The best gift I received when I was diagnosed was from a fellow survivor and ironically the one who wisely pointed me towards a breast center. Anticancer: A New Way Of Life by David Servan Schreiber, MD, PhD gave me hope and a feeling of control.
This is now my go-to, “welcome to the crappy cancer club” gift. I hate to give it.
The night before my lumpectomy my husband and I stayed at a hotel in Fells Point. I had drastically altered my diet to cut out sugar and increased leafy greens. That night we ate buffalo wings and bar food. We sat, shell-shocked and talked about how overwhelmed we were with the outpouring of support we had received. How that felt like a selfish space. We were grateful, but were so overwhelmed by the people coming out of the woodwork. It was uncomfortable. We are not public people and somehow the acknowledgment of cancer made it real. No one really likes to be on the receiving end of things like this because often it means something is wrong. That you are the one in crisis. That things are not normal. Don’t get me wrong, support is necessary and important and wonderful. But it can be a little humbling as well.
On January 10th, my husband drove me to Johns Hopkins for my lumpectomy. That morning, I underwent another ultrasound of my lymph nodes to make sure they didn’t see any spread, inserted the wire guide into my breast and put me under. When I awoke my father and husband were flanking me. It is over. Dr. Euhus came to visit me and explained that the procedure went very well. They removed the mass and were able to get clean margins. We went home but the process was not over.
I have a month to heal before starting weeks of radiation. My mom would be moving into our home to take care of our kids, so I could drive up each day. The most difficult part of this whole ordeal was upon us. More so than me actually having cancer was the reality of what this meant for our kids. How would they take it? This is what cuts young mothers with cancer to the quick. Will my children be okay?
That is not to say other cancer patients don’t have the same concerns. I am specifically speaking as a mother of young children; will they know me? Will they be okay? How will this impact them? Will they feel abandoned? I remember sitting with my dear friend, Lindsay, who had kids in the same preschool program that mine attended. We were diagnosed at the same time. “I’m just so sad for them,” she said. And I knew just how she felt.
Prior to proceeding with my treatment, I would need to have laser tattoos and a mold of my chest created. I had a treatment planning session three weeks after surgery where they explained that the side effects would be being tired, as well as skin and breast reaction. I asked a million questions. How old was their equipment? What other treatment methodologies are available? Why is their equipment superior to others? Again, interviewing them rather than being told what to do.
Radiation day one was on March 4, 2014. I would undergo 30 treatments of whole breast radiation including three bolus doses to the surgical site. This is all happening in Baltimore. My parents didn’t want me driving our old minivan lovingly named “Moby” who had over 100,000 miles on it. The trek, two hours each way, would be long. They insisted I drive their newer cars and I listened to books on tape while driving. Bossypants by Tina Fey was one of my very favorites. I relished listening to her in her own voice. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg helps me with perspective. David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day is brilliant and funny. Up and down the road, sometimes with a friend, always with a green smoothie. The days are long and as we march forward, I become increasingly tired until finally it is done.
April 4, 2014, I get to ring the bell! My children and mom come with me to the appointment. I receive my treatment. My children come into the room where the kind staff turns on the lasers so the kids could see what mommy is doing. In the end, we place our hands on the rope and take photos and videos. We went to Build-A-Bear with the kids to celebrate. To conclude, I am done with that leg of my journey.