A little over a year ago I started blogging my journey through what felt like the longest year of my life. Although it was full of pain that didn’t make much sense at the time, it brought me to a completely different place in my journey. As I started to write that year after my diagnosis, I learned that the most challenging part of the whole journey, was learning to live a new normal after it was “over.” The truth is, that was just the beginning and all of that trauma hit me pretty hard and new heartache was added. I had terrible anxiety thinking about taking you through such a personal experience with my treatment, my breakup, losing my job, and a whole lot in between. Every time I thought it was over and I could start to move on with my life, something new kicked me down, and my life unraveled even more. Writing was never easy but every time that I did, I felt all of the physical and mental agony, but also growth and acceptance as I reflected. Growth is never easy, it is often painful and you don’t always see the results until some time has passed. Yesterday marked two years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and like always, that is a trigger for me. I relive that day like it was yesterday and it’s paralyzing. I am beyond grateful that I am here to tell my story and my life appears “normal” like nothing ever happened, but inside I hurt. I hurt physically from the side effects of everything that my body endured with the multiple surgeries and procedures, and I hurt mentally from the trauma of it all. I hurt often but with that hurt, I am feeling all of my feelings. I am processing and accepting. I am building a new chapter of my life that looks a whole lot different, but what I have endured will always be a part of me. A light at the end of a very dark tunnel that I can brightly see and touch. We all have traumatic events in our lives and we all deal with those things differently. I never wanted to wake up years from now and have to accept everything after I had already moved on. I don’t like to brush things under the rug and I honestly don’t think I am capable of that. My personality is to feel and deal with issues. I remember going through everything and that was my fear, with all of that adrenaline pumping through my body to carry me through, I wasn’t processing it all. Starting this blog was a way for me to do that and sometimes I wanted to share those thoughts and the recollection of my emotions, but sometimes I wanted to do that alone and not share in that moment, or sometimes I didn’t want to deal with it at all. As new trauma and loss happened, it made it harder for me to share and I would lose sight of that light at the end. Most of the time that I posted, I was just laying everything out and you read it as I went through it. There are things that I didn’t recall happening or feelings I never felt until I typed them out. That has been such a helpful part of my healing and growth and I knew that maybe somewhere it could help someone feel like they are not alone when shared. Your messages I have received have done just that. Everyone is struggling with something and your bravery in sharing and your extremely kind words have meant everything to me. There is no timeline on how long it should take us to heal or where we should be at in that process. Everyone’s journey and how we cope with events and constant disruptions in our lives are unique to us. Maybe now that I have reflected and accepted certain things, I will have more courage and confidence to put it out there, and you will too. When we neglect our problems and feelings, things often get worse. Life never settles down, so dealing with hardships will allow us to keep moving forward in our journey. I am sure new things will pop up as they always do during reflection (and life) but I can’t stress enough, how important this step is in the process of continued healing and growth for ourselves.
With that said, I wanted to share those blog posts of the longest day of my life and give myself a boost of confidence that I made it another year and reflect on the extreme growth that has happened from writing this a year ago today. Thanks for your continued support as I bare it all.
I woke up on February 8, 2016 in peace. I slept at my parent’s house since my boyfriend was still out of town and started my work day. I went on my sales meeting and told my co-workers the good news. I told them it was all nothing like they suspected and that I did not have cancer. I was so relieved saying those words. I felt peace.
My meeting ended and my mom and I were putting our coats on to go grab lunch. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My phone rang, it said “unknown.” I don’t normally answer unknown numbers but this time I did. I heard my doctor’s shaky voice on the other end as I said hello. “Hi Janine, it’s doctor E…I am so sorry but something didn’t sit right with one of the pathologist and he went back to your slides and cut deeper and well I am so sorry to say this, but there’s been a mistake, it’s cancer.”
White, everything went white. I looked at my mom and she started to scream,”WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” she must have seen it in my face. I couldn’t get the words out, I tried, I stuttered, it’s cancer, it’s cancer.
My doctor was still on the line talking and I dropped to my knees, I was hyperventilating/crying. It’s like when you are dreaming and you are being chased and you try to scream, except barely anything is coming out of your mouth even though you are trying with all your might to scream. I tried to get out “It’s cancer? Am I going to die? What Stage? Will I need Chemo? Will I die?” She had no answers.
She told me to get out a pen and write this down…
I scribbled some words she told me.. Ductal Carcinoma, Surgical Oncologist, and CALL IMMEDIATELY.
I remember her saying that they were waiting for my call. She gave me her number if I needed anything and I hung up the phone.
I dropped back to my knees on my parents bedroom floor. I lost control of every muscle in my body. I couldn’t breathe. I was screaming for my mom to call 911. I wanted to be sedated. I didn’t know how I would get through the next 30 seconds of my life without being sedated. I laid there in fetal position and cried, and cried, and cried. I felt like I was on a roller coaster going upside down and backwards and I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t pull myself together.
I heard my mom in the distance making frantic phone calls. I heard her whispering over and over. “it’s cancer, they made a mistake. I don’t know, they made a mistake but it’s cancer.” I heard this over and over again. My tears stopped, I couldn’t move. I was stunned. I felt paralyzed.
