Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Couldn’t fall asleep last night. Can’t shut off my mind. I started reading Living Through Breast Cancer (Carolyn M. Kaelin, M.D.); wish I'd been leafing through it from the moment I got my diagnosis (rather than waiting an entire month). But I guess I wasn’t ready. There is so much to know, to remember — and it all falls to me to figure out.

It's been five days since my meeting with the surgeon when the phone rings. It's Dr. A.'s nurse; she is absolutely thrilled to tell me that she has scheduled me for surgery on Wednesday. She starts rattling off the details when I interrupt her. 
         What? Wednesday when? 
         "THIS Wednesday." 
         You mean two-days-from-now Wednesday? As in the day after tomorrow? Like in 48 hours? WHOA. This is way too fast.
         The nurse is so not happy. "Do you know what I just went through to get you on the schedule this soon?" 
         But what about seeing my internist to get cleared for surgery? What about my blood work? My EKG? My chest X-ray? How can I get all that done in two days? 
          The pitch in my voice is crescendoing, and this catches the attention of my husband. I look up to find him standing in the doorway of my office. He can see the utter terror in my eyes. He calmly takes the cell phone away from me, tells the nurse that, in fact, this week is definitely not good for us, and we would like to reschedule for next Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday please.

Amazing. He is my hero. The nurse says she will get back to us. I hope against hope that she can change the surgery date.

I should be relieved, right? But no, I'm wigging out. I'm absolutely not mentally prepared to have surgery in two days — especially since NO ONE IN MY FAMILY KNOWS I HAVE BREAST CANCER YET!! Oy. I am amped up; I need to calm down. I go for a 90-minute hike with a dear friend I've known since grade school and tell her all the dirty details before the sun goes down.

The following morning, I decide it's finally time to 'fess up. I take my mother to get our nails done. When we return home, I sit her down at the kitchen table and over a glass of iced tea casually mention that I have a “health issue.” And then I tell her my story (just the highlights, not the scary parts), focusing on the positives (the cancer is slow growing, estrogen/progesterone positive, HER-2 negative). She is upset, of course, and tears well up, but she doesn't cry. She is strong. I only choke up when I tell her how the doctor broke the news to me — he did it over the phone.

I had put off this conversation for so long because I was afraid she wouldn't be able to handle it. But in all honesty, I was afraid I couldn't handle it. The funny thing is, my mother really would have been OK if I had waited to tell her until after I had my surgery. I had to tell her for me. I am just so relieved she finally knows the truth. Keeping this secret has been sapping my energy. And I can't afford to give any of it away.

Next up: Family History.

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