of the waves as the power of your spirit as it rises and breaks on the shore. Like the love we, your friends, have for you, it is always there!
    I am pulling for you!
    John

    • October 1, 2018 at 4:06 pm

      Thank you, John. I will treasure your kind words, although I wonder if everyone would agree.

      Nevertheless, thank you for your love and support and encouragement.

      As for Fiji—alas, I will probably only go there in my imagination. Or maybe …


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