What Kind of Sick Joke Was This?

Sleepless and exhausted, I listened to the rain begin in the wee hours of the morning while I was still curled up in bed under the covers.  I thought about what news this day was going to bring.  It had been one week since I had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I felt like I aged 20 years in that past week.  The emotional toll could only be compared to two other tragic life events for me–the first was when the Godmother of my children lost her little girl in a drunk driving accident and the second was the summer my dad passed away (June ’07).  It felt like the days drug out so slowly since my diagnosis.  As much as I wanted to get on with it, get this show on the road, find out if I’m gonna be here for a while or not, I desperately didn’t want to leave the comfort of my warm bed with my warm little boy beside me.

I rose slowly and took my shower.  My bruise was still vivid even after a week and two days.  I wondered if that was because of what was growing inside of my breast.  I wondered if my body was just not capable of repairing or healing anymore.  My tears were washed away with the water from my broken shower head.  I stepped out and took a look at myself through the steamed up mirror in my bathroom.  Aside from the bruise, nothing looked any different.  My breasts were never what I would have liked them to be.  I would have loved them to be bigger, fuller, located a little higher up on my chest, but I had learned to live with them and now I am at a place in my life where I can wear my boobs at various heights according to my mood for the day!  I stood there and remembered the first time I asked my mother to buy me a bra.  I was in the fifth grade.  The other girls were starting to wear them and quite honestly, I was a late bloomer and could have gone without one for many more years.  It was the other girls, though.  They were starting to get boobs.  They were starting to wear bras.

I remember vividly sitting in the gym (which was also the school cafeteria) of my elementary school–Northside.  Everyone was so excited that day because a trampoline had been brought in.  The air was electric with anticipation as everyone waited impatiently for their turn to jump.  Only one at a time was allowed.  The others had to sit with their legs crossed and watch from the floor.  I can’t recall exactly who it was, but a girl got up to jump.  She had a bouncy, flouncy shirt on and as I watched her, I and everyone else began to notice that when she jumped up in the air, her shirt would fly up.  She was so happy to be jumping she didn’t realize or care if anyone saw up her shirt.  I noticed she was wearing a bra. 

Its all I could think about for the next week. I sneaked into my sister’s room and started trying on some of hers.  None of them fit, so of course, what to do most girls do at that age?  Yep.  Socks.  That was the coolest thing ever, I thought.  Up until that point I never gave any of that female stuff any thought at all.  I built up the courage to ask my mom if I could have one.  She must have agreed because I do remember bra shopping with a girlfriend one Saturday afternoon.  I remember I wanted the one with the pink bow on the front.  When we were driving home, my friend and I sat in the “wayback” of our banana yellow station wagon.  We sat on the floor and we looked at the picture of the girl on the box in the bra.  We were so immature with our giggling and embarrassment.  I remember that when a car happened up on us, we peeked up and saw there were boys in the car.  We ducked back down and I stuck the box up into the window so the passengers behind us could see what we just bought.  It was all so silly, but I remember my girlfriend laughed so hard she started to snort!  It made me laugh so hard I started to cry.  I stood laughing at my memory in the steamy bathroom.  I wondered when all was said and done if I would even need to wear a bra after this would be over. 

Jeff’s mom and sister came over to help watch some of the smaller kids while I took the bigger boys to school.  Jeff came home and drove me to my first surgeon’s appointment because I was told I would be barraged with information and would need someone there with me.  I was told I would only hear a fraction of what the surgeon talked about.  This bothered me and I didn’t want to miss some life or death decision, so I went out the evening before and purchased a mini tape recorder with some tapes.   I didn’t want to miss a thing…too bad I forgot the thing when we left the house.

The weather matched my mood–gloomy and rainy.    I walked with my husband through the rain into the Center for Breast Health.  I brought a textbook with and thought I’d have time to read.  I had one week to prepare a list of questions to talk to the surgeon about.  I knew I should have been more prepared.  I should have really researched everything and made sure I didn’t leave his office without all my questions answered.  Sickeningly, I wasn’t prepared.  I had been too much in freak out land to prepare myself for one of the hardest meetings I would ever have to engage in.  I was on information overload after visiting hundreds of websites.  Yet, with all I had read, I couldn’t remember anything.  I relied on Jeff to pick up the bits and pieces of what the surgeon had to say that would slip by me.  I opened my textbook to read just when the nurse called my name.

