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This a guest post by my good friend Linda Holt, who was diagnosed just a few short months ago.
The early morning phone call asking me to come back for additional mammogram scans was the first day of my breast cancer Odyssey.
At the time however, I had absolutely zero thoughts that anything was wrong. It seems like I am called back every other year and it always ends with the same result, “every thing is fine, see you next year”. In fact, the only thought I had when I received that call was one of annoyance because I was way too busy to go back for more scans. When I told the scheduler I would like to set up something for the following week, her response caught me off guard when she calmly but matter of factly stated, “no, you need to come back in today”….Wait…what?..Today? That moment was the first time a little voice in my head said “this is not a good sign”. As it turned out I went back the following morning, a Friday (tip: never go for tests where results are not immediate on a Friday).
After several additional mammograms I was put in a waiting room with all the other women who had come back for more scans. One by one everyone was sent home except me. Again, the voice in my head said, “this is not a good sign”. The tech came in and told me the doctor was sending me to ultrasound. That voice again, only this time a bit louder.
The moment the ultrasound wand hit the mass I knew in my heart it wasn’t good. The radiologists and the nurse were completely silent but clearly there was something that looked like a kidney bean in my otherwise clear breast tissue. The voice in my head was now very loud, “this is not a good sign!”. I looked at the doctor as she was freezing the image on the screen and measuring and I finally worked up the courage to ask what it was. Her response is forever seared in my brain, “this is not a cyst or calcium deposit. It looks like a small cancer”. A small cancer? I have cancer? Tears started streaming down my face. The doctor tried to be reassuring and said I was “lucky”. It was small, early stage and I would most likely be fine. Most likely be fine?? What does “most likely” mean? I felt anything but fine or lucky.
It was now after 2pm on a Friday and I had been at the hospital since 10am. Since I had driven from an hour away it was decided I should have a needle biopsy right then and there to confirm what that kidney bean thing actually was. I hadn’t told anyone, not even my husband, that I had gone back for more mammograms and here I was about to have a surgical procedure that could lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer. I was completely blindsided and alone. My head was spinning. I felt faint and sick.
The needle biopsy was finished about 4pm and I was sent home and told not to worry over the weekend (yeah right) and that I would get the pathology results Monday morning. I spent the next two hours in bumper to bumper traffic thinking about what just happened. How could I have cancer? I eat healthy, I exercise, and I am at the happiest place in my life I have ever been. My design business is finally at the place I have worked so hard to get. I thought of my client’s, I thought of two close friends who both died of breast cancer in their 30’s. I thought of my mom and dad, both of who died from cancer. I thought of my family and friends and how difficult it would be to tell them. I felt like I was in a bad dream.
Monday morning at 8:55am the call came in confirming I did indeed have cancer. My actual diagnosis was Invasive Ductile Carcinoma. The doctor continued to talk about what I needed to do next but my mind went blank as I only heard two words; invasive and cancer. The doctor reiterated that I was “lucky” (I will hear this word over and over throughout my treatments) in that the cancer was caught so early so I was a stage one. The bad news was that my cancer cells were a level three. They rate cancer cells on a scale of one to three, level three being the most aggressive, fastest growing cells (the kind you don’t want to have). Time was now of the essence so surgery was scheduled within days and the next thing I knew my life and design business were to be disrupted as I started chemotherapy and then radiation.
As I write this post, tomorrow is my very last chemo infusion. Then after a short recovery period I will begin seven fun filled weeks of daily radiation treatments.
I still have a long way to go but I want to share a few bits of wisdom I have learned so far in my cancer odyssey.
1. Don’t waste your time blaming yourself, your life style, your diet, or your negative thoughts for getting breast cancer. The fact is,one in eight woman will be diagnosed with this disease and my number was up. My oncologist told me the majority of her breast cancer patients are the picture of health upon diagnosis. She counts athletes, vegetarians, vegans, and even a yoga instructor among her patients.
2. Don’t research your diagnosis on the internet. Talk to your oncologist as much as you want and read everything she/he gives you but don’t go down the dark hole researching your diagnosis online No matter what you are told by your doctor there will be dozens of nightmare stories of woman who died from exactly what you have.
3. Take control over loosing your hair. This bit of advice was given to me by everyone who had gone through chemo. It really is empowering to shave your head rather than dealing with the trauma of clumps of hair falling out at inappropriate times (like at he grocery store or at a client’s house). I had a head shaving party and invited several friends to come and help me go bald. They brought champagne and funny hats and the one thing I was most terrified of became a wonderful celebration and very fun day.
4. Don’t compare your cancer journey with anyone else. There is no getting around it, chemo sucks. Well meaning friends will tell you about friends they know who sailed right through chemo like it was a walk in the park. Then you will hear stories of woman who needed full time care dealing with the side effects. Everyone is different in how their body reacts to the cauldron of poisons given during treatments. There are days I can hardly get off the sofa and days I feel almost “normal”. I have experienced nausea, aches and pains, extreme fatigue, and an ever-present taste of metal in my mouth. I had an allergic reaction after round two, and developed neuropathy (extreme pain and numbness in the fingers) after round three. Each round is different and each time I have different symptoms. Bottom line, chemo sucks.
5. Have those yearly mammograms. This one I can not emphasis enough. Had I waited another six months to have my mammogram I might be fighting for my life right now instead of being “lucky”.
I finally get it now why everyone associated with my care has called me lucky. I am indeed very, very lucky. I will live and I will be fine.
Now go schedule that mammogram!
Linda Holt is a former professional photographer who now uses her skilled photographic eye to create her signature style of carefully edited, soulful rooms that reflect her love of color, pattern and art. She works with mid to high-end residential clients who value a stylish, fresh and relaxed home that is reflective of their unique personality and lifestyle. Visit her blog at LindaHoltInteriors.com