Yesterday was two weeks since I first got the news that I likely had breast cancer. It’s been a whirlwind two weeks, and we are starting to recognize this as our new normal: appointments, phone calls, coordinating child care, insurance authorizations, diagnostic testing, and long, intense meetings with doctors that have left us emotionally drained. Yet, time seems to have stood still while we process this information. In some ways, it feels like we have been living in another dimension, where our conversations are peppered with discussions of chemotherapy, breast loss and reconstruction, hospital stays, and surgeons.
Last week, I met with the oncologist for the first time, and we discussed possible avenues of treatment, and what that would look like. I also had blood work done, and took a tour of the infusion center, where I would likely be receiving chemotherapy. We decided to go forward with a second opinion at a renowned cancer treatment center nearby as well, and I have been on the phone endlessly trying to coordinate that appointment and ensure that all records would be received by them in a timely manner. I met with a genetic counselor to facilitate genetic screening to see if I carried a gene sequence to see if my cancer was hereditary, and had more blood work. Then I met with the plastic surgeon, to discuss reconstruction options for my mastectomy. We were supposed to meet with an once-fertility specialist as well, but found out that our insurance has no coverage for any sort of fertility preservation, so I cancelled that appointment. I also had a bilateral breast MRI, to check for any indications of disease in the left breast, as well as any previously missed cancer markers in the right breast. I opted to forego any valium for the MRI, but man, is that thing loud and confined! The appointment was at 8:30 am and I was so exhausted from the week that I managed to fall asleep during the procedure.
This week saw more appointments: meeting with a new gynecologist who specializes in young women with breast and reproductive cancers, and follow-up with the oncologist and the breast surgeon. Next week, I have my second opinion, more imaging studies, and a possible meeting with a more local surgeon. It’s still hard to walk into the facilities and ask directions to the cancer center. It feels like I’m living someone else’s life, and eventually wake up blissfully cancer-free and without such intimate knowledge of things like node biopsies, breast reconstruction, and chemotherapy.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and our first holiday as a family living with cancer. With cancer as our new normal. In some ways, I felt more acutely thankful than ever: thankful for my family, my son, our house, health insurance, and the fact that my cancer was caught early enough to have a very good prognosis. However, it was also hard to be thankful because of the intense challenges of beginning to navigate a life with cancer. It’s put a strain on all of us, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a good amount of guilt that my diagnosis is causing so much disruption in the lives of so many people I love. Causing stress, mental anguish, missed work. I’m still so uncomfortable with the idea that “I have cancer.” It’s such a grossly uncomfortable sentiment to let sink in, and a big part of me is still protecting myself from fully internalizing it yet. Because I know that moment will come, and I won’t have any choice.