Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Good Morning, You Have Cancer"

Now I know that this is not how the doctor on phone broke the news to me, but at the time that is exactly how it felt. Cheerful, to the point, and way too insensitive. I barely got a word out before the person on the other end gave me another number to call and hung up the phone. One minute I was sitting around in my pajamas reading a book and the next minute I was told that my tests came back positive for cancer. What does a person do when that phone call comes? If you're me you walk out into your kitchen, announce to the nearest person (sorry Dad) that you have cancer and go back to reading your book.

I turned 30 in August and despite living a childhood full of physical injury and mild illnesses, I managed to stay relatively healthy throughout my 20's. In a way I'm sure I got used to everything turning out to be nothing. A minor allergy to mushrooms? No problem, I didn't like them anyway. Swollen neck? Just a severely pulled muscle, take an anti-inflammatory and go to bed. Itchy eyes? Have a Claritin. So really there was no reason for me to think that the slight swelling above my chest was anything more than another strained muscle.

Nearly a month later, I still don't understand what made me say something to my doctor. I tend to shy away from doctors and the blood work that goes along with them. I was 90% through a six month check up when my physician asked me, "Is there anything else?" I told her I had some swelling from shoveling snow the week before. After a brief examination, she agreed with my assessment but offered to send me for a mammogram if I felt I needed one. For some reason, this latrophobic accepted the offer.

Fast forward through possibly the longest week of my life filled with terrifying tests and way too much waiting and I was suddenly 1 of the millions of people facing cancer head on. The first few days following my diagnosis remain a blur of meetings with specialists and lengthy, emotional conversations with family and friends. I know there was a lot of crying (not all of it on my part),a ton of sleepless nights (all on my part), and sadly a lot of uneaten dessert.

The dust settled quickly though as I was faced with the reality that I am an adult now, meaning that any decisions made about my health had to be made by me. I don't think I've ever been more overwhelmed then when that light bulb finally went off in my head. By the time I actually sat down with a professional to discuss the details of my diagnosis, I was walking crooked from the weight of all the questions I had.

Luckily, it seems that staff  seeing me through this situation have been well trained on answering questions. By the time I walked out of my first appointment, I had a much better idea of what I was dealing with. They slapped a number on my cancer, discussed some options, and assured me that this was the beginning of my story, not the end.

Next week marks a month since that fateful phone call. I'd like to say that I've come to terms with it all, but that would be a lie. I am still standing, which after the weeks I've had, is a huge accomplishment. I have a plan (of sorts) in place and I am following the doctors' orders to the best of my ability.

After weeks of selectively revealing my condition to family friend and coworkers, I have decided to take my diagnosis public. It is a lot of work pretending that everything is OK 100% of the time, especially when that's not true.  I hear that cancer takes a lot out of a person, so I figure that keeping this a secret was the one stressful thing in my life that I still have control over.

I have cancer and so far it sucks. It involves all the scary medical procedures that I have cleanly avoided for the last 10 years, comes with the possibility of horrible side effects, and requires me to be more honest than I have ever been in my life. It is an uphill battle for sure, but it is one I am willing to make.

I'm not sure exactly what my plan is for this blog. For now it is my hope to chronicle some of my experiences even if it's just to take some of the weight off of my chest (while it still exists). I am confident that this will be just a chapter in my story. A very short chapter followed by dozens of much more interesting ones.