“The results of your biopsy are back. Unfortunately, it is invasive ductal carcinoma.”
I immediately felt hugely detached from myself, as though I was watching the person holding her cell phone, reaching for a chair to steady herself. It was like watching that pivotal scene in the movie where the audience gasps and you know everything in the story line has just taken a huge twist. You’re not quite yet asking ‘Where is this going to go?’ (though that question is about to come for you hard and fast), as you’re still trying to comprehend, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ It doesn’t take long for both questions to hit you hard like a one-two punch, both equally and massively disorienting, and there’s no concrete thing to hold onto except,
“Oh… ok… I’m sorry, you said my next step is to talk to the surgeon? This coming Thursday afternoon? Ok….ok, yes I’ll be there. Ok.”
The lump I had noticed about a year ago in my right breast started off as a very small marble, soft and mobile. No other symptoms. I wrote it off as a cyst. My routine mammogram in May ’22 didn’t catch anything so I shrugged and went on with my life. But by December, the lump had grown and had become visible. Even still, it remained relatively small and I wondered if I was just suddenly over-obsessing with something that was nothing. I mentioned it somewhat reluctantly to a physician friend who encouraged me to ask my primary care physician for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, just to be on the safe side.
Those exams in early January of this year confirmed the presence of a tumor, but everyone continued to express cautious optimism that it was likely just a benign fibroadenoma (a harmless lump of tissue fibers) because I was still under 50, and it seemed to have a clear margin on the ultrasound, as opposed to irregular lines that might suggest something more aggressive. They performed a core needle biopsy, and while I remained hopeful, I knew I wouldn’t breathe a complete sigh of relief until I got the call confirming the biopsy results showed it was, of course, benign.
That call never came.
Just two minutes after I confirmed the Thursday appointment with the surgeon, the hospital called me back.
“We’re so sorry, just as you were arranging that Thursday appointment, that surgeon was getting booked to do a surgery case for that exact same time. Can you come Friday morning instead to meet with Dr. L?”
My heart sank at the idea of waiting even a half day more. Once you’re told, “You have cancer but we don’t know exactly how bad it is,” you’re thrust into a world of indescribable anxiety as you imagine these rogue cells capitalizing on every second you delay, greedily scheming to take your body to the point of no return and rob you of all the mundane and significant moments you looked forward to with loved ones.
As it turned out, this bump to a different surgeon was a blessing in disguise. Dr. L was the Chief Surgeon, which meant he was not only an expert, but he also had a much more open surgery schedule than any of the other surgeons. We met with him on a Friday, agreed on a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and terminal lymph node dissection to check for spread, and he had a surgery opening for the following Monday. What should’ve been a standard two-week wait to get a surgery spot ended up being just a weekend wait. This was the sheer mercy of God, sparing me two weeks of tortuous speculation about what might be happening in my body and what that meant for my future and my family.
I am beyond relieved to be able to say that the tissue margins surrounding the removed tumor showed no signs of cancer in them. There was no cancer found in the lymph nodes. It appears that Dr. L and his team were able to successfully get all the cancer out. This was mercy. I was not entitled to it, and I recognize I was just one of the really, really fortunate ones to get a good prognosis. Next steps involve meeting with my oncologist to discuss what I anticipate will be the recommendation for radiation and likely hormone therapy to help reduce chances of future recurrence.
This is the short version of my whirlwind story to start off this new year. It’s still ongoing, but I truly believe the worst part of it is already behind me. I’m still unpacking how this experience has impacted me, and surely will be doing so for some time.
While this is clearly a very personal experience, those who have been following my work for awhile know how important it is to me to have honest and real and courageous conversations about these very weird and intensely hard things in our lives. Because this isn’t just my experience, is it? It’s my patients’ experience, and that of their families. It’s the experience of too many friends I’ve talked to who have also walked down this cancer road. As I recover from surgery and try to keep life as normal as possible for my children, I walk onto their school campus to pick them up and I know most other parents have no idea what I or my family have been going through for the past few weeks. We walk around carrying these profound stories and questions and needs and aches, and we have to learn how to walk with them in this world.
It’s not to say I’ll divulge everything to everyone. But I want to be a part of the healing and freedom that comes to all of us when we don’t feel we have to hide all our fears and aches and needs as much as we think we do. So I’ll share what I find appropriate and manageable, and the rest, well, that belongs to me and God and my very closest ones.
Mercy and grace to you and to your loved ones today. Love each other well.
3 thoughts on “The Call that Shifted Me from Nurse to Patient”
Sending hope & grace for your journey.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much!
Sorry about your scary run-in with cancer! It is always interesting to see our workplace from a patient’s perspective, but I wish it weren’t so anxiety-provoking sometimes.