Seriously. Getting a cancer diagnosis is annoying as shit. And scary as fuck. (Sorry, mom…there just is not other way to say this. LOL) I realized that Dr Burns was going to tell me that I had cancer when my appointment was pushed further and further and further back. I had a feeling that he was going to tell me I had cancer – in the elevator going up to the appointment, I looked at my mom and now ex-husband and told them that there would be no crying today when they told me the news. I had gone through all the testing – mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy that he tried to wipe the entire tumor away with – I just knew what was coming from the first time he felt it too. And three weeks later, I was scared and annoyed and honestly did not have time for this.
I feel it was potentially most unfair to my mom if I am being truthful. My dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma multiform – an inoperable brain tumor – in April of 2011 and given 6-9 months to live. I was pregnant with Charly at the time and he was determined to see that little namesake and live long enough for her to remember her grandpa. He would ask me often when I was pregnant how much I remembered from my grandmother who died from complications from colon cancer when I was 3. I knew he was determined to live long enough for her to remember him like I remembered her. Sure enough he did, too! For 41 months he held on and fought, but it was quite the battle (a story for another post). The issue here is that I can’t imagine how ridiculously torn and distraught my mom was at this time. I was in Morgantown. He was in Beckley. We both had cancer. Fuck. This is a situation I hope and pray I am never faced with.
I knew when leaving from that appointment on May 6, 2014 that my life was about to change. I felt pretty good at the time and I knew from watching my dad that I was about to be made to feel something really close to awful in the name of survival. I promise to tell you all about that too, but this post is truly about joining a club – one that is awful and shitty and ridiculous, but wonderful and comforting at the exact same time. Breast cancer patients and survivors are some of the most awesome people I have ever met!
When going through all the testing, I told Jennie. My friend who had TWO bouts of breast cancer by 35 years old. The look on her face when I told her…I will never for get it. In the parking garage in the Wharf after a Castle First Thursday dinner. I knew she would be there for me, but I never knew she would become such an important part of my life. One of my best friends – my cancer confidant who I could look at and know that there is indeed life after this bullshit. The person I could be real with and not put on a front. The person who understood how fucking horrifying all the unknowns that were about to be laid out for me were. I could not have dealt with this diagnosis without her, I know that to be true. She grounded me and helped me not feel crazy even when it was to simply tell me I was not alone in a feeling I was having. I could text her and get reassurance. There is something about having a person to talk to who knows how you feel that is beyond comforting.
I say it is like joining a club you sure as hell wished you hadn’t, but it turns out ok because you all of a sudden meet a million people who are survivors that are amazing women or their mom/sister/grandma was affected by breast cancer. A huge portion of these people live to see another day, some aren’t so lucky. It gives you a connection to people you can’t imagine and although it is beyond crappy to be a member of this club on one hand, it is one of the biggest blessings I have ever been dealt on the other.
Of course there was Jennie – my still to this day, I can’t believe this was our lot in life, BFF I cherish. But there were others too. My friend Mary Rose told me about her friend Felice and I will never forget about the 1.5 hour conversation I had with her from NY. She had been a single parent with a young son when dealing with her cancer. She was living her life to the fullest though and had just recently gotten new nipples – although the “clean up” from this dreaded disease seems to linger, that is an exciting step in reconstruction and getting on with your life. Kim came over from her office across the street and spent a little over an hour with me talking about how awful this was going to be but how there is in fact an amazing life waiting for me after it. She is who told me about the Red Devil Chemo she had to endure and I was so thankful my first chemo day that I did not have a red drug on my list! When I had my first echocardiogram to make sure that my heart was strong enough to handle all of these drugs they were about to give me, the tech ended up being a survivor and she told me at the end to suck it up and do the fun things even if I didn’t feel like it – that that would be the point I knew I won and the next day would be better and the next even better than that – to never lose sight of what my future would be. Ruthie – the wonder patient who had cancer that came back 13 years later that she had to beat again and was fighting yet again 17 years after that as it had resurfaced yet again – 31 years she told me she had lived with the knowledge that this could come back and it had twice – in her spine and lungs. But she was smiling and fighting again, we were on the same chemo schedule for a while. And Candy – who told me she had had cancer, cancer never had her! This statement was so powerful to me that it became my motto to fight too!
Not everyone in the club is a breast cancer patient of course. You also connect with any other cancer patient. I remember talking to my dad about his chemo journey when it was starting. About never knowing what true fatigue was until his treatment and although I really couldn’t communicate it with him when I was doing it too, he was so right! And Roy – who lost his battle to colon cancer, but had one hell of a fight in him! He told me a story of equating dealing with cancer to feeling like a mallard duck. He told me he looked peaceful on the top of the water as he strode around all over town and appeared to have it all together, but he was flailing like hell under the water to keep a float – and man, wasn’t that the truth?!?!
So now years past my diagnosis and journey I still have a love for these women and men who were my club whether they knew it or not. Who gave me the strength to fight on and the faith to know better days were in fact coming my way. They helped to teach me that each and every day I get to wake up, I am blessed. I have to find the good in that day and say thank you for getting another go at it – at life!
I have felt totally compelled to also pay that part of my journey forward. Since becoming cancer free, I have spoken with a lot of women about their journey and their current path. Most are current patients when we talk. I give them as much time as they need – they all have my phone number and email address. They can call me or text me any time they are in need. We cry together – laugh together – get mad together. I just hope that me being a slight version of their Jennie helps them along their path the way she helped me…because honestly, every cancer patient needs a Jennie.