I will have my…cancerversary, I guess you could call it, next month. I got diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer the day before Thanksgiving last year. I thought it was ironic then. Now, not so much. I was living in Virginia and hadn’t been to see a doctor in quite some time as I didn’t have insurance. I had been tired for a while but, otherwise, hadn’t noticed anything odd. I found a place that would see me on a sliding scale so I went in for the full woopty doo. The booby bus was there so my doctor had me get my first ever mammogram. I was 45.
The tech on the bus was very nice, took all the necessary pictures, told me not to panic if they called me back for a second one as they needed to establish a baseline for me, etc…which they did. I still didn’t think anything of it, I had never really been sick before. I was strong like bull, did not have a family history of breast cancer, I went about my business. They called me back again for an ultrasound a few weeks later and I ended up having a biopsy that same day.
If you ever have to have this procedure and get curious and want to look down while its being performed…don’t. My biopsy was done on the mammogram machine with a paddle that had an opening in it. The doctor – a child -made an incision in my breast and put, basically, a straw into it. Then the needle, hooked up to a suction machine, went in the straw. It quickly took about 30 samples while the machine noisily slurped them all up. Gross.
It was another week or two before I got the news. Like I said, the day before Thanksgiving. I was sitting in a consultation room with my boyfriend while a doctor that I had never met before and a nurse-navigator handed around a box of tissues and told me not to go home and Google it because I would just freak myself out. They were all going to be gone for the holiday- I was their last appointment of the day – but they would see me in a week or so and we would talk more about it then.
Hell. no. I Googled the crap out of that diagnosis. You can’t just leave a girl hanging like that! It turns out that Triple Negative is an aggressive and fast moving cancer with a higher chance of reoccurrence within the first five years after treatment than most other types of breast cancer. It responds well to chemotherapy but can’t be treated with hormone therapy, as other types can. Great, well…that DID freak me out. But not as much as not knowing. So thank you, Google.
Anyway, they did talk to me but I always got the feeling that their main concern was keeping me calm and not saying anything to me in a way that would make me REALLY panic. I appreciate your concern but, when it comes to my health, always just tell me the plain truth. All of it. Getting the cold, hard facts out of them was like pulling teeth.
And thus began the whirlwind of tests, poking and prodding, scans and consultations with my team of rock star cancer doctors. Everywhere I went I had to show my breasts to someone…no one even bought me dinner or told me I was pretty…My Oncologist, the only member of my team who ever spoke the plain truth to me (“not much of a bedside manner” they had told me of him), told me how impressed he was at my taking this so calmly.
I guess that was the button to push because, as soon as he said it, I began NOT to be calm anymore. I freaked the hell out. I was having a full fledged freaky field melt down and no one could see it but me. All of a sudden, I felt a little claustrophobic by the love of my friends who just wanted to help, I felt like my current circumstances would not help me live through this, I felt like an alien. I wanted to be someplace where no one knew me. But I made plans to go home to New England instead.
I ended up in New Mexico though, accepting the invitation of a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I wanted to be somewhere nobody knew me, maybe so I could try to be someone else, a different version of me…I don’t know. But I certainly got what I wanted. I have been here for almost a year, been to all my doctor appointments and chemo appointments by myself. It was probably the loneliest thing I have ever been through. And I have a lot of guilt. I have uprooted my teenaged son and dragged him across the country to stay on the couch of a stranger (to him), deserted my friends and family, hurt a good man who loved me, become the guest who stayed too long, etc…people told me I was brave…I wouldn’t call myself brave.