At this point, there was no more sitting on the fence about whether or not I actually had cancer. And somehow, I was on the side that I didn’t expect to see for many more years at the very least.
Until now I had been giving only the most vague excuses to anyone outside of the family that might wonder what was going on. Namely, to my work friends I had merely explained my absence by saying that something “important” had come up that I had to “attend to”. I had said to my best friend back in America, just prior to the meeting, that they found a lump that they weren’t sure was malignant but were “going to remove anyway, just to be safe. Sort of like removing a mole.” Looking back now I find my persistent optimism…interesting. (Not really sure how else to describe it.)
Even after this meeting, we were hanging tough. To everyone who was amazed that I wasn’t freaking out, I just kept pointing out, “Look, cancer of any sort sucks. But if all I have to do is lose a part of a breast and get shot with some invisible beams for a few minutes for a few weeks, I am really lucky. It’s not like I have to do chemo. That is the only thing I am really scared of. Then I would freak out. So I’m just thanking my lucky stars to be spared from that. So many people who get this diagnosis are not so lucky. I’m pretty darn fortunate, relative to the possibilities.” I was really comforted by the confidence of the doctors that it had not spread anywhere outside of the breast.
The actual biopsy was scheduled for next week, along with a string of tests. The family had been told and while everyone remained calm, my middle sister was now on her way out to accompany me to the biopsy, and I was grateful to have family headed my way. While I could have clung to the “we don’t have the test results in black and white yet” part of the story, I knew that doctors don’t order multi-thousand dollar tests if they are not sure they need them, particularly in a place where the state is paying the bulk of the cost. (There are no doctors/hospitals getting rich here!) For the next couple of weeks, I would be morphing into a terribly organized person, learning to religiously file the array of papers and appointments that lined the immediate future.
Everything was heading at me quickly, and while I was generally leaning towards having the surgery back in the US, taking comfort in my American confidence in the superiority of our health care, I wouldn’t go just yet. (Evidence from an email to a friend in the US: “…so there’s that. my lymph nodes look fine so at worst it is suspected to be localized. don’t worry. i just have to stay for more tests. monday iwill get a biopsy done. either way they will most likely take it out to be on the safe side, so i have some decisions to make about…(where/when, etc).”
This was the first of many times I would react like a deer in headlights: feeling safest right where I was, so freezing up and preferring not to move just in case I would blindly race into some worse fate. I didn’t want to break the momentum of having all the tests scheduled and I wanted all the facts before abandoning my life in Belgium for goodness-knows-how-long. I could only decide that I would stay for tests, and after, we’d see…