August 1, 2014 4:30pm. Your pathology results came back and you have invasive breast cancer, it’s stage 1 grade 3 and hormone receptor positive, blah blah blah….
What. What. Whaaatt?!? Cancer? I couldn’t hear anything else, my mind was racing and I was ugly crying so I gave my husband the phone. I didn’t even know what questions to ask so I just stood there as he took notes.
And I’m a nurse. A NURSE! I’m supposed to know if something’s wrong, right?!? This was supposed to be a papilloma NOT cancer. Wait, cancer… no! I don’t have time for this… I need to start a video diary for each of the girls. And why haven’t we done our living wills? Time, I need more time… I’m not ready to die.
Those first few days and weeks were draining. My mind went in so many different directions (I’m known for “what if-ing” everything) but I never felt like I was fighting a losing battle. My husband dealt with it all like a champ and he knew all the right ways to make me feel better.
Fast- forward to October, I’ve completed two surgeries, cried lots of tears, had psychotic moments and here I am right smack in the middle of radiation. A lot has changed-but-not-changed in these last few months. For one thing, I know so much more about breast cancer now than I ever did… gotta love real-world experience, Google and blogs!
Since that initial conversation with my surgeon, I’ve met with a team of specialists and have found out I didn’t need chemotherapy (whew!) to reduce my risk for recurrence but that I would receive radiation because I opted for a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. That was an interesting mental struggle. My sister and I had always talked about what we’d do if we found out we had breast cancer. “Get rid of them” was always our way of thinking about it… don’t really need them and sure don’t want them killing me! My vision was always one of my poor boobies (I have a first and second grader so we say boobies in our house) being in a guillotine and somebody shouting “off with them” as the blades come down. I talked about my options at length with my doctors and just felt comfortable going with the lumpectomy. Trust me when I say there are lots of opinions on this but I felt right with my decision. Oh and because the cancer was hormone receptor positive, I get to take an oral medicine called Tamoxifen for five years which will basically induce menopause. Possible side effects include hot flashes, dryness, discharge, bone loss, mood swings… my poor husband!
What has struck me most is the love I’ve received from family, friends, co-workers and everyone around me. We have received cards, gift cards, food, treats and lots of “I was thinking about you” calls and texts. One of my co-workers has even printed out motivational posters for my desk. So surreal. I am the first of my small circle of girlfriends to experience this and I had no idea simple tokens of encouragement could be so uplifting. And people always know other people who have been where I am today. I never fully realized how prevalent breast cancer was.
I’ve even received an aloe plant. Yes, an aloe plant.. stay with me. When you have radiation the skin often becomes really dry and pure aloe is one of the recommended treatments. One of my besties had her mom dig some up from her house and they now sit in pots on my back porch… makes me smile every time I look at it. Definitely will have to pay it forward one day.
My girls, 6 and 8 know about the breast cancer but they really don’t ‘get it’ of course. I firmly believe in being open with them about scary stuff and I do my best to present it so they can understand. They’ve seen my incisions and they will sometimes rub aloe on my chest. It’s all really sweet and they ask lots of questions. I believe our conversations have strengthened their already compassionate little hearts.
Radiation is going well, I’ve got about 2 weeks left (I’ve completed 4 weeks so far- going Monday thru Friday). I get tired easily and had been working up until this week. I am now taking a short leave of absence to sleep and mentally rest. I took two baths today just because I could.
I still think about dying sooner than I’d planned/like to/envisioned but I’ve really, really come to realize I only have limited control of that. Have I started the video journal or blogging? Nope on the video journal and well, you’re reading my first ever blog post! My focus right now is to stay positive, play with my family and take lots of baths.
About the Author
Angela is a military brat originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida and has lived in Jacksonville since 1999. She is a jack of all trades, having received undergraduate degrees in social work and nursing. She has worked in various areas including home health, human resources, surgical ICU, Gastroenterology and Neurology. She currently works for Mayo Clinic in outpatient Neurosurgery. She is mom to two very different girls (the cliché is true), Makena and Jordan, ages 8 and 6 and wife of almost 10 years to her very own superman, Jamey. In her spare time she loves a good bath, playing music and dancing with her girls, watching The Walking Dead (just started it last season!), Scandal and Revenge, going to Aqua Arthritis at the Brooks Y and Costco. She aspires to do lots of other things but always tries to just have fun with her family.