Fun is a choice
When I chose the word “FUN” for 2015, I knew that reality can sometimes obscure fun. I knew there would be times when fun would have to be a conscious choice. I would have to choose to look on the bright side, choose an attitude of joy, choose to create fun in difficult circumstances. Well that is exactly where I find myself today only 4 months into my year of FUN.
Happy Birthday! You have cancer.
Yes. This is my current reality. The “C” word is very scary the first time the doctor says it to you. This was the case on my birthday the first week of April. I had been called back for a diagnostic mammogram after suspicious microcalcifications were found on my annual screening. I was told it was probably nothing but it’s better to take a closer look. The diagnostic mammogram led to a needle biopsy which led to the scary birthday phone call. I had opted not to go into the office for the biopsy results. After all, it was my birthday. I wanted to be with my family (the kids were out of school early for Good Friday) not stuck in a doctor’s office for who knows how long. So the phone call came while I was out with my family in a very loud and crowded restaurant. I was trying to concentrate on what the doc was saying but, honestly, after you hear the “C” word it is hard to hear much of anything else. I did manage to jot down a couple of dates for an MRI and some kind of consultation as well as the words “surgery”, “other therapy /radiation” , “ductal carcinoma” and “earliest stage”. That was really the best I could do in that moment. The kind doctor was apologizing for having to give me this news on my birthday. I figured it was as good a day as any. Is there a good time to hear the “C” word? I got off the phone, put on a big smile and delayed the processing of all this until we could get home.
I tend to be practical about things most of the time. I always say, “There’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about.” This news would be no different. Once we got home, I shared with Kevin what the doctor had said. I knew my life was not in danger. Based on the information I was given, I knew this was curable and not something to get super worked up about. Still, the “C” word is a heavy one. I am a researcher. I know it’s weird, but research is one of my favorite things to do. It took some restraint, but I decided to put off my “Google” searching until after I had the chance to speak with one of my medical friends.
Getting some perspective
My first phone call was to my nurse-friend, Alisa. For nearly two decades, she has been my go-to person anytime anyone in the family is afflicted with more than a sniffle. I’m not even sure what I said to her on that phone call! The news was less than an hour old and I had no idea what kind of questions to ask. I just knew I needed real information from someone I know and trust. She assured me I was in good hands at the cancer center here in Greensboro. She told me exactly what to expect over the coming days and then encouraged me to call, Matt, a surgeon friend of ours for further guidance. I did just that. After two separate conversations with Matt, I had enough information to find peace. Yes, I have (do I dare say it) Cancer. It is very small, very early and very treatable… but it is still cancer and needs be dealt with.
The Clinical Stuff
For those of you like me who like the details, it is called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). It is common, non-invasive and curable. My particular version tested positive for both Estrogen and Progesterone hormone receptors (I’m told this is a good thing) opening up options for therapy to help prevent future occurrences. We are waiting for results from genetic testing to see if I have a cancer gene. I’m told it is very unlikely but good to find out because of my age (for once, everyone is talking about how young I am!). Next week I will have a lumpectomy to remove the remaining cancer cells left behind after the needle biopsy. During that surgery, Matt will do a sentinel node biopsy just to be sure the cancer is non-invasive and hasn’t tried to go anywhere. This surgery will be a quick outpatient procedure. Yes, I will be under general anesthesia. A couple of weeks after surgery I will meet with an oncologist and a radiation oncologist to discuss further therapy.
Focus on Today
After spending the summer of 2014 on a very intense political primary, I was determined to make the summer of 2015 as fun as possible for the kids. Instead of hiring a sitter to rush my kids here and there and spending our evenings working on campaign stuff, the plan was to be at the pool as often as possible, take a long trip to the beach and enjoy the extended, lazy summer days with friends. With this new news, my mind began to race. What does this mean for our summer? Should we skip the pool membership this year? Will my treatment plan interfere with our normal? After letting my mind go to those negative places for a minute, I had to snap out of it. No!! This is not a big deal! It’s just a bump in the road. We will have a pool membership. We will go to the beach. We will have friends over. We will find ways to have “FUN in ’15” this summer. There’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about. I have to focus on what I know today and deal with that. We will process and deal with tomorrow when it gets here. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
We are not freaking out!
I am independent. I am not a needy person at all. I rarely ask for help with things I know I can handle on my own. I know I can handle this latest challenge on my own, but I am finding so much joy in the community God has built around me. Starting with my medical friends who helped bring peace and perspective into the situation when it was so very raw. Then my dear blogging friends who have offered to help with my kids, meals and support for Kevin during my surgery. My church community has also been a blessing reaching out with encouraging words and prayers. A long, reassuring talk with a friend who walked this road just last year has been invaluable. I will admit, I don’t like people fussing over me! I’m really fine! I don’t look sick. I don’t feel sick. It is weird being referred to as a “cancer patient”. It has been difficult sharing this diagnosis with friends and family because it does sound so scary… but I’m not freaked out. I’m not scared. I have total peace and that is my prayer for my family and community of friends. I find I have to constantly repeat, “We are not freaking out!” every time I share the news with someone, especially if they have heard through the grapevine before I had the chance to speak to them in person. I have shared with my kids what is going on. They are fine too. They understand how serious cancer can be. They also understand that we are not facing a most serious situation. Friends, I want you to know that I welcome your questions about this diagnosis or my treatment or how I’m feeling. However, please do not ask me if I’m okay… especially if my kids are around. You know what I’m talking about, right? The concerned head tilt with a hug and, “Are you okay?” I do not want my kids to question my “okayness” based on what the grown-ups around them are saying. I am humbled by the concern shown by so many of my friends, but I’m fine. I promise!
Here we go
Over the last month, I’ve had to process a lot of information. It has been surreal at times and for a couple of days I will admit I was consumed by this new reality, trying to find out as much information as I could about this thing that I’m facing. I have grieved the loss of a carefree summer and replaced it with the determination to work to create the fun that we crave. It may look a little different than what I had originally dreamed up, but I am reminded that “All the days ordained for me were written in God’s book before one of them came to be” (Ps 139:16). I will look for God’s grace in each day and find joy in that. Living the life He ordained for me. What could be more fun?
Please, please, please don’t neglect your health
What I haven’t yet shared is that I almost canceled my original mammogram. I had been reading studies (remember I like research) that said those of us who are very low risk do not need an annual screening mammogram. (I am a very unlikely cancer patient. There is absolutely no cancer on either side of my family. Not breast cancer. Not colon cancer. Not prostate cancer. Zero cancer whatsoever. I am under the age of 50. I am not obese. I exercise regularly. I eat a healthy diet.) According to recent studies, I should not be getting annual screening mammograms until after age 50. But I didn’t cancel that appointment. I decided, at the last minute, to go ahead with it. I am so glad I did because I do have cancer and there is no other way I could have known this early. There are no symptoms, y’all! By the time there are symptoms or a palpable mass, the cancer is likely more advanced and the treatment much more life altering. Friends, please do not neglect your health. Ladies, follow your doctor’s advice on your annual screenings. Do self-exams and be aware of any new symptoms that may need attention. Encourage the men in your life to get an annual checkup. Most cancer, when caught early, is treatable. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I am that one. Are you?
*Originally posted on “The Hogbloggers” site in April 2015
© Elizabeth Smith 2015