After my biopsy my sister stayed on for a bit and we had a nice visit, the terrible reson for her being there little acknowledged, but making us feel close nonetheless. (There was the moment that I coaxed her into feeling the heavy bastard of a lump. I never thought I’d put my sister’s hand on my boob, but I figured she needed to know exactly what one felt like because it’s pretty particular.) She left and then my oldest sister replaced her, to accompany me in receiving the results. This didn’t seem necessary, although it was not unwelcome. Tentatively she would leave the weekend after.
This sister has a habit of obsessing over small and sometimes random details in the face of some other drama. In the days when my mother was bedridden, Jen might come home and spend 4 days arranging all the paper clips in the house according to weight and size or devising a plan to brush the dog’s teeth. To some extent I thought she was doing the same thing by saying she really needed to come to my meeting so I could have another set of ears, someone to take notes. Not that this doesn’t sound useful, but I thought she was overdoing the necessity of it a bit. After all, we already knew what they were going to say. Right?
When we arrived and got seated in the office, Dr. Awesome was accompanied by another doctor, the man who would be my radiologist. (I’d call him Dr. Awesome if the name weren’t taken. He was also great.) My sister was immediately as taken with my doctors as I was. They confirmed that the biopsy showed cancer. They also confirmed that the tests to identify any spread of the cancer all came back negative. While this was expected, I breathed a sigh of relief, not knowing until that moment how realistic and scary that possibility had been. We weren’t prepared for the other news though.
That was, that the tumor was relatively big and that a lumpectomy would not suffice….
(Let me just pause there so you can appreciate the fact that the world stopped for a moment.)
Because of the tumor’s location right in the center, the nipple could not be saved. Considering that it would be gone, plus the fact that (let’s be honest:) my breast was not sufficiently bigger than the tumor, a mastectomy would be the chosen procedure. Next Wednesday. (gulp!) I wanted to argue and negotiate this in my mind. Less than a week away. That was pretty concrete and eminent.
My cancer was labeled as Stage II. This was both because of the size of the tumor and the fact that they had detected an infected lymph node. Thus, they would be removing nodes in my surgery. As I sat there digesting, Dr. Awesome and Dr. Rads discussed the taking of my lymph nodes. Dr. Rads asked if the node had been biopsied. Dr. Awesome said it was so obvious that it had been unnecessary to do so. (Remember the node the lab technicians took notice of during my biopsy?) Dr. Rads asserted that still, maybe we ought to take the one node and check it out before removing the rest. Dr. Awesome said, “That is what they would do in America. They are very big on sentinal node biopsies. We prefer to treat the cancer as aggressively as possible. This saves her going back to take them later.” Some people think it was not right of them to have this discussion in front of me. I am glad they did however, as I witnessed how the decision was made. At this point, I really had no concept of what the loss of lymph nodes would mean and didn’t care about taking them, so I never even considered arguing. I was a little distracted by the whole breast thing…
Dr. Awesome continued on to say that not only would I get radiation, but I would be receiving chemotherapy as well. (Again, did you feel the world stop on its axis just then or is it just me?) Because of my young age and the infected node, there was no waffling on this decision. I was going to get chemo. Looking back I don’t even know how I continued to breathe right at this moment. Chemo was probably one of the scariest things in the world that I could think of. (Though I had never acknowledged it as a “great fear” because it was so unlikely. I’m scared of wrestling alligators too, but there’s not point in putting that of my life’s list of things to steer clear of.) This news was the destruction of all the walls I had carefully constructed to keep myself feeling safe and “lucky”. This was the collapse of the feeling I had carried around my whole life that I would always end up on my feet, that things would work out better for me in the end than I had even foreseen. (“Extraordinary Machine” is a favorite little theme song of mine.) This was part of my private personality they were messing with. They might as well have been talking about a lobotomy.
I attempted to put on my “emotions later; let’s tackle the problem” suit, but it only lasted so long. By the end of the conversation tears were leaking out of my eyes at an alarming rate. The only comparable moment of devastation is when my mother died. The doctors seemed legitimately touched and saddened about my news. I had an image of them going home to their families at night, brooding over dinner, their wives asking what was wrong and them slamming their fists down on the table cursing, “dammit! It’s just that I’ve got this one girl…she’s so young and sweet…”. (I figure, if you’re going to fantasize that you know anything about your doctor, tortured personal investment is a good story to have.) Their kindness and concern made me more emotional, as did the fact that they seemed to expect the tears as part of the important business of the meeting. At one moment I gave in to my sister’s arm around me. But I found it impossible to let her touch me and maintain any degree of emotional suspension, so I snapped back upright to face the business of the discussion. I carefully avoided her eyes as she sat next to me for the same reason.
They told me lots. Gave me some introduction to the radiation and chemo I’d be having. Mostly I remember “blah blah blah” and us asking about the possibility of my getting the surgery in the US. Dr. Awesome said, “We’ve already discussed that I support whatever you want to do. But at this point, if you cannot promise me that you will be able to arrange a surgery date within the next two weeks, do not go. This is growing fast. You want this out as soon as possible.” While I sort of knew that I would stick with the current arrangement, I was just too overwhelmed to fully agree to anything in the moment. I promised I would give him a firm answer within 24 hours.