Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Survivor's Journey, Part 3

So I went back to school, not really thinking about what had happened. I remember joking with my mom that if they were gonna cut off the one, I might ask them to take both, so I'd never have to wear a bra again! (I've always been small - "modestly proportioned" - up top, and from the time I quit cross-country in high school until I experienced double-time high-step marching in the college band, I mostly didn't bother with bras.)

I figured the results would say that I had fibrocystic buildup and needed to cut down on the caffeine. I'd just have to find some other way to force my eyes to stay open during cram sessions. I finished out the semester and went home for winter break. I must've been the one to pick up the phone when the call came in, because I don't remember my mom hovering over my shoulder, and I know she would've been!

It was three days before Christmas. I was twenty years old at the time. And I had just been diagnosed with cancer.

Okay, so I just had to put the cut there. Because that's the DRAMATIC part, right?

Only, well, it wasn't. I think when the oncologist told me the results, my response was something along the lines of, "Okay. Well. Now what?"

As I mentioned in my last entry, cancer has made its mark on my family, particularly on my father's side. But rather than making me more concerned about cancer, it's had the opposite effect.

First of all, I'm familiar with how it works - with cancer, you get sick before you die. What kills you is when it messes with stuff you need: your lungs, your liver, your brain, etc. So when the oncologist told me that my cancer was at an early stage and couldn't spread, I knew I was gonna be okay. I can live just fine without my boobs, yanno?

Second, for a long time, I've just taken it for granted that I'm gonna get cancer someday. It's just that the diagnosis came sooner rather than later. But here's the thing: cancer takes time to develop. If I hadn't had that freaky symptom, my cancer would still have been there, and I wouldn't have noticed it until I noticed a lump (or a doctor noticed it at a checkup or something). The fact that I was 20 when I was diagnosed means that I had a less serious form of the disease - so it was actually a good thing!

Anyway, when I asked "what next," the oncologists suggested talking to other specialists, getting second opinions and beyond. So over break, we did a LOT of faxing and phonecalling. We also drove back to school early and visited with some specialists in that city. The response was near-unanimous: a recommendation for radical mastectomy alone - no radiation, no chemotherapy. One doctor disagreed, and said that technically, there was no research that suggested my type of cancer ever developed into anything further, and suggested waiting before doing anything as drastic as removing a breast. However, I really didn't think surgery would be that bad, and I knew I didn't want to risk having to go through radiation or chemo later on if I waited.

The surgery was scheduled for late January. I'd already registered for my spring semester classes at college, so I had to go to campus, un-register, and also pack up my dorm room. My roomie was a freshman, bless her heart, and looked incredibly nervous, but all in all it went pretty smoothly.

That is, up until I went to the housing office to ask them not to bill me, since I wouldn't be staying in the dorm for the spring semester. I figured I'd probably have to fill out some kind of form, but the student at the desk insisted that there were no exceptions, no matter how I tried to convince him that this wasn't because I was lazy or disorganized (for once), but because I had a medical emergency. I hadn't wanted to play the pity card, but when I tearfully confessed that I'd just been diagnosed with cancer and I was going to have to go to the hospital instead of attending classes, then I finally got the form for a waiver! SHEESH.

And so we packed up the minivan and drove home again.


cupcake said...

I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I doff my wig.

Clix said...


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