I left that appointment with a breast MRI scheduled for two days from then. I never had an MRI. I really don’t know what to expect. I also left with enough paperwork to make my unorganized mind incredibly uneasy. I was lost, I was confused. I didn’t know how I would possibly pull it together.
We got in the elevator to leave and there was a woman in a wheelchair in there, clearly being wheeled down to surgery or a procedure. We made eye contact and I smiled and said hello. She looked terrified and anxious and said, “you don’t want to go where I am going.” It was like the wind was knocked out of me in that moment. My eyes welled up with tears and I said, but that is where I will be going. I completely lost it in that elevator, embarrassing full on breakdown. There was another couple in there who 100% where judging me but I did not care. It was like I saw a glimpse into my future and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. This isn’t fair.
We got outside and everything felt different. It was that underwater feeling again. I was dizzy, anxious, and short of breath. My parents and boyfriend tried to talk to me, tried to remind me that this wasn’t all bad news, but I couldn’t make sense of it all. I needed to talk to someone that has been here. I needed someone that could understand even an ounce of how I felt. I needed to meet Erica.
Coincidentally, We had plans to meet that afternoon for the first time. I was nervous but excited. We had been talking these past two days and I couldn’t wait to put a name to a face. I couldn’t wait to sit down with someone that has been through this and could understand the feeling that I have. It is inexplainable. I also knew that I needed hope. She was diagnosed at age 27, just two months after her wedding. She was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Although I wasn’t sure which hospital I would go with at this point, I was hopeful that if I had her doctors, than I would be ok.
She walked in and I knew it was her. We had an instant connection. She handed over a bag with a few things in it. I pulled out the binder. She explained how she knew how completely chaotic and unorganized this process would be, and how helpful her binder was for her. The amount of doctors, procedures, surgeries etc would be overwhelming but this would help. There was also a list of all the doctors that she used and every type of doctor that I would want to see. She handed me a book that would be my guide to eating through this. She gave me valuable information that no doctor had given yet. Why hadn’t my doctor talked to me about these things? I needed to know how to live through this, and she was my answer.
She told me about her journey and everything she had to endure. She told me how the hormone therapy was probably the worst part of her treatment. She said how shutting your 30 year old body down into menopause feels just as unnatural as it sounds. She told me how she is scared every day of her life that it will come back. How once you have cancer, it never truly goes away. She told me about her surgery. The same surgery that they talked to me about earlier that day. She said if she had a choice she would never have done it this way. I asked her to see and she laughed and said of course. We went into the bathroom and she took her shirt off right there. We couldn’t help but laugh. She showed me her hip to hip incision where they took tissue from her abdomen to build new breasts. She showed me her scars which were very present but faded four years later. She showed me her tattoo 3D nipples which looked real until you got close. She told me that she had zero sensation in her abdomen and chests. That she was completely numb. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. How does that feel? She also told me that even though she wished she never had to get this surgery, that her surgeons were the best and she was as happy as she could be with her results. She told me how it effected her relationships with everyone in her life. Being that she had just been married when she was diagnosed, it obviously changed her relationship with her husband. She said that there were times that she didn’t know if they would make it and it was terrifying. She said that the people closest to me would see me in my most vulnerable state, they would see things that I would never want them to see. They would see me in a way that I could never get back. She said how hard it was to be a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister and fight for her life all at the same time.
I sit here in the place where I met her exactly a year later. One year since I sat here in this Starbucks and waited for her to be done her full body scan. Exactly what I am doing right now. I think about how much this year has changed. I think about everything that I have gone through and it brings me to tears. I feel that lump in my throat as I write this and can’t wrap my head around it all. I think about that girl that was sitting here scared out of her fucking mind. A girl that was just told she had cancer at 30. A girl who had no idea what I was about to endure. I felt so alone. I felt so scared. I felt so unsure about everything that I was ever sure about in my life. Suddenly, nothing mattered. Nothing that I thought was important at least. Everything looked different though. I overhear peoples conversations and they seem so unimportant. How is this person complaining about this? Or how is that person talking about that? Who cares about your clients bad attitude, who care about making your sales quota. People are dying. Everything just felt different. I knew that life would never look the same.