I want to start this out by saying - no one ever expects bad things to happen to them. No one. No one "expects" to get cancer. I remember being in such shock. I had just finished having a moving sale. I came into the house to clean up and take a shower - and there, right where you would place your hand to say the "Pledge of Allegiance" was a lump. It was about the size of a quarter. I remember looking down at it thinking, "What is THAT?" Honestly, I didn't think much of it at the time. Not once did it occur to me that it would be cancer. It didn't even cross my mind. It wouldn't have, because there had been no history of it in my family. I honestly didn't know anything about breast cancer, other than the pink ribbons I would see time to time on the back of someone's car or hanging in the store near the register to buy. I didn't know a thing about it...
However, I DO come from a medical family and I knew that whatever it was, I needed to get it checked out. I called my mother and she encouraged me to make an appointment with my primary care physician, which I did the next day.
I had had my annual GYN exam a month ago, my pap smear and everything that a woman should have yearly to take care of themselves. Now the one thing I hadn't had was a mammogram. I had been told, now that I was in my forties that I needed to go have one done and I had been given the name of a place that did them and somewhere in the back of my head on my invisible "To-Do list" was listed - "have a mammogram." So I was very surprised when my doctor felt under my left arm pit and looked at me concerned and said, "I want you to go have an ultrasound and I want you to have it now."
I walked across the hall, for the first time scared to get an ultrasound. The rest of that day seems like a bad dream. What I had thought was nothing but PMS turned out to be a malignant tumor. Disbelief, shock, fear, worry - a million things go through your mind. You feel like you are dreaming and you just want to wake up. I can remember thinking, "This can't be happening to me?!" There I was, by myself too shocked to even cry.
The worst part was having to wait until the results came back. They had to do a biopsy. I had to wait three days to get the results. Talk about a living hell. The waiting was awful... I don't even remember how I got through those days... My life felt surreal. I remember going to work, getting off of work and then taking myself out to a restaurant and having a Pearl Harbor. Being a Christian, one who hadn't had a drink since she was 21 - it felt real strange having a drink I hadn't had since my college days. I remember turning to the waitress and shocking her by saying, "I haven't had a drink since college - but I am sitting here waiting on the results of a biopsy that will tell me whether or not I have breast cancer. Don't you think I deserve this?" I truly believe I shocked her. In fact I know it. I mean, what do you say to someone who tells you something? Honestly, if I had been her - I would have looked at me with compassion and said, "that drink is on the house..."
It turned out I had caught it early, but I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer - called Triple Negative. Now, I am in no where near an expect on this - but Triple Negative breast cancer can only be treated with chemotherapy and radiation. When it comes to talking about it I am only a "little billy goat gruff" compared to my pink sisters, who have braved so much more than I. Wait - you haven't heard the story? The one about the Three Billy Goat Gruffs? I will post that instead of a song - so you will understand what I mean... It also turned out that I had what I refer to as "one bad node." Which meant I would have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. My world was turned upside down - if you read my other posts, you'll be able to see just how much... I went from knowing nothing about breast cancer to having a crash course - one that I would have to complete quickly in order to understand what was going to happen next.
The strangest thing happens when you become a breast cancer patient. All of a sudden when you see an oncologist - the choices are up to YOU. They say things to you like, "What would you like to have? A lumpectomy or a mastectomy" as if you were in a store and you were picking out an item. Honestly, I think that floored me more than any words can say.... Here I was coming to see them and they were giving ME choices. I felt like - what do I know? How can I possibly make a decision like that when I know NOTHING except what I've just learned right now??? I didn't know there were several types of breast cancer. I didn't know anything about it all... Something about the "C" word and all you hear is - "Blah blah blah - cancer. Blah blah blah Chemotherapy..." I think one of the smartest things I did was have my mother go with me. You see, I had to relocate back to my childhood home in Massachusetts from Upstate New York. My mother being a medical professional knew (as did I) that the best place for me to go for treatment, was in Boston where I was from. Some of the most world-wide reknown hospitals in Boston. I've worked at a few myself. I knew... In fact there had been at time years ago when I had actually worked at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute - how ironic it would be that I was going back as patient. I was to go through several rounds of what is referred to as "The Red Devil" - chemotherapy which consists of Adriaymycin and Cytoxan. I would write more about it - but just the thought of that chemo makes me nauseous and sick to my stomach. So I hope you don't mind if I continue on from there... The color is red. The smell - never leaves you. It is in my head forever. It feels like a bleach coursing through your veins. It is all you can do to remember that this poison is to kill out any lingering cancer cells that may have gone from your nodes into your body. I had to keep reminding myself of that through every treatment of it. And as Forrest Gump would say, "That is all I've got to say about that..."