We were escorted into an examining room.  She went through the usual questions and then took my blood pressure.  It was evident that my body was in a panic state.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I was just wishing I would wake up from this awful nightmare.  The door opened suddenly and with a confident, quick gate, the surgeon crossed the small room with his hand extended toward me.  He shook my hand very firmly and introduced himself.  He had dress shoes and dress slacks on under his white lab coat.  He moved quickly and precisely so he could keep on with his busy schedule.  He was a fast talker.  He seemed to have the monologue down pat.  I got the impression he had spoken the same words to many other women before me.  I wonder if they sat where I was with the same “deer-caught-in-the-headlights” look. 

He lit up the light box to show us the mammogram; one from last year, one from this.  He also brought out a slick photo used for writing on and educating patients.  It had the anatomy of a breast on the front.  The majority of what he said is a blur.  The room was spinning for me and at one point I really thought it was the principle from Charlie Brown speaking to me, “Wa Wa…Wa Wa…Wa Wa”.    

He did most of the talking as I didn’t have too many questions.  I didn’t know what to ask, honestly.  What I remember mostly is this:

“You have ductal carinoma in situ–high grade intensity”, he said.

“What does that mean?” I asked feebly.

He turned to the light boxes and showed Jeff and I the mammograms. 

As he pointed to my 2007 mammogram he said, “Last year there was no sign of calcifications in your right breast.  There were just a very few tiny little microscopic spots that showed up but based on the pattern of their appearance, we assume they were benign.”

“How so?”, I asked.  I brought my glasses for this visit, but a lot of good they did me.  My eyes were filled with tears the whole time and I had to keep taking them off just to wipe them.

“When calcifications appear in a vertical line and very infrequently, they have been known not to be cancerous.  If we would have had any questions, we would have biopsied you last year.  This year’s however, the whole breast is full of calcifications.  They are not in a vertical line, they are grouped in clusters.  According to this image, it seems they are confined to the milk ducts.  It does not appear that they have broken out to the lobules yet.  This is a good thing because according to this it has not invaded the surrounding muscle–from what we can see.  Now there’s always the chance it can be broken out further back toward the chest wall, and I won’t know that unless we do an MRI.  The high grade intensity means that it is pretty aggressive.  Usually cancers grow over a period of years.  Your breast is full of calcifications and it happened all within one year”.

“So what do we do?”  I whispered.  I had to whisper because I couldn’t breathe.  I was suppressing huge sobs and in order to do that it required hard swallowing and deep breaths. 

“Well, usually in breast cancers that can be measured with less than a 4 cm diameter, we can do what’s called a lumpectomy.  This is where they remove the cancerous portion and a good margin around the cancerous area.  Depending on whether it has travelled to the lymph nodes we will biopsy the sentinal lymph nodes to find out if we need to remove any lymph nodes in your arm pit.  In your case however, based on the mammogram, we can very easily measure a 6cm length of cancerous tissue.   In order to take a measurable margin with it, it would pretty much require taking the whole breast.”

You guessed it, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.  The tears started streaming down my face.  My nose started running.  My breathing was becoming a lot more shallow. 

“Couldn’t there be any other way of saving the breast?”  I choked out.

“You’re welcome to get a second opinion.  I encourage it.  I work with many surgeons and I will be presenting your case to them to get their opinions.  I will be completely honest, with the size of your cancer (notice he doesn’t call it a mass or lump) you won’t find anyone that would think it was in your best interest to keep your breast”.

“How would that work?  Do you just cut me open and scoop out the insides?”  I know that sounds very crude, but I can only visualize things that I know.  I know how to scoop out the guts from a pumpkin; I know how to scoop out ice cream, I know how to to make melon balls…”  I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with my parallel. 

“No, we don’t scoop it out.  It’s a little more precise than that”, he replied shortly. 

“Great”, I’ve just insulted his intelligence.  But you know, I am an intelligent woman, and I am scared to death, and I don’t know how this works, so explain it you arrogant S.O.B”, I thought. 

