It started with a visit to my primary care doctor. Really, there was so much happenstance getting to this place that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. Our family just happened to move out of NYC, closer to my longtime PCP. My PCP just happened to switch practices and had immediate availability. My parents just happened to be visiting, and encouraged me to make whatever appointments I needed while they were there, my list of which included a long-overdue trip to visit my beloved primary care physician. I just happened to call and get an appointment the next day.
On September 29th, 2017, I went in and had a lovely visit with Dr. F. We caught up on life, and talked about what was going on with me, and I mentioned that I had been feeling sort of rough lately, most of which we attributed to life as a stay-at-home mom with a toddler. She asked if I wanted a breast exam, to which I replied, “sure, why not?” Always better to be thorough, and I was there, best take advantage of that. During the exam, Dr. F mentioned that she found a cyst in my right breast. She didn’t think much of it, but wanted to have an ultrasound to check it out, just to make sure. She explained that it was common for those things to come up after breastfeeding for 18 months, and that she wasn’t worried, so I shouldn’t be, either. She showed me the mass, which was palpable even to me, and we ended the appointment shortly after.
The ultrasound was scheduled for Thursday, November 9th, at 8 am, and I had actually forgotten about the appointment until the night before. My husband, Christian, and I had recently started trying for a second baby, and the car ride was full of talk about those potential future plans. Our son had turned two on Monday as well, and so we marveled at what a wonderful kid he is, and how much we were enjoying him at this age. We arrived, parked, and went in to the appointment. The ultrasound seemed uneventful to me, at first. It felt strange to have an ultrasound without seeing a baby, and I kept thinking that I hoped that the next time that I have one, there will be a little baby on the screen. The tech asked me what I thought were routine questions: “When did you feel the lump?” I explained to her that I hadn’t detected it, that my PCP had. She didn’t really respond, but then asked the same set of questions again a few minutes later, which struck me as odd. At the conclusion, the tech said she wanted the Radiologist to come in and take a look. The Radiologist, Dr. C, seemed fairly serious as soon as she started looking at things, and thats when I started to feel sort of concerned. She said that the ultrasound was inconclusive, and she wanted to do some further testing, a mammogram, and possibly a biopsy. She also asked if I could be pregnant. “Possibly,” I responded, so she sent me for a pregnancy test. Once that came back negative, I went in for the mammogram.
At that point, I was sill very much expecting things to be ok. It all seems like such a blur and such a long time ago, even though it was only 48 hours prior. I look back and think of those last few minutes before my life changed so significantly, and still can’t quite comprehend what happened. During the mammogram, I asked the tech a few questions, looking for reassurance. As the testing proceeded, her responses shifted slightly from “Dr. C is very thorough” to “don’t worry, cancer is really treatable!” Well, it still wasn’t totally registering with me. “Thanks,” I thought, “but that’s not going to be me.” Immediately following the mammogram, I was called back to review the films with Dr. C. M, the tech, asked if I wanted my husband with me, but I brushed the question off. She pushed a little harder: “let us go get him,” but I declined. How bad could it be? I sat down with Dr. C, and she immediately said “I don’t like the look of this scan.” Don’t ” like the look?” What does that even mean?! I pushed for more information, and she explained that there were two masses, one fairly small but one about 3 cm in diameter, and calcifications (which, to my rudimentary understanding, are markers of changes taking place in the breast that shouldn’t be happening). I pushed harder – what are you saying? I didn’t really understand. There was talk of a biopsy in an hour, and meeting with “the team.” My head was swimming. M said that she was going to get Christian and I started to feel sort of dissociative – what was happening? What are you talking about? You’re just making sure I’m ok, right? I kept asking questions of Dr. C, and finally, she said “it really looks like breast cancer.”
And then I just fucking lost it, right there.
I wept: full-body, heaving, shaking, guttural sobs at the turn my life had just taken, in that very pivotal moment. The room felt simultaneously so small, and so large. It was dark, presumably to view the slides, but it felt foreboding. I couldn’t imagine good news coming out of that room. Dr. C was still talking, but my ears were ringing, and blood was rushing to my head. M gave me a hug and held me tightly. Christian came in. We talked very briefly about the biopsy and what would be happening that afternoon. Then they sent us out to get lunch and come back at 12:30 to start the procedure. We walked out in a daze, and I broke down again in the waiting room. It’s never a good sign at a breast imaging center when a young woman – with her husband and young son – is sobbing in the waiting room.
I think there are more details I’m leaving out, because even trying to write this down, I feel overwhelmed, my head clouds, and my heart starts racing. I don’t really know how I’m feeling at this point, because I am feeling so many things. My goal, in recording this, is two-fold: to have an outlet to record those feelings, and to have a place to record what is happening, and will happen. This story – my story – feels to me like something I want to tell, and I am trying to honor that through this record.