My little dog came over to me and looked so perplexed. He always panicked when I cried and he just seemed so concerned. I sat up, picked him up, and caught my breath. My boyfriend. I needed to call my boyfriend. Or do I wait? He had a flight late that night to come home. Do I just wait to tell him? I don’t want to ruin the last day of his trip. How am I supposed to wait to tell him this? He will be mad if he knew that I waited until he got home to tell him. FUCK. I call. I ask him to sit down, my voice is trembling and I can’t get the words out. This is surreal. I can’t get the words out. “Eh, so you know how they said it was benign? Well it’s not, they made a mistake, I have cancer.” I hear myself saying those words out loud. It doesn’t sound right. I have cancer, I have cancer, holy shit, I have cancer. He says he will be on the next flight home but I tell him to stay, he will be home soon enough tonight and I would be fine. He told me he loved me and that everything was going to be ok. He seemed lost, scared, and I think that in that moment, the both of us knew that this was going to change everything.
I hear my sister frantically coming in my parents house. I hear my nieces. I felt relieved but scared. I didn’t want to cry in front of them. Then I hear my Dad walk in the door, I knew my mom called him but he was coming from NYC, a solid 50 minutes away and it seems like that was only 30 minutes ago. I then hear my brother and my sister in law. I came out of their room and walked into the kitchen. They were all gathered around the kitchen counter whispering. I sat down and my Dad disappeared and a minute later came up with a very expensive bottle of wine. Opus One. He said he promised everything was going to be ok, but now, we drink.
The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. Somewhere around my second glass of wine my fight mode kicked in and I had a surge of adrenaline. I told myself and my family that I was not going to let this take me down and I was going to do everything humanly possible to get through. I told them that I was going to explore every available option and I was going to need their support. I knew that time was of the essence and I did not want to waste a second of it. I called the Surgical Oncologist and set up my appointment for 2 days from then. I called my holistic doctor and tried to get answers from a different frame of mind. I called friends that had someone they knew go through this before to get some more perspective. I had questions, so many questions. I was scared and I needed answers. I did research, I was in full fight, adrenaline pumping, mania and I feared that I could not stop. Calls, so many calls. Then I remembered one friend telling me about this super alternative doctor. Well he wasn’t actually a doctor per-say, he was a scientist but he had made claims of curing cancer. I needed him, maybe this nightmare could end if I talked to him. I was desperate. I called him up and was weary but scheduled an appointment for the next day. He gave me hope and maybe at the time, hope is exactly what I needed.
I was back on my phone, doing research, reading message boards, and completely freaking myself out when my phone rang. It was my gynecologist. My stomach dropped. I couldn’t help but feel animosity towards her. How didn’t she catch this? She indirectly did but she didn’t catch this actual cancerous mass. I was half mad half grateful towards her. I was mad that she didn’t find the problematic lump, but grateful that for whatever reason, she sent me for that mammogram. I was in hysterics. She said she received my results and she was terribly sorry but so happy that we caught this. I thought to myself, no you didn’t catch this. How did this even happen? She told me that I was lucky and in a few months from now, we would be dealing with something much more advanced. Huh? How much time would have made a difference? She said, I don’t know, 3-4 months? I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know how to respond. A flash came through my head. I thought about my birthday 4 months from then. I thought about turning 31 and not knowing I was dying. I thought about my upcoming trip to Italy that summer, a trip that I counted the days down until. A trip that gets me through most shitty days. A trip that we took the year before that changed me in so many ways. I thought about being there again, with my family and my boyfriend, creating new memories, making more self discoveries, and having the time of my life, and not knowing that I was dying. I thought “would I even have made it to that trip?” I had no answers. I needed answers. I always need answers.
A friend of mine gave me this girls number who had gone through this. She told me that she was diagnosed two months after her wedding, at 27 years old, stage 4, and she is here four years later doing well. It gave me hope. I texted her and she immediately told me to call her. I sat there with my pen and paper, with her on speaker phone and my mom sitting next to me. I was ready to write down EVERYTHING that she said. She gave me hope, she gave me so much hope and she made me feel less anxious. She was living with breast cancer, but she was living. We made plans to meet in two days and I knew from that moment, she was going to be such an important part of my journey. She was going to be my sanity.
Somewhere in the midst of pure chaos, I remembered my boyfriend was due to come home that night. I couldn’t fathom going back to our house. I was traumatized and didn’t want to leave my parents. I needed to be with my family but I needed him there too. After all, he was a major part of our family. He was my family. My brother offered to go pick him up and bring him back to their house. He would have done anything for him and truth be told, I think he couldn’t wait to have him there. He wanted him there as much as I did, he wanted him there for me, he knew that I needed him and I think he needed him too.
I waited in that airport terminal for what felt like hours, I frantically checked the flight status and stood by the escalator waiting for him to come down. I didn’t know what would happen when I saw him, but I knew that I needed to have his arms around me more than anything in the world at that moment. He came down and I ran into his arms and cried, I cried so hard. The adrenaline had left and I was left with so many terrified tears. He held me and told me that everything was going to be ok, and in that moment, it took my fears away. In that moment I felt peace.