The doctor says I have cancer

It’s breast cancer. Left boob. Near my armpit.

The news came today, a wet, dreary and otherwise uneventful Wednesday, just days before my 43rd birthday. It was around 3:30 p.m. as I sat in a wooden upholstered chair, in a cold, almost bare, consult room looking at a pretty attending doctor, named Priti.

It was my first time meeting her. She wasn’t the doctor I had established a good rapport with two days prior as she performed my biopsy along with two breast imaging technicians. Nevertheless, Dr. Priti had kind, brown eyes and I felt I could trust her.

She said a few reassuring words, I don’t recall them all, just fragments, like “this is very early”, “it hasn’t even formed a lump yet” and “you’ll be okay”.

I felt faint and found myself sliding in the flowery chair upon which I sat but I quickly managed to correct my posture. My right hand, seemingly on its volition, then went to my head, wanting to pull my hair, but then I remembered that my hair today was a wig so I just ended up patting it, the way I always pat my head after consuming wasabi or something spicy.

The wig survived.

Not knowing what to do with myself, I ended up standing up and wringing my hands, scratching one of my fingers on the arm band they put on my wrist, the pain reminding me that this was real. I am pretty sure I said something but I don’t remember what.

My Oct. 16 arm band.

I have no idea how my eyes looked like during those life-changing moments but Dr. Priti must have thought I was about to cry because she quickly grabbed some tissues to hand me as I sat back down.

I knew the reality of what a cancer diagnosis meant… harsh treatments, an altered body and mortality. I’ve often wondered about how I would die and I felt like I now knew, which is silly, because I could get get into a car accident tomorrow and meet my demise.

I thought of my children, only now entering their teens, one with a recently diagnosed mental disorder and panicked. The privilege of raising them to independent adulthood has always been my prayer.

I thought of my mother, who has a chronic condition that is progressively getting worse, and how she depends on me and one of my sisters to help her often.

I thought of my other siblings and how they would react to this news, especially since we had just gotten back to some normalcy after a heart- wrenching nine months of worrying about our infant nephew who underwent a 7-hour open heart surgery in July. Thankfully, he received a clean bill of health yesterday, hopefully putting an end to any additional heart issues. I wondered if my siblings would be too weary to rally around me like we did my nephew.

I have no family history of breast cancer. The only familial cancer diagnosis we know of was my maternal grandfather who seemingly died in his 80s from complications of prostate cancer that was diagnosed too late.

Over the last few years, I have had a nagging feeling that my lifestyle choices would do me in.

You see, I have been overweight and now obese since about a year after the birth of my last child 12 years ago. I distinctly remember reacting to my weight when I went in for an IUD when my child was 13 months old. At the time, I weighed 219 pounds, up 40 pounds from my regular weight.

Over the years, I have added more weight. Four years ago, I filed for divorce from my husband. It was such a tumultuous period in my life that resulted in me neglecting my health. I ate out a lot because I wasn’t up to cooking and overindulged in sweets, chocolate cake, to be exact. The result was a 17 pound weight gain, leading to me topping the scales at around 242.

While my soon to be ex-husband (I know, long time for the divorce to finalize) worked on being cordial for the sake of our children, I became addicted to work. I had a fear of not being able to provide for my children but I suppose, work also filled a void in my life, especially when my children were with their dad.

In the last year or so, I have worked over 80 hours a week, while at the same time dealing with one of my children’s mental health. I would sleep for no more than four hours each night, eat at random hours of the day and night and just lead an overall stressful life.

I felt like I was gaining weight but I put off weighing myself, or even working out.

I knew though that I had to lose weight and ironically, at the end of last month, September, I made the decision to start working out and change my diet. I vowed that by this time next year, my body would look like tennis pro Serena Williams’. But first, I decided to go for my annual medical check ups.

I set up my appointments and went in for my mammogram on Oct. 1. The doctor’s office called me on Oct. 7 asking that I go in for additional images because of “an area of concern” on my left breast. I did that and on Oct. 10.

This is a picture I took on Oct. 1 showing my obese midsection.

On Oct. 11, I got another call from the doctor’s office telling me that they saw what they thought were deposits of calcium on my left breast, so they asked me to come in for a biopsy. Through all these visits, I tried to remain positive.

I went in for my biopsy on Oct. 14. The doctor I saw was extremely nice, quite encouraging; similarly the technicians. The biopsy results were supposed to be ready on Oct. 15, so they made me an appointment to go in. However the doctor’s office called me saying the results wouldn’t be ready until Oct. 16. I knew then that I should prepare for unwanted news.

When I went into the doctor’s office on Oct. 16, they took longer than I’ve ever seen them take to take me to the “back”. Forgive me I don’t know the “back’s” proper name. I waited 30 minutes when normally, I am called to the “back” within 10 minutes of registration.

Once the nurse invited me to sit and wait for the doctor in that cold room with the flowery upholstered wooden chair, I felt like my life would never be the same. When I ended up waiting 20 minutes to see the doctor (they are usually in within 5 minutes), I knew for certain, my life would never be the same.

My friend picked me up from the doctor’s office. I called my mom from her car, and only then, did I break down. My mom, a devout Christian, prayed with me and told me to be strong. She was with one of my sisters who promptly came by to sit with me for a while. Talking to her gave me encouragement.

As it stands, I have an appointment with a team of doctors at the cancer center on Tuesday, five days away. I am hesitant to even touch the area they told me they saw cancer, as if that will prevent it from spreading.

I am hopeful that I will survive this and live to see my children all grown and independent.

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