The following was written September 18th when I had my first consultation with the breast surgeon. Part 2 will describe my 2nd meeting with the surgeon on January 21st to discuss surgery options.
This morning, I woke up at 5:30am (not like me at all!) and spent a quiet morning in the dark with my mom drinking tea and doing some gentle yoga. In the midst of hamstring stretching and hip opening, I just felt the tears begin to pour out again. I welcomed them. The body just needs to do what it needs to do. She placed her hand on my back while I was in child’s pose and stroked my spine. I am so beyond happy she is here. I love her so much and feel so close to her. I love how intimate we are and that I can share this experience with her. I fell into her arms and we cried together.
I was actually really looking forward to the appointment with the breast surgeon, Dr. Ganaraj…I had my handy list of questions to ask. I was nervous yet also excited to see the doctor and learn more…get a game plan…My mom and I had a great morning walk and I got all dressed up. I decided to wear super sexy underwear to my appointment ~ if things got stressful, I could remind myself that I was wearing a secret, doctor-not-approved baby pink thong…intended to bring some comic relief to a potentially stressful situation.
While in the waiting room, I met my Health Navigator ~ I had no idea that role even existed and wow, what a brilliant idea. She handed me this phenomenal binder of information ~ everything from cancer education to treatment procedures to tips for health and wellness. I was so excited to see recommendations for writing, yoga, acupuncture, healthy diet, humor ~ this is my wheelhouse! The Health Navigator said she is here to support me through the entire process. Their team cares about my wellness as a whole and they want to hear from me anytime ~ I have everyone’s cell phone numbers and they will always return my call the same day. She looks like everyone’s favorite Grandma ~ one you could snuggle with for hours. It was a wonderful introduction and again, very impressed with conventional medicine ~ it’s not what I thought it would be. (Side note: to this day, I have never heard from my health navigator…hahahaha.)
I decided that me, my mom, and Travis should take a “cancer selfie” in the waiting room. My first cancer photo….but wait, I’ve been taking cancer photos for almost a year now and had no idea. I have to say, so far I do LOOK pretty damn good with cancer. And even more confusing (but hey – it’s good news), I FEEL really great with cancer. Aside from the whirlwind of believing stressful thoughts as if they were some kind of addictive candy…I’m kind of rocking it.
I met Dr. Ganaraj in the exam room with a big smile. She asked, “how are you doing?” My response was, “well, I’m extremely happy to see YOU!” She was surprised by my reaction and said that usually she is the last person patients want to see. She then did a manual breast exam and I pretended to ignore the extremely worried look on her face. She took measurements of the large lump in my breast and a 2nd lump that I also noticed the night before for the first time (and nearly had a panic attack). Then she measured the mass in my axilla.
I got dressed and we all met in her office. Going into this meeting, I assumed the treatment plan would be pretty simple: we would talk about surgery and then maybe a little chemo…I’d be cancer-free by the end of the year, no biggie. Apparently, I was very naive.
She said that the cancer is extremely aggressive, which is common in younger bodies.
Gulp. Think of the sexy underwear….think of the sexy underwear….NOT working.
She went on to say that there’s a large tumor in my breast and it has spread to my lymphatic system, which means it is definitely traveling throughout my body. The good news is that she doesn’t expect it has taken root anywhere else yet. She pulled up a screen to illustrate how the cancer cells form in the breast and then multiply & divide ~ it was one big blur to me. Aggressive? Really? She said that the masses are too big for surgery now ~ if she did surgery it would be mutilating to my body and could result in possible nerve damage. A series of diagnostic tests will be ordered for October 1st (the day insurance starts) to confirm if the cancer has spread anywhere else. She then recommended doing 5-6 months of chemo first with the goal of shrinking the tumors and mopping up the remaining cancer cells in my body. Surgery would come next and hopefully, the shrinkage could make me a candidate for a simple lumpectomy. Then radiation. Then 5 years of hormone therapy.
Shit. That was wayyyyy more than I was expecting.
It’s a very ODD sensation…to hear someone tell you things about your body and not be able to feel it AT ALL. Then again, would I want to feel this? Maybe reality is kind in this way. It makes it so surreal though. Is she really talking about MY body? I have cancer AND it’s this serious, really? She said the survival rate is pretty good with this type of cancer…Wait a minute…SURVIVAL rate? Is there really a chance of me dying? Could this really be how my story ends? Dying of cancer in my 30’s? My mind already started to picture Travis with his second wife since the first love of his life died of cancer. This thought is unbearable. She’s gorgeous, by the way ~ very exotic looking with long dark hair and deep green eyes…she’s a wonderful mother…and he’s happy with her. I become just a memory.
Yet, here I am. Alive. Healthy. Still married.
I told the doctor how confusing it was to hear this information, because I feel so healthy. It was a very “out of body” experience hearing her describe what’s supposedly going on in there. And geez, I’ve built a career out of being “in tune” with my body. I guess I’m not as intuitive as I thought. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “You feel healthy because you are healthy.” Ok, I think I like her.
I then asked in a shaky voice, “will I lose my hair?”
“Yes. Within the first few weeks of chemo.”
I literally felt a dagger in my heart. My hair. My boobs. My two favorite parts of my body. I was known for these things!!! Don’t you know the girl with the mermaid hair, double D boobs, and a size 2 yogini bod? That’s ME damnit and this “me” is being threatened on all levels. In high school I had the nickname of “PT” which stood for “Perfect Tits” ~ some guys at another school created a jingle for them…”Beth’s breasts are the best…”
The surgeon said she would set up an appointment with the oncologist right away and schedule the tests. As we said our goodbye’s, I started to feel my body tremble. I was barely holding it together. As we walked out of the office door, I completely fell apart. It was like my legs stopped working. Travis held me up as we walked through the lobby and then parking lot. My mom grabbed the keys and told us to sit in the back together. I collapsed into the car and began whaling.
There was no stopping the mind from going all over the place. Fear of death, pain, suffering consumed me. Anger, confusion, terror, shame, panic. This was a necessary vomiting of the mind and although it was one of the hardest moments, I still felt supported in the car, being held by Travis, mom driving.
I have been able to revisit this moment and identify numerous thoughts:
The cancer is spreading.
I will die young.
I won’t know what to do.
This shouldn’t be happening to me.
Chemo is poisonous to my body. Evolved people don’t choose chemo.
I created my cancer.
My body betrayed me.
Chemo will make me look sick and ugly.
I will be in unbearable pain.
I’m not intuitive/evolved. Evolved people don’t get cancer.
I’m a failure.
I should have gone to the doctor sooner.
I can’t handle this.
Cancer will prevent me from living a full life.
Cancer will ruin us financially.
And this is why I love The Work of Byron Katie. I am able to go back into a stressful experience, identify thoughts, and one-by-one, question them. As I meet each thought with understanding, I gather more and more proof that suffering only exists in my mind. It’s what I’m imagining might happen that creates my stress. It’s what I’m believing about cancer, about chemo, about my body that sends me down the rabbit hole. And what I’m believing isn’t real in the moment. I was in the car, being held, and driven home. Reality is always kinder than the movies playing in my head.
In the upcoming blogs, I will begin to share the full inquiries that have impacted me the most ~ you may be able to relate to them in your own life even without an illness, and it will give you an insight into the mind of a cancer patient.
So even though September 18th was one of the hardest days I have ever experienced, it was also a doorway into living a more fearless, present life. Thank you, Cancer.