Last night, I was cooking with garlic and the smell took me back to my second year of university (you know how a scent can take you away to a memory and it's like you're living in that moment for just a few seconds?). It was a great year full of parties, drinking, balancing a job with school, self awareness and 2 breasts. I swear, I was in that moment for 3 seconds last night and it felt amazing. Unfortunately when I came back to reality, I came back to cancer.
Friday would have been a chemo day but like I said on my facebook 'I don't do that anymore, I quit cold turkey.' I've spent this past week looking back at the past 6 months, what I've accomplished, how I approached things, etc. I wanted to write a little bit about the beginning of my diagnosis. I was diagnosed in March and started writing in June so I wanted to go back to the start of my journey.
I remember the day of diagnosis; I haven't really talked about it because it seemed like the one thing I couldn't talk about. I kind of felt embarrassed, because it was like I thought I had some control over what the doctor was going to say and 'cancer' was not supposed to be part of her script. Keith and I were supposed to go on the Monday to hear my results from my surgeon but that appointment was cancelled so I had to reschedule with my family doctor for the previous Friday. Keith had to work that day so I called my mom and asked if she could come with me. My mom lives four hours away but the 'what-if' inside me felt like it was necessary to ask her to make the drive. She came up the Thursday night and planned on leaving Saturday morning.
On the Friday morning, I got up and got in the shower. I remember thinking 'it's cancer' but of course all signs pointed to 'no'; my radiologist said she was 99% sure it was nothing, my surgeon said 'don't worry, you don't have cancer', my age, and of course I have no family history of it. I got out of the shower and asked my mom if she thought that a cancer diagnosis was karma's way of 'paying me back' for any pain I'd caused anyone in my 26 years. She said "NO!" in an annoyed 'you don't have cancer and why are you saying things like that' kind of way.
We drove to the appointment. Rihanna's 'What's my name' was playing in the pharmacy on the bottom floor of my doctor's office building. We got on the elevator and I could have thrown up with fear. I was vibrating in my chair in the waiting room. My name was FINALLY called and I walked past the room I normally go into to get my blood pressure taken and asked why I had booked an appointment. That was clue #1, this isn't normal. My mom was trying to talk to me about anything that would take my mind off cancer but I wasn't listening.
The doctor finally came in and started asking how I did with the biopsy knowing that I am petrifed of needles. My answers were really short and I said "I just need to know the results." She said "it isn't good, it's breast cancer." You know that feeling when you have just been caught doing something you weren't supposed to, it's like when guilt takes over your whole body and you feel numb, scared, embarrassed, and breathless all at once? It was kind of like that. I wanted to say 'No, No, you've grabbed the wrong file. It's Katherine Evans, E-V-A-N...." but what came out was "Holy shit, I wasn't expecting that." I was kind of mad at myself that I asked my mom to come with me because all I kept thinking was "she doesn't need this right now." Her mouth was wide open in shock and she came over, hugged me and rubbed my back. To be honest, I didn't cry. I think I still thought they had the wrong file.
The doctor told me that I would need surgery, chemo, and radiation. I called the surgeon from the doctor's office to make an appointment. My mom and I walked out of there and once we got to the car, I called Keith. In retrospect, I would have broken the news a little differently but instead, when he said "Hello" I said, "Well, I have cancer". I then called my dad; we were both on our cell phones. It was one of those conversations where there was just enough delay that we kept talking over each other and finally I just blurted out "I have cancer'. I wish I could take that one back. You just never plan on how you're going to tell someone about your cancer diagnosis, and evidently, I could have used a little practice. Needless to say, my mom stayed until the Monday.
Next was the mastectomy. Prior to surgery, I knew what a mastectomy looked like but I guess I just though it would look differently on me. And to be honest, I wanted that shit out of my body that I didn't care what they took and what was left afterwards. One of my friends said "I always thought you'd be the last one to get a boob job" - didn't we all? (I had 'huge' boobs prior to surgery).
After surgery, I had an idea of what the future held for me and I could start getting my affairs in order. I called OSAP to let them know that I wasn't working anymore and needed to lower my payment. The guy I was talking to said that because I was on E.I. and therefore still had an income, I would have to continue to make payments. I asked if there was any program set up for people who were sick. He said something about a long term disability program that they had in place and I remember saying 'I'm not disabled, I just have cancer'. After I said it, I thought 'just have cancer?' people 'just have colds' but no one 'just has cancer'.
Up until my last chemo, I had the mentality that I did 'just have cancer' and that allowed me to deal with the day to day issues and not the severity of it all. I was so focused on getting through each day without throwing up, or focusing on going farther than the mailbox to satisfy my 'leaving the house mission', and not focusing on what cancer was capable of. When I said the words "I have cancer" it felt like I was lying. It felt like I was telling the story of someone I knew or a dream I had. 'Cancer' no longer means the division of rogue cells once you're diagnosed with it, it takes on a meaning that far exceeds the medical one and to this day, I still find it hard to think about the day I was diagnosis. It was the day everything changed, the day my body betrayed me, the day I wasn't invincible anymore.
Here's to Breast Cancer Awareness Month- Check your breasts via self examination, a breast exam from your doctor, or book your mammogram if you're old enough. If you find a lump, don't ignore it, early detection is key.