Looking For Cancer

I'm scared out of my mind. It's not unexpected. I've been waiting for the news for years. Still, when I felt the tenderness in my breast a month ago I passed it off as a pulled muscle from weightlifting. I still tried to ignore it last week- told myself my breasts were just swollen from my impending period. But my husband felt it too during sex the other night. He moved the lump under my skin with the tips of his fingers, clearly troubled, and I had to stop pretending.

I find out tomorrow. A part of me already knows. As I sit here in McDonalds, across from my daughter, watching her stuff fries into her angelic face, I think of our limited time together. She runs off to the play structure and I wonder if she'll remember me when I'm gone. She's so young. I wonder how long she'll miss me. I can't help crying. People will see. I hide my face- stare down at the page.

It's not death I fear. It's the process of dying. I watched my mother grasp at every last second with each new experimental treatment while her body and her mind withered, and it was horrific. I'll opt for chemo, even though I don't want to. I'll do it for my kids- model not quitting, to never give up. Show them to fight for life against all odds. I'll lose my hair, my thick auburn waves- my one feature I've always been proud of. I'll be sick and tired all the time and it'll all be for naught- just like my mom. Six months, a year, even two, but the cancer will take me. Once it's manifested in the system there is no stopping it.

It's getting crowded in here now. Moms and dads with their kids eating Happy Meals celebrating life. I sit in the corner. I can't stop the tears. My beautiful child comes running back to our table, her cheeks flush, her expression joyful. I'm afraid to look up, look in her eyes. She senses my fear. Her expression darkens. She asks me why I’m sad. I lie and say I’m not, tell her how beautiful I think she is. She hesitates, then smiles. She’s flattered but it falters as my eyes fill again. I've never been brave and I suck at pretending. I've let her down again.

There's a woman staring at me. Her infant son sits on her lap trying to suck a shake up his straw. He stares too. They're wondering what's wrong with me. It's more than just cancer. I can't breathe. I can't hold it together. I've never been able to hold it together. My daughter runs off to play, lost to the moment, lost from me. I stare down, and write.

I've never dared write about things that profoundly frighten me. The written word is so concrete, like casting a possibility into reality. I'm writing it down because it doesn't matter. The foundation was laid years ago. The result of reckless behavior is inevitable. I'm writing it now because my fear is consuming me, and I don't want to look up.

If I have it- I'll deserve it. And if I don't it's just a reprieve. The bullet is coming at me. No doubt about it. I'm not being fatalistic. All those years of partying, smoking, six or more Diet Cokes a day, and of course genetics. I'm a realist. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I set this up with my obsession to be thin, and in. There’s no point in pondering if it was worth it. I'm scared out of my fucking mind.


Lisa said...

You are right that nothing happens in a vacuum, but no one deserves cancer. No one. I don't care what your lifestyle is/was/will be, it is a horrible thing to go through.

I got that phone call 18 months ago about uterine cancer; it is horrible to wait and even if you think you know the answer, it will still impact you.

Fight the good fight, gather a support team. If you can't find one, make your own. I'll volunteer to be there for you if no one else steps up.


James Buchanan said...

I'm a cancer survivor too and I second that no one deserves or asks for cancer. It is far too random.

In your piece you are also jumping to some major conclusions that are not yet warranted. I talk with a lot of people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and the first thing I tell them is that they should pay attention to what the doctor has said, not what you are worried he might say.

And if it is cancer, you are still a ways away from a stage four diagnosis. Take each moment as it comes and don't put yourself in hospice yet.


kjsmith said...

I agree with James and Lisa. Stay positive and don't jump to conclusions. You and your family are in my thoughts.


colby106 said...

I came across your blog for the first time today, via LinkedIn, and was compelled to respond to your poignant post. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 29, after a doctor had sent me home a year earlier telling me not to worry about the lump I had found. I did not have cancer in my family, never smoked, drank very infrequently, and didn't fall into any of the risk categories often associated with cancer. Still, I instinctively looked for a way to "blame" myself. Please don't do that. It's not your fault; it's the luck of the draw.

And know this: Cancer does NOT have to be a death sentence. Statistics are just that--numbers. When I asked my oncologist what my odds were in surviving, she said she didn't believe in giving odds, because if 99% of women in my situation ended up one way, but I fell in the 1%, it would be 100% for me. Still, I knew the odds were not in my favor, but decided I would not become a statistic.

My daughter was 9 at the time, and I felt the same profound fear you do, that she would grow up without me. But that gave me all the more reason to fight, with all I had,
and with the support of many.

And nearly 23 years later, I am still here, against those odds. I went through some difficult treatments those first years after diagnosis, but the cancer never returned. And not only was I able to watch my little girl grow up, graduate from college, and get married, I was here to welcome my first grandchild one year ago.

Be strong, and have faith. Should you get the diagnosis you fear, it does not have to be the beginning of the end, but rather can simply be the beginning of a new chapter of your life. It may be a challenging journey at first, but it can lead you to a joyful and fulfilling future.

All the best to you,

Felicia said...

First, hats off to you, Beverly for being a 23 year survivor!

I've been where you are, Jeri. My son was only 11 when I found my own lump. But listen to what Lisa, James, KJ and Beverly have said: a lump does not necessarily mean cancer and even if it is, it doesn't necessarily mean chemo, sickness and certain death - cause I had none of the above and am obviously still here five years later.

Waiting is the absolute worst part. If all is ok, breathe your sigh of relief and live your life without waiting for it to blindside you someday. If it is what you fear, you'll be much more relieved to have a treatment plan and be on the road to kicking some serious cancer booty - for your daughter, for your hubby and for yourself. Cancer is not your fault every - genetic roulette for sure. Stop beating yourself up for something you're not even sure you have yet, girl!

Hoping for B9 results! Hugs to yo and yours.