Written: Friday, April 14, 2017
Yesterday my world changed, and I’m still very much in shock.
I felt a lump in my left breast approximately 2 weeks ago. I asked my husband, who happens to be a physician, if it was something I should be concerned about. He said it wouldn’t hurt to make an appointment with my OB/Gyn to get it checked out, so I did. To back up a little, I had also detected a lump in my right breast last June (2016), which turned out to be a fluid filled cyst. So naturally I was hesitant about calling my doctor again, for fear I was being a hypochondriac. To back up just a little bit more, I lost my best childhood friend, Jennifer, to breast cancer just 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS AGO. I literally was by her side for almost 2 years for her doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, radiation, brain surgery and finally in her death.
(Me & Jen).
So…part of me thought I was suffering from trauma, and that my brain was making things up. Was I going crazy? Even if I was, I decided it was better to be crazy than dumb. So I made an appointment for Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
That Tuesday morning, I did a self exam to make sure I really wasn’t losing it and I COULD NOT FIND THE LUMP. My brain confirmed that yes, I truly had made up the entire thing and must be mentally unstable. I called my husband and told him, but he insisted I still go to my appointment. Begrudgingly, I set out to the doctor’s office for my 10am appointment. I quickly explained to my doctor my current psychosis and felt so stupid for even sitting on that table in my flimsy gown. But after he performed his exam, he found the lump. And then it got real. I didn’t know whether to be happy that I actually wasn’t crazy or devastated that there was actually a lump. He set me up for a mammogram and a sonogram, and the first available appointment was the following Tuesday, April 11th.
Now April 11th might not be a special day for you, but it would have been my friend, Jennifer’s, 7th wedding anniversary to her husband Scott. So it was the first anniversary he’s had without her. And it was emotional. Just like Thanksgiving, Christmas and her birthday had been. When someone you love passes away, there are days that are harder than others. And days where you wake up thinking of how you should be celebrating instead of grieving. But here it was the 11th, and Jen was on my mind for so many reasons.
Because I thought this mammogram and sonogram would turn out the way it had in June, I simply went to my appointment by myself. I didn’t even tell some of my closest friends I was doing this because I FELT SO SILLY to be there again. After the sonogram, the sonographer left the room and the radiologist came in the room. I immediately knew this wasn’t normal. I’d been to enough appointments with Jennifer to detect when the tide was about to turn. The radiologist announced that they had found a small mass in my left breast. And apparently when a mass is found, they have to do a biopsy. Tears welled up in my eyes and my body started to shake just a little. I felt so vulnerable in that moment. I explained why I was so teary and the doctor reassured me that he was not at all worried about this. Apparently cancer lesions normally present as long and skinny and mine was short and fat. (Yes, I could insert a funny joke about the extra pounds I carried in my childhood and being 5’2 here, but I’ll save that for a later date). I felt a little better after the sonographer reiterated that the doctor would have told me if he was really worried because she’s heard him say it several times. And then she said let’s get you in for the biopsy as soon as possible to give you peace of mind. Thank you. The next available appointment was the following morning, April 12th, at 10am. This was all moving very fast. But Trevor was very reassuring that everything would be okay and it would be a simple procedure.
My sister, Ashley, picked me up on Wednesday morning at 9:15 and took me to my appointment. Ashley is hands down the best person in the world to have by your side when you are emotional. She is all business and takes charge like a boss. Her no nonsense approach was very comforting that morning and was exactly what I needed. We signed in and they called me back in no time. The same nurse and radiologist from the day before were there and they explained how the procedure would work. I chose to close my eyes and pretend a large needle wasn’t about to be inserted into my vulnerable parts. Did it hurt? Yes. Was it fast? Yes. Once that was over, Ashley took me home and I went about my day. I didn’t have too much time to think or worry about the results because I had previously scheduled a hair appointment for 12:15 that day. And there’s nothing that takes your mind off of needle biopsies more than a People magazine and fresh roots.
The next day was Thursday and I met the ladies in my church small group for breakfast. We caught up for awhile at a precious little restaurant called the Hospitality Sweet. After that, I went shopping for Easter presents for the boys then ran a few more errands before picking them up from school. It was an early release day for my youngest son, Hayes, so my Thursday was cut a little short. All of my kids were home by about 3:30 and they were relaxing because their holiday weekend had just begun.
And that was the proverbial calm before the storm.
It was a few minutes after everyone got settled that I got a phone call from my Ob/Gyn, Dr. Fogwell. I’ll never forget the words he said to me. He led with, “Where are you?”. Um, I quickly figured out he wasn’t calling to tell me Happy Easter. Dr. Fogwell proceeded to tell me that the pathology report had come back and it was determined that I had Invasive Ductile Carcinoma. The first two words made me pause, but the last one made me stop dead in my tracks. I had walked out onto my side patio and sat down once I heard the news. I immediately felt like I couldn’t breathe and then I started shaking uncontrollably. He proceeded to let me know next steps, but I don’t remember a word after realizing I had breast cancer. Sensing my terror, Dr. Fogwell offered to call Trevor and tell him the news. I went back into my house and headed straight for my bathroom where I proceeded to fall apart and cry hysterically. I didn’t want my kids to hear me, so my cry was the weirdest symphony of muffled groans, dry heaving and shrieks. That, plus I was trying to catch my breath because I literally thought I was going to pass out. Trevor called me after he got the news and told me to sit down for fear I was going to faint. He was already en route home when Dr. Fogwell called him, so it wasn’t long before got home and joined me on the floor in the bathroom. (In hindsight, there are SO many other cleaner, prettier, and more comfortable places in my house to contemplate cancer, but in that moment I literally froze and landed on the nearest runway.)