“Do you have to take my nipple, too?”  I asked.

“I’m afraid so, the nipple contains breast tissue and it if we don’t try to get it all, it could recur.  Right now, it is aggressive, but non-invasive.  If it comes back, it will be very aggressive and very invasive and then it will travel to other locations.  So, I’m going to step out and I want you to slip into this gown with the opening to the front.  I’ll be back in just a couple minutes”.

He left with his nurse.  I broke down.  I was crying so hard and Jeff was trying to comfort me but all I wanted to do was punch him.  I got really mad.  Why is this happening to me?  What the heck have I done in this life to deserve this?  I now had a large wadded up ball of tissues in my hand as I sat up on top of the examing table.  I heard a quick knock and once again, Mr. Speedy walks in the room with his nurse.  He caught me off guard by asking me what I was going to school for.  I actually began to tell him–like he cared…He walked over by Jeff and asked me to open my gown.  I was in a complete state of shock.  I think if I could have outwardly displayed what I felt like inside it would have looked like I was having a grand mal seizure.  One side of me was screaming, “Hell no, you pervert, I don’t even know you”.  The other side was crying, “what did you expect?” I didn’t know. 


He was looking to see if he could notice any visible difference between the two breasts.  He was asking me questions about my life and I was so STUPID…I was answering them.  For the first time in my life, I described what I did for a living without any passion in my voice.  He asked me to raise my arms above my head.  He asked me to put my arms raised and out to the sides.  The whole time Jeff watched.  I was mortified.  I couldn’t help wondering what he must be thinking.  It humiliated me so much I couldn’t even look at Jeff for fear I would see his discomfort.  Then it hit me, this egotistical ass doesn’t care a damn about me or what I do for a living or what my dreams or hopes or fears are.  He doesn’t see me as anything except a cancer patient.  That’s it.  One of thousands.  Just another face.  Just another dollar sign that would help pay for his new luxury car.

I thought he was a dickhead.  I did.  I didn’t want to know him as a person any more than he wanted to know me.  I had encountered that type of doctor during that week my dad lay dying in the hospital.  I had dealt with neurologists and pulmonologists and cardiologists all distinguished in their fields, but seriously lacking in bedside manner.  I just wanted to leave.  He asked me to lie back on the table.  My eyes tried to burn a hole through the ceiling tiles.  I clenched my teeth I was so pissed off that this jerk was about to palpate my breasts.  He was going to feel me up right there in front of my husband.  I was so excruciatingly mortified I thought I’d throw up on his nicely polished wing tips.  What must Jeff be thinking?  Oh, God, please get me out of here…

It was determined that my mammogram saved my life…for now.  Because I don’t have a mass or lump or tumor that can be felt, it was impossible for my family doctor to detect it at my yearly physical back in September.  I was told I could get dressed and he would be back in to speak to us.  He left and I couldn’t even look at Jeff.  I felt shamed.  I realized I was going to have to endure many more insufferable moments and this moment would be the least of them.  I didn’t know how I was going to get through all the humiliation of complete strangers treating me as just a faceless object.  I didn’t know I was headed down a road where any shred of modesty was as foreign as wearing a Cardinals jersey to a Cubs game–here the Cardinals weren’t playing!  I had no clue what was in store for me.

The doctor came back in one last time.  He told me how lucky I was to have caught this when it was “in situ” or the cancer hadn’t figured out how to get out of the cell wall inside the milk ducts.  He was completely amazed that I had no predisposing characteristics or family history.  He then called me unlucky in that regard also.  I wished I would have worn some cowboy boots at that moment.  I would have kicked him right in the nuts.

“Duh, I’m not jumping for joy over the news myself”, I thought. 

“I’ve scheduled the MRI for the upcoming Monday for you.  Based on the size of area this is encompassing, I need to make sure if its in the other breast or not–even though your mammo looks clean.  I’ll be presenting your case to the board of surgeons after we do your MRI and I have a chance to read the film.  I want you back in here to discuss everything next Wednesday, two days after your MRI, first thing in the morning.  We’ll talk more then”.  He shook my hand very firmly and he lingered.  He looked at me hard and he said, “I’m going to do everything I can to cure you”.  Cure me?  I thought there wasn’t a CURE for cancer.  How can he say that so matter of factly.  Is this something he says to all the vulnerable women who walk through his office doors because its what we WANT to hear?  “Awfully presumptious”, I thought.  I didn’t like him.  I didn’t like him one bit. 

