Christmas, 2021. At the age of 41, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time (pause for hysterical laughter–she’s kidding right?)
Two weeks ago, I saw my oncologist for a regular appointment. She did an exam, as she always does. She found a lump on my cancerous side. I had an ultrasound the next day. The radiologist placed the wand on my breast and declared ‘there is a mass’. I burst into tears. My only consolation was the Nursing Assistant, Mona, who held my hand tight for the rest of the appointment as I gasped for air and wept.
I couldn’t get a biopsy for a week. I called in some favors and got the wait reduced by 1 day, which felt like a huge win. The biopsy took place 1 week after the initial, regular old visit with the oncologist.
This brings us to Weds. Dec. 22nd. I was told I would be called with results on the 23rd, but I knew they would come early. Remember, I have done this before.
Around 4:30pm, the phone rang. I was shocked that it was not my breast surgeon, but a clinical-sounding nurse I have never met. She confirmed my name and date of birth then said “the lump on your breast is Invasive Mammary Carcinoma.” She started to explain what mammaries were, that they are where milk comes from when you breastfeed. I interrupted and asked if she had looked at my chart. I said, ‘I have already had breast cancer and a mastectomy. I don’t have any mammaries.’
I asked if my surgeon had seen the results because, if she had known, she most certainly would have called me herself to pass this life-changing info along. ‘Nurse X’ was quite sure my doctor had not seen them yet. I asked her to please have my surgeon call me asap.
I didn’t cry. I just kept folding the laundry. Ever since the ultrasound a mere 6 days before, I knew I had cancer again. I felt manic, but controlled. I was sweating and my heart was racing, but I was still calm.
I started calling people as I kept folding laundry. No one was answering. The second time around apparently isn’t as exciting as the first go-round. Yes, everyone I told was upset, but it was more like reassuring 2-sentence texts instead of cries over the phone with the open, begging question ‘WHY?’ This time was more like, ‘well fuck, here you go again.’
I guess I did such a good job of cancer last time that I have officially gone pro. I am Grancer: synonymous with being the local cancer queen. I suppose I paved my own yellow brick road. I just didn’t intend for it to take a fucking u-turn back to the start 5.5 years later. Did you all really miss me SO MUCH that karma had to bring me back around to Cancertown to educate and entertain you? I told my surgeon that perhaps the breast cancer community just needed me again. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it (human magnetism and unkillable cancer cells).
Finding out you have cancer, again, at Christmas time is unfortunate timing in every way. My kids, ages 13, 11 & 8, were psyched for the holiday. I couldn’t take this away from them. Because, unlike friends, they will take this tragically hard. my oldest was 7 when I was initially diagnosed. He got it, but not really. Now they will all get it. They will be terrified to their very cores.
For the past few days, as I have had to lie to them about ducking out to appointments and not being able to lift the laundry basket because my ‘back hurt,’ they thought I was out buying them presents, making merry. I have really been crying into strangers’ arms and having deep holes bored into my body that violently pull tissue out to be studied under a microscope.
When I was diagnosed at 35 with no known genetic markers and a healthy lifestyle I thought, well shit, I got really fucking unlucky. I did everything to ensure the disease’s eradication. Radical surgery, chemotherapy, intense exercise for 5 years, religiously took Tamoxifen, a drug who’s only job is to make sure recurrence doesn’t happen and which I have hated every day. My oncotype, a blood marker that rates your risk of recurrence, was low. I was one and done with this disease.
The day I found out that cancer was back was a day of pure wonder. How, how did any breast cancer cells live through chemo? Survive on the tiniest trace of breast tissue that remained after mastectomy in order to keep the skin on my breast from dying? How did the disease evade Tamoxifen? A drug that made me miserable every day for the past five years. It did nothing to stop the cancer.
I can tell you with certainty that I have never committed to anything the way cancer has committed to my breast tissue. It fucking LOVES it here.
It is still too early to stage this cancer. I need more biopsy results, more scans, more-work ups. My mind is reeling with the thoughts of plans that will be ruined because of this. With the doubt and fear it will sow into my children’s psyches. With the savagery with which it will maim my body again.
I am not sad, or mad or regretful or wistful. I am numb and somewhat in awe of the tenacity of my devoted, dopey cancer. I have even found myself laughing a hearty, WTF laugh. We really doing this again, Universe?
As I sit here and type, I know that I have cancer in my body. A cancer I worked my ass off to eradicate. This is what everyone who has had cancer fears the most, recurrence. And today, here we are.