I knew right then that everything had forever changed. But for a brief period of time, Trevor and I were the only ones with this information and that felt sacred. I wanted to hold onto it for a long time. There’s something about telling people that makes it real and I wasn’t ready for it to be real for a little while longer. Once I felt ready to share, I called Ashley because she lives close by and she came right over. We talked it out a little and then she offered to go over to my parents house to be with them when I called to tell them the news. It became tricky at that point because my kids were going in different directions that night and we had to figure out how to tell them the news as well. I didn’t want to have my parents over because I knew my kids would figure out something was funny and I truly wanted the boys’ evening to be as normal as possible until I had the right words to say. I also didn’t know at what point all 3 kids’ schedules would intersect and we’d have that serendipitous moment together as a family (if you have teenagers, you know this is a precious and rare thing). Ashley hunted down my parents and I called and let them know the results. How do you tell your own parents that their youngest daughter has cancer? They were very sweet and supportive and of course had several questions. I wish I was there to hug them or them to hug me, but at that point my number one priority was my own kids. Ashley stayed with my parents and they were able to process together, which was huge for me. Next I called my oldest sister, Jennifer, to let her know. It was so hard to even get the words out, especially when met with tears on the other end of the phone. Jen offered to come over as well, but I let her know that Trevor and I were trying to secure our house for when the boys all arrived back home from their activities. She totally understood and we sat in disbelief on the phone.
(Me, Ashley, Mom, Dad & Jennifer)
After that, I called my best friend, Kim, who lives in Boston. She walked me through some of the toughest days with Jen and is heartbroken to not be in the same town to do the same with me. But I am confident we will do the best we can via FaceTime and lots of visits.
I also called my dear friend, Casey, who had just texted me, ‘Any News?’. Yes, there was news. Unfortunate news. Lastly, my friend Amy had checked in on me as it was getting late and I was running out of steam. And every time I repeated the story, it didn’t seem right. There is NO WAY I have cancer.
My boys ended up all finally being home and together around 9pm on Thursday night. We sat around the table and Trevor delivered the news. I was so sad for them, because I knew their only experience with breast cancer was watching Jennifer, who was like an aunt to them, go through lengthy treatments and an eventual death. Would they automatically jump to conclusions that I was going to die? WAS I going to die? I didn’t really know what to say, and I felt like I couldn’t promise them anything. Boys being boys, it was a very short, matter of fact exchange and they all hugged me afterwards. Each boy had their own way of dealing and it was evident from the start how it was going to be. That still didn’t take away the fact that I felt like I had just robbed them from an innocence they had known just minutes prior to our family meeting.
The biggest blessings of my life (my husband, Trevor, and our three boys Hudson, Hunter & Hayes)
Fast forward to this morning, which happens to be Good Friday. I woke up hoping the day before was just a nightmare. But I quickly realized it was just as real as the sunrise. Trevor, being the man of action that he is, quickly started making calls and lining me up for tests and scans. He was able to get me in for a chest and abdomen CT scan at 1:30pm and Dr. Fogwell got me scheduled for a breast MRI at 6:45pm. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a Good Friday to me. While Trevor was making those calls, I spent the morning calling a lot of my friends and delivering the news. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for their responses. There is something so very unnatural about making each one of your friends cry. How could I feel so horrible and so loved all at the same time? As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t told most of them I was even going to the doctor. So you can imagine the shock of the news. With each passing call and each passing tear, I sunk back into the reality of my present situation. Finally, I got so emotional that I had to just start texting so I didn’t have to hear their sadness. I remember what it was like being on the other end of that phone call, and I hated to put the people I love the most in that position. There is one thing about my friends, though. They love so well. And I knew with 100% confidence when they said they would pray for me, that those were not just empty words. They would ACTUALLY PRAY for me. God has given me a tremendous support team, and I feel blessed beyond measure to be surrounded by such amazing people.
As for the scans, I have never felt as small as I did when I got dressed into medical scrubs and laid on a cold hard table in the middle of a HUGE room with a gigantic CT scanner above me. It was bizarre. That, plus filling out what seemed like my weight in paperwork, made Trevor comment, ‘It’s starting to feel like you are actually a patient now.’ Um, yes. Yes it does.
In less than 36 hours, my life has turned upside down. I told Jennifer’s mom, Jane, that my cancer diagnosis was a heartbreaking twist in our already sad story. But the good news, the WONDERFUL NEWS, is that I know the author of this story. And I know that He is good, He doesn’t make mistakes, and that He loves me. The Lord has literally allowed me to walk this path already, albeit in different shoes. The familiarity I have with cancer, hospitals, oncologists, etc. has taken some of the fear and anxiety out of this process. Also, for the past few years, I have had a front row seat to watching God do some of the most amazing things. I’ve witnessed miracles. I’m up on all of His promises. I’ve seen His hand in the tiniest of details. And I feel so privileged to be the one to continue the story that Jen began a few years ago. I pray that you can follow along with me in anticipation of what He will do next on this journey.
Much love and welcome aboard,
Jamie (aka B)
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
PS: A huge thank you to my incredibly talented friend, Melanie (aka Big Mama), for setting up this blog for me. It’s nice to have friends in high internet places.