Jeff and I left.  we walked back outside into the rain and we drove home, I watched the windshield wipers swishing back and forth.  I watched the rain make interconnected rivers down my window.  I replayed something the doctor had said…something about being thankful…I started to sob.  I’m not thankful for this at all.  I’m not grateful or appreciative or glad about any of this.  I don’t want to do this at all.  How can I be “thankful” for catching my cancer early on yet I have to have my boob cut off anyway?  What kind of sick joke is this?  What kind of cruel irony is that?  I cried all the way home.  I wished so much I could just crawl back into my warm bed with my warm little boy and hit the snooze button just one more time.  In fact, I wished I had never woke up that morning at all.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 11:42:54

    Yes, yes, you should be thankful. Counting your blessings makes you happy; focusing on the bad things makes you sink into misery. Dig deep if you have to, but find something to be thankful for every day! I got my breast cancer diagnosis in August, and have since been through lumpectomy surgery, an MRSA infection in the incision, an ulcer next to my nipple from the dye used to find the sentinel lymph node, chemotherapy, and am almost done with radiation. You know what? I have never been happier than I have this year. Yes, it has been very, very hard. I’m tired all the time, I have painful burns, scars, much of my hair fell out, and I had some horribly sick days. So what’s so great about all that? The biggest blessing is finding out how many people care about me. I had no idea! I can’t count the number of cards and emails I have gotten. I’m on the prayer list of every church in town, and several elsewhere, and I can’t go to the store without running into someone who asks how I’m doing. We went several years without health insurance, and were just able to get it again last year – that’s a HUGE blessing, too! I’m grateful that my sister made me get a mammogram when she did (just because of my age, I’m 41), grateful that my tumors (2) were caught so early, grateful that they hadn’t spread. It could have been much worse. On the lighter side, as my hair started falling out, I was willing to try new hairstyles and let my hairdresser do whatever she wanted. I got lots of compliments on it! I enjoyed being able to blow dry it in 2 minutes instead of the usual 20. Last week, it had gotten very scraggly and ugly again, and I got a buzz. It’s not something I would have chosen ordinarily, but I get compliments on it, too, and it feels SO good! I got some great hats and scarves from the American Cancer Society resource room, too, and they were free. My oily skin is now “normal”. Some of my body hair fell out, too, and I like that!

    I have also learned to let people help me. Last year, I did EVERYTHING in my girl scout troop. Not because people didn’t offer, but because I’m just like that. It’s the Supermom thing. This year, I’m letting other people help, and we’re all becoming closer friends working together on projects. Definitely a blessing, for the girls, the moms, and me! I’m also spending more time praying, which is always a good thing. Life in general, and my children and husband, are even more precious to me. My children (5, 7, and 9 when this started) have had to become more responsible around the house. It’s very sweet to hear my youngest praying for me, and mastering the big words “radiation therapy”.
    It often seems impossible to go on. I “do too much”, by almost any standard. But I do go on, because I must, and I might as well choose to be happy about it. I’m a Christian, wife, and mother, a Bible class teacher, I have an internet business (which has suffered some from all of this, but is still continuing), I have a part time job working at my father’s and sister’s clinic as office manager, I’m a girl scout leader (and it’s cookie season right now!), I have taken taekwondo classes through most of this, and even gotten two belt promotions! (I missed a couple of classes after my surgery, one or two during chemo, and have missed two so far since the radiation burns got too bad to stand a bra. I’ll probably miss 2 more before those heal enough.)

    So… life does go on, and you CAN get through it too, and find some unexpected blessings.


  2. PM
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 18:51:50

    You won’t succeed by might or by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Armies. Zechariah 4:6b

    I am asking God to give you a gift from the wealth of His Glory. I pray that He would give CHRISTINA inner strength and power though His Spirit. Ephesians 3:16


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Started Tracking on 12-1-09


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