It’s day five. I was warned that days 5, 6, 7, and 8 would be my worst. I can only say *with fingers crossed* that I am still okay. Tired, achy, unsettled but mostly functional. Still braced. Since I don’t have much news to report and I’m pretty stationary, I thought I’d tell you a funny story that happened in the middle of an incredibly emotional, overwhelming day.
It was a couple of days after my diagnosis before I had my first official cancer appointment. My husband had already taken off a few days from work. He was even home the day the doctor called me with the results of my biopsy, which I thought was crazypants because everything was going to be just fine, Josh, thankyouverymuch. Yeah, I’m glad he was there. I basically could take no more words from my lovely Ob/Gyn and threw the phone at him, or maybe the wall. All this to say, we decided that he needed to go back to work and that (one of) my oldest friends Lori would accompany me to meet my surgeon.
The details on how long we’ve actually known each other are shady. We grew up on opposites sides of an adjoining alley, and I think we’ve been friends since we were four or five-years-old (along with our Christen, who I just can’t fail to mention). Let me tell you about Lori though. Lori is very shy. She is also smart and funny and caring. The girl has been there for me. There were bubbles baths (at appropriate ages!) where we washed each other’s backs and tried to guess what words were were spelling on the other’s back. We, together, struggled to find ourselves in high school. Sometimes together, sometimes not. When Taylor Hanson left me brokenhearted by marrying a fan (not me!) at 19, she was there. I ran to her house in my pajamas the morning after my mom died.
I can’t tell you the reality that hit me when we walked in to Barnes, and I saw those huge letters, “Siteman Cancer Center.” Yes, I am a nurse. No, I did not prepare for this appointment. My last few days were full of fear and worry for my daughters. I couldn’t handle statistics or, really, any other additional information beyond what diagnosis I had already been given. As we entered and took in my new reality, my friend put her hand on my shoulder.
I can barely remember how my appointment began. A flurry of words that I absolutely wasn’t ready for. “Estrogen receptors….FISH test….Grade 2….40% growth rate…two tumors…” Dudes, breast cancer is not breast cancer is not breast cancer. As a cardiac nurse, I really didn’t know the scope. Dr. G. then said, “Well, it’s not the best profile I’ve ever seen, but it’s not the worst,” and excused himself for a moment to take another look at my scans or whatever.
At this point, I was on my way out. I looked at Lori.
“I think I might pass out.”
I slid out of my chair onto the floor.
“I’m just going to sit down here. I think I’m going to pass out.”
Lori is often very quiet, and it had been her job to “take notes” for me. She looked just as bewildered. On top of that, she knew I was serious. She had seen me pass out on the first day of third grade when Mrs. Swift announced that I would be line leader. So. much. pressure.
Miraculously there was a knock, an open door, and a nurse. She didn’t looked the least bit fazed.
“Umm,” I said straightening up. “Is there any way I can get some water?”
I got back up. Dr. G. came back in. He examined me, and we talked some more. His serious demeanor scared the bejeezus out of me. “Hey there doc, can I get a little smile? An encouraging nod? I mean, we did just get to second base. Not your style? Okay, then. I guess you’ll just bill me?” He set me up with a consultation with a plastic surgeon for that afternoon to discuss my options for reconstruction, and off we went.
Although these offices were in the same hospital building, the vibe couldn’t have been more different. Or maybe it was just Lori and me looking to get rid of some of the morning’s negative energy. We got settled into our room with a video. A video all about how to build brand new boobs. There are more ways than I knew.
Dr. T, the plastic surgeon, entered the room like he was the answer. I don’t know if it was an immediate feeling or if, over the course of our meeting, Dr. T sensed the level of commitment Lori and I have for each other, but at first he spoke to me about my options. Then, it all kind of blended together, and at some point, I got the distinct feeling that he was speaking to “us” about “our” decisions regarding my boobs. He made sure to look Lori in the eye and was very considerate of her feelings too. I can’t tell you how much I loved and needed that to happen.
“If I do the implants, I was thinking about going bigger since I have the chance. Like double F’s?”
“Errr….umm….I’m not sure…”
“I’m just kidding.”
“Yeah, you’re a small girl. I’m not sure that would fit.”
While speaking of another reconstruction option that involves taking fat from your belly and making breasts out of it, Dr T says, “You are a small girl. I’m not sure I can build you back up all the way. Stand up and let me see.”
“I mean, I have some if she needs to borrow,” says Lori so, so very quietly.
I smile and oblige and flash my second stranger for the day. He grabs my belly.
“Oh yeah, I think I can make this work!”
Oh, well, thanks? Just what I wanted to hear? I just had a baby eight months ago! What do you want from me?
He moves up. “Has this right one always been a little bigger than the left one?”
“Oh, uh…well. I’ve been breastfeeding for the last eight months, and that one works a little better.”
“Oh, I see. Okay.”
I covered back up, and that was basically that.
And I needed that. My sweet lesbian lover and I laughed and lunched and fretted until my breast MRI appointment at 7pm. There is almost no lonelier place than inside an MRI (or CT or bone scan, etc.), where you feel like it’s you vs. your body and that machine. It’s a total loss of control. My mind filled with my daughters and God. It made me realize that I never did have control. None of us do, really. I can only control my reactions, and not always can I do that. I CAN love now. And I can laugh for days when my plastic surgeon thinks my best friend is my life partner. Hey, she is a catch!