The waiting game

There hasn’t been too much to report lately. I feel as though I am in a strange state of limbo. But not the fun kind of limbo, like these people are experiencing:

The fun limbo. Although not really that fun if you're terribly uncoordinated like I am.
The fun limbo. Although not really that fun if you’re terribly uncoordinated like I am.

Rather, I am in a sort of cancer limbo. Somewhere in between being sick and being healthy. In between the chaos and instability of the past year, and what I hope to be the more calm and predictable pace of the next phase. I feel as though I am just waiting. Waiting to be approved to return to work. Waiting to have my 3-month check-up with my oncologist. Waiting for my hair to grow back. Waiting for all the plans I have to become a reality. Waiting for my life to resume.

And of course, waiting to see if the treatment worked, and to know that I didn’t go through hell for nothing. Unfortunately, I’ll be stuck in limbo waiting for that particular answer for quite awhile. So I guess I need to adapt and adjust accordingly. Which, luckily, I’ve gotten pretty good at.

I am also waiting to see if these terrible hot flashes will subside. I got about a two week break between chemo-induced hot flashes and hormone-induced hot flashes. Turns out, they are pretty similar. I even take a mild anti-depressant to try to combat them, but it seems to be failing me. Just another pill to pop.

I’m sure there are many menopausal ladies out there that can relate to the horrific discomfort that is the HOT FLASH. I wake up multiple times throughout the night, feeling like my face is on fire, with my body covered in sweat. Then I lie awake, remember oh, right, I had cancer. This sucks. And I wait for it to pass until I can finally go back under the blanket, and wait for the next one to hit.

This isn’t an uncommon thing for a woman to experience. I get that. But I am not supposed to be experiencing this for another 25 years. I try to flip my thinking and remind myself, I’m doing this to prevent a recurrence of cancer. I’m doing this to increase the odds I won’t die. And when I think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so bad. A small price to pay, really. But when I feel as though I’m on fire, I’m not thinking about the benefits of cancer treatment. I’m thinking about how shitty it is to have cancer in the first place. How frustrated I feel that I will be dealing with side effects for a long, long time.

Last week, I went to a Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z concert in a big stadium. I don’t typically go to shows like this. I prefer more intimate performances, and less of a spectacle. But I thought it would be a fun time, and it really was. It was good for me and my husband to be out, on a weeknight, doing the kind of thing your average young couple in the city might do.

There was a moment when I looked around at the other people in the crowd who surrounded me. My peers. People my age. Girls with their long hair, and their breasts sitting right where they should be. And I thought to myself, I have been through so much more than any of you. You all have no idea.

When the concert began, I felt my emotions take hold and my eyes even got a bit misty. It still feels surreal, to be out, in public, enjoying myself. I have experienced so much misery in such a condensed period of time, that the happy moments catch me off guard. Those moments where I feel like my life has returned, like it was all a bad dream.

And then, I was hit with a hot flash. My face felt as though it would melt right off onto the dirty floor, and flow through the aisles, mixed with all the spilled beers that had been kicked by overzealous concertgoers. I thought I might pass out and topple over my chair, while everyone around me continued to dance and sing along, oblivious to my scorching body temperature. I remembered the cancer. And that I’m not like those other people. And that I’m not back to my normal life. Not just yet.

And so, I wait.

My friend drew this for me when I was doing chemo. It is super hostile and I love it.
My friend drew this for me when I was doing chemo. It is super hostile and I love it.

The other side of the rope

Here’s the deal:

A few months back, I found a lump in my breast. Where the hell did it come from? How did I not feel it before? I showed my husband. I showed my sister. I googled “what does a tumour feel like”. Despite all I read that told me lumps are common and are most often nothing to worry about, I was worried.  I started to panic, naturally, as I always do because that is just the way I am. I’m Jewish. I’m neurotic. Being anxious is in my DNA.

The next morning I called my doctor’s office and was able to see her right away. She felt it. She was certain it was nothing. It had the feel of something that was nothing. But best to be safe and get an ultrasound. So I had an ultrasound. The radiologist thought it was a bit suspicious. So I got a mammogram. And a biopsy. I started to panic, again. Why were they taking a biopsy of my perfectly normal lump? What did they see on their screen? The technician told me it would take about a week to get the results. “Try to enjoy your weekend,” she said, “It could be nothing.” It could be nothing? I wanted to smack that woman. But I refrained, found my husband in the waiting room, and burst into tears.

Anyone who has had a biopsy can tell you that waiting for the results is the most awful part. I slowly started to lose my mind. All I could think about was that lump. That stupid lump. I called my doctor’s office and tried to track down my results. The more days that went by, the more anxiety I felt. Finally I heard from my doctor, who said she would be getting the results in a few days and that I should come in to go over them. Why did she want to see me if she didn’t have the results yet? Was this normal protocol? Did she know something already? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?!

That weekend, I participated in a walk for breast cancer that my family does together each year. Yes, that’s right. I surrounded myself with breast cancer while waiting to find out if I had breast cancer. At the closing ceremonies, when all the cancer survivors walked in (including my dad!), I high-fived all the women who walked by. There was a rope between us, and as I reached over to touch their hands and saw their tears of courage, I began to cry too. No one would have noticed, because it is a highly emotional event, and there were tears in many eyes. But I cried because I suddenly was struck with this overwhelming realization – I would likely be joining them on the other side of that rope.

On September 11, 2012 (and yes, I was not thrilled about the negative connotations associated with that date) my husband and I made our way to my doctor’s office. She chit-chatted a bit, and then got down to business.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have good news today. The biopsy showed that you have cancer.”

What.
The.
Hell.

My lifelong fear was actually happening. I was being diagnosed with cancer. Many, many years before I ever expected to hear those words.

My doctor, who is wonderful and patient, sat with us for 2 hours. I have no idea what we talked about. Every once in awhile I heard a word. Oncologist… chemo… children… aggressive… cancer… cancer… cancer. I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I floated out of my body. I floated back in. I called my dad and cried and told him to tell my mom, because I couldn’t handle it. We left the office, stunned and exhausted. I messaged a couple close friends: I have cancer. Fuck. I emailed my boss: Unfortunately I just found out I have cancer. I don’t think I can come into the office today.

And that was the beginning.