Ok, so I’m a litte late getting this up today. But techically it’s stil the 2nd! Happy anniversary to me!
The morning of what was supposed to be my biopsy I was uncharacteristically ill. I walked home from my boyfriend’s feeling weak and shaky, but figured it was the sticky heat of Brussels from which there was no air conditioning refuge. I got home and dressed for the trip to the hospital; I made sure to eat what I could, surprised when my shakiness didn’t go away. Once dressed, I had to lie on the sofa in front of the fan. I found myself feeling light-headed and nauseous. I felt barely able to move. I am a person who hates throwing up with a passion. I have done it only a handful of times in my entire life (Well, at this point in the story that’s true), and it is not a typical symptom when I get sick. I called Del and told him I was not feeling well. He came over early and hiked up my 5 flights of narrow stairs to help me out and accompany me to the hospital, rather then me coming down to jump in a cab as planned.
When he got there he asked me to arrange the cab as his French is not as fluent. I felt this was a demanding task given how I felt, but I did not want to seem whiny. I rang the taxi company without complaint. The lady on the line did not understand me well and asked me to repeat myself more loudly. The second time I mustered my strength against the nausea that roiled in my stomach. When she asked me to repeat it yet again, my mind was racing over what would take more energy: to say it again or explain to Del why I was suddenly thrusting the phone at him. I gave my taxi order a third time through gritted teeth. She confirmed it right as I threw down the phone and bolted to the kitchen sink, just in time to projectile vomit into the sink not one or two, but three times.
I felt too ill to be more than slightly embarrassed at throwing up in front of my barely 3 month boyfriend. I demanded that he stay where he was, but he refused to listen and he rushed over, grabbed my hair and cleaned out the sink while I rested my forehead on the cool metal, then left to brush my teeth. My mind could not help but note in passing that Del would not shirk away from such duties, should the afternoon turn out to predict more moments like this in the near future (read: chemo).
I got cleaned up and we made it to the hospital by train. In the waiting room I was perplexed to discover that my discomfort did not go away. I did not feel nervous, but I was still hot, faint, shaky and nauseous. I spent the time fanning myself with my head between my knees. This was so unlike me it seemed I must have a bug, but the timing was too suspicious for that. I’d never felt this way from nerves in my life, and I’d done done pretty nerve-wracking things.
To get to the Moment of Truth, Del and I were ushered in. We met one of my onco’s assistants whom I immediately liked more than any doctor I’d ever met. After an initial chat Dr. Neven came in, and I took to him even more. From the first moment, I felt calmer in his presence. He’s the kind of doctor who is not only clearly important, he’s sincerely caring and charasmatic. He makes you feel like he’s going to take good care of you.
He asked me to let him examine me. I sat on the table and paused to address Del in his chair across the room. “Would you like to step out or is this ok?” I had a slight fear of involving someone so new in my life, so deeply. This was a very intimate moment for him to witness. Would he freak out from the pressure and back away?
Del assured me he was comfortable, that he wanted to stay. I undressed and Dr. Neven put his hands on me but for a moment. He stood up straight. “This is cancer. I’m sure of it,” he announced. Just like that.
I couldn’t believe my ears. There was no beating around the bush with this guy. No more of this “well it could be” doctor speak of those afriad to give bad news. There it was. And I was grateful for his frankness. I wondered what Del felt. While I was in slight shock, I felt that immediate challenge to take on the info and handle it. I’m a “fixer”, not a “feeler” and I was in my Let’s Tackle the Problem mode, as if he’d just told me I had to fix a leaky faucet or figure out a math equation. I just nodded my head and said “okay” in a very attentive fashion, ready to receive more instruction. I felt hot and hollow on the inside, but I would deal with that later. While I hadn’t forgotten my “flu”, it was now in the background and I was in control, giving strict instructions to my body on what to feel and do.
He and his assistant told me that while they couldn’t officially make a diagnosis without a biopsy, they were as sure as they possibly could be without having the results right in front of them. There was no time for a biopsy today, so I’d come back next week for that. Somehow I took away the impression that lumpectomy and radiation was the likely treatment, as I had expected the worst to be. (Del would much later say that they definitely said the word “mastectomy” on this initial visit. Maybe I heard all I could handle in that meeting. I don’t know.)
While finishing up our discussion, giving them family and other information, we were all four sitting in such a way that the female doctor could give me a private look without the men noticing. They talked details and she looked me in the eye privately, mouthing, “are you okay?” I was so genuinely touched by her attentiveness and caring that I gave my first sincere thought to staying in Belgium to deal with this. I returned her gaze and nodded firmly. She kept her eyes on me in a way that was equivalent to putting a comforting hand on my arm and her kindness made me want to tear up. These were doctors that really got it, with an empathy that remained undiluted by the sheer number of cases they saw. This would be invaluable throughout the next near.
Del and I went home to break the next level of news to my family.