The next course of action for me - was a second chemotherapy called Tamoxifen. It was a "walk in the park" compared to the Adriamycin/Cytoxan mix I had. It made some of my fingernails and toenails fall off. But compared to losing my life - that was a minor thing.
I cannot tell you how humbling it is - to lose your long curly hair, to lose hair all over your body - from your eyelashes, eyebrows to your nose hair, to the hair all over. (Did you know that nose hair keeps your nose from running?) I probably learned more than I ever wanted to know about my body. But you go through a plan of action with your Oncologist, and you do what you have to do - why? Because you have NO choice. I hear people telling me "how strong" I am all the time... But honestly, its not a matter of "strength" its a matter of doing what you have to do to get through it. God gave me enough strength each day to get through the most difficult time in my life. Even as my marriage was crumbling, even as I didn't have any answers or anyone around me except my kids, my mom and my brother and my bff from long distance. It was at this time that I met through Facebook - the most amazing group of women I will ever have the honor of meeting. I call them my "Pink sisters." Other women who were going through what I was going through. They could understand. They could share their experiences with me, answer questions. Although we were not face-to-face we became a close knit group of women. All of us trying to make sense of this horrible disease.
Although I started this blog out with my own experience - its not the reason I've written this blog tonight. I heard some unbelievable news from a dear sweet sister - one of my Pink sisters, who's mother is in need of a chemotherapy called, "Doxil." This is what my sweet sister Kim, championing for her mother - wrote:
Dear Johnson & Johnson: I have arbitrarily decided that my Mother's life is worth exactly $1 Billion Dollars to me. She is on the "list" for your product Doxil, her only hope to continue living, and it is has been unavailable due to your "shortage" for three months. Your people within your great Personhood tell us that a small amount of Doxil will be released to the people on Schindler's List in 5 weeks. That is the story we have heard repeated for 12 weeks. Please, bump my Mother up on the list and get her her billion-dollar-life-saving
It is unimaginable to me - that a company would withhold a life-saving drug from a cancer patient - or anyone facing a life threatening illness regardless of the disease. Yet from what I am hearing, that is exactly what is being done. It is morally wrong. When we put money above people's lives - helping another human being. Providing what could possibly be the only medicine that could save a person's life - that's what I consider blood money. The thing that is so head-shaking to me is that cancer is random. No one is exempt from the possibility of getting it. No matter how "healthy" you eat. No matter what your weight. The rich get it, the middle class, the poor. It doesn't matter your race, your religion - any thing. All of us have been affected by this horrible disease in one way or another. If we don't take a stand for getting chemotherapy and any life saving medicines out to those who need it? WHO WILL?
So I ask you for you to pray for Kim's mom. I don't know her name specifically - but that is okay, because God knows who she is... I cannot tell you how devastating getting cancer is - and not allowing yourself to get stressed out while going through ANY treatment. But being told that they can't GET that treatment for you? Its just wrong....And it is up to US to do something about it. It could be your daughter, your son, your husband, your mom - YOU. I pray that God convicts those who are in the business of making chemotherapy and holding it back because THEY want more money. Health Insurance cost so much as it is. Have we really become such a nation of greed? At the cost of people's lives? God have mercy...