Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Did Not End Like I Thought It Would: Hello Cancer! (Part 1 of 6)

January 2, 2016

From the time I was very young---early elementary school and quite pre-pubescent--I had an irrational fear of discovering that I had breast cancer and that it would be my eventual demise.  I have no idea where the fear came from; there was no breast cancer in my family, and as far as I knew, I didn't know anyone who had been stricken by any kind of cancer, let alone breast cancer. Perhaps I saw something on a television program once that left an indelible mark on a susceptible psyche.  Who knows? And yet, somehow, irrationally, the specter of the idea followed me and came to the fore every now and again throughout my life.  It's something I never really talked to anybody about when I was a kid or an adult, even to my sister, who knows nearly everything about me.

I remember once when I was in the 4th or 5th grade I became completely panicked when I discovered a 'suspicious lump'. Private and shy as I was, I was so sure it was a sure sign of disease that I asked my mom to look.  She took me seriously and somehow understood my genuine fear; she calmly examined me in her bathroom and assured me that it was likely an ingrown hair or some other innocuous and temporary situation. Her soothing voice and demeanor reassured me, and she said we would look at it again in a few days to see if there was any change.  I am sure she was not in the least concerned, but she wasn't dismissive. If there was no change, we'd go to see a doctor.  (This was quite a reassurance, as we weren't much on doctors of any kind when I was a kid.)  My dad, on the other hand, happened to drop in to the bathroom to see what the mini-conference was about while my mom was examining me.  When my mom calmly told him what she was doing and why I was worried, he laughed aloud, looked me in the eye, and said, "There's nothing wrong with you! How can you even see anything? There's hardly anything there to even look at!" before he turned away, laughing to himself at his joke about his as-yet undeveloped daughter. I was mortified; my mother was angry.

My mother was right, though, and the issue resolved itself.  My irrational fear retreated for awhile. Throughout the years it would rear its head again--I'd hear of someone much older being diagnosed, and I'd think, "That's going to be me!" I'd feel a weird twinge and just know that it was breast cancer.  In high school when those thoughts would come up, I'd think, "No--not yet! I haven't even gotten married yet!" Then later it was, "But I haven't even had children yet!" A couple of times in my 30s I had mammograms that came back inconclusive and required an additional return visit for a second mammogram--dense tissue was the cause.  "Dense tissue, so it's hard to read and we need a second screening" is what they said.  "You probably have cancer" is what I heard--twice.  I didn't, and everything was fine in the second reading.  I was pretty methodical about checking for lumps once a month throughout my adult life, because that's what you're supposed to do we're told, but was never convinced I was doing it correctly. I was just sure that if there was something there, I'd manage to miss it.  The worry never ruled my life, and most of the time it stayed deep in the back of my mind, but that irrational fear never went away. I can still distinctly remember times when my kids were little thinking to myself, "I can't get it now--I have to see my children grow up, graduate, and so on." Random times, often sparked by nothing in particular.  Usually a handful of years apart, but there it was--the irrational fear that one day I would find out I had breast cancer.

Then, this past October, it suddenly wasn't irrational at all. Suddenly, I had a doctor telling me--directly, clearly--that I had cancer of the breast and needed to move into high gear and make some decisions about how I wanted to proceed with my treatment right away.

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