We met my parents at the cafe in their hotel that morning. I was sick to my stomach, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat but also knew that if I didn’t I would feel worse. I ordered a croissant and a cappuccino. Maybe it was the caffeine or my adrenaline that kicked in but all of a sudden I was ready. As ready as I would ever be. I wanted to talk to the surgical oncologist. I needed to hear everything from him. I had so many questions that needed answers. I wanted to know what I was dealing with.
We walked down to the hospital. It was the same building that I had come the week prior when I had my mammogram and biopsy. I had a flashback, it made my shudder. Here I am, just over a week later and it’s real. I have cancer.
I signed in at the front desk and they gave me a load of paperwork to fill out. More than usual. There was pages and pages of family history questions. My head started to spin. I called my mom over to help. Then I get to the part where it asks if I have any medical conditions. That’s the part where I usually just check off the one box that pertains to me, thyroid problems. But today there is a different box to check off. Cancer. It took the wind right out of my sail. The harshest reality. Cancer, check.
We sat in the waiting room and I felt the panic from everyone. They called me back and I asked my boyfriend and Dad to wait in the waiting room at first. I just wanted my mom back there when they first explained everything. I knew that hearing it straight from the surgical oncologist was going to be hard to hear and I needed to hear it first.
The PA came in first. She was sweet, relatable, and a fellow Italian. It made me feel as comfortable as possible in a uncomfortable situation. She told me that the doctor was the best of the best. He was the chief of surgical oncology. He came in and instantly made me feel calm. He had a warmness about him. He told me, it’s true, you have cancer but it’s ok. “It’s ok??” I thought. He said it looks like we caught it very early. He said that he reviewed my pathology and file and I must have a guardian angel. He told me that I was lucky. Wow, this is good news right? He said yes, but first we need to get a breast MRI. That would really show everything going on and make sure that it hasn’t spread anywhere or into my lymph nodes.
Then he said we would need to schedule surgery right away to get the tumor out and then we would have a better idea on how to treat it. Then he added that I would need to see a plastic surgeon, and oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a fertility specialist, genetic oncologist, and best I meet with the social worker to better cope with all of this. But first the MRI.
Wait, slow down, what?! How the fuck am I supposed to do all of this and why do I need all of these doctors, he just said I was going to be fine I thought. He just said that I was lucky. Surgery? Are you sure that is necessary? And why the plastic surgeon? He said it was not an option, that tumor needed to come out and right away. He said I would need a plastic surgeon because the lump they would remove would be significant and I would need a plastic surgeon in there to make things even, but the other possibility is a Mastectomy.
Wait, stop, slow down. What the fuck. A mastectomy? Lose my breast? No, no, no. I am only 30. My grandmother had a mastectomy in her 60s and I have a flash to that. I want to explode. This is a living nightmare. I can’t see straight. I don’t want surgery, I don’t want any of this. I want to go home, go back to work and I want none of this to be true. I want my life back. I thought he said I was going to be ok? This isn’t ok.
Radiation? Does that burn? Won’t that damage my heart? My lungs? I barely wanted to get a mammogram and now you are talking to me about 12 weeks of radiation every single day? But you are a surgeon? What do you know about radiation or my treatment? Maybe you should stick to what you know, surgery. And I am certainly not interested in that.
Genetic Specialist? Fertility Specialist? Why, Why??
I hear words and pieces of his sentences. I hear him explain the genetic oncologist and how uncommon it is to be 30 and have breast cancer, it can be a genetic mutation and they will want to check for other cancers. I hear Fertility and how if I needed chemo I would need to freeze my eggs but at this point he doesn’t think I would. He says regardless I would need Hormone therapy, being that I had a hormone positive cancer. I would have to shut my 30 year old body down into menopause for 5 years and most likely my body wouldn’t come back from that. Egg Freezing would be my only chance of having a baby no matter what. My mind starts to completely shut down and I can barely breath.
The surgeon said that naturally he knew that I would be visiting other hospitals but gave me the list of his team that I would need to see if I went with him. So I start to do the math, I have 3 surgical oncologist that I have appointments with. So with every surgical oncologist, I would need to see a different Plastic Surgeon, Medical Oncologist, Radiation Oncologist, Genetic Oncologist and Counselor, and Fertility Specialist. 18 doctors plus an MRI to determine even further treatment, multiple tests and procedures those doctors would order plus surgery and treatment PLUS the therapy I was going to so clearly need. I have a job. I have a life. How in the fuck is any of this possible?
My parents and my boyfriend look hopeful but freaked out. They force some smiles my way and it made me mad. The doctor left and I told everyone to give me a minute. I needed to be alone. I needed to process. I knocked on the surgeons door and broke down. I told him I couldn’t do this. I wanted to give up right then and there. He said, you have a very bumpy and windy road ahead of you, it’s going to be really hard, it’s going to be so exhausting, it will take almost everything out of you. He told me that I was going to want to give up every day. But then he told me there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He told me that I would be on that trip this summer to Italy, happy and healthy, he would make sure of that. He told me I was going to survive and my life might never be the same, but it would go on. He promised me. He promised that I was going to be ok.