Six weeks ago yesterday I got the call from my doctor. “I’m so sorry,” she said. My stomach turned, and my road trip car-mates just heard me emit a long, reflexive, “Fuuuuuuuuuck.” “I’m so sorry for using that word,” I backpedaled. “No, no, that about covers it,” she countered, “that’s an entirely appropriate response to something like this.”
Seven years ago I had breast cancer. It changed my life in innumerable ways, some of which I’m thankful for (a few even feel like real-deal miracles!), but many for which I am still not. Not everything has a silver lining, even when you’re a pretty positive person. Even when you’ve made it a practice to try to see the good.
If I made it three years clean, my chance of recurrence went down; if I made it past five, it was almost nil. Only 5% of the people in recent studies of triple negative breast cancer had a recurrence after 5 years. My scans in January were clean, my bloodwork in July was fine. And by mid October, I was staring down the barrel of recurrence.
“You’ve done absolutely everything right,” my oncologist assures me, “sometimes, unfortunately, this just happens and we don’t know why. But we can treat it.” It just happens sometimes. I’m sitting on the table in the exam room, my boyfriend Jonah in the chair beside me. I’m looking over the papers with my treatment plan. There’s a checklist of what the stated goal of treatment is, and the box that’s checked?
“The intent is to cure. ☑”
October through November is a flurry of action, of calling and recalling, of checking cancellation lists and checking again. 50+ phone calls, 20+ voicemails, 85 emails, 40 MyChart threads, 9 scans, 2 biopsies, 19 Drs appts, 3 phone appts, and two Zoom Dr consults – one where I had to drive across state lines back into Michigan to be legal about it all. 364 miles driven for appointments, 10 ice packs of various sizes acquired (incl. mittens, booties, calf wraps, and ice helmets), 6 dry ice suppliers called, 280 pounds of dry ice delivered and schlepped.
We get the scans scheduled, the various appointments. So many calls and emails and MyChart messages. Jonah takes lead on reaching out to the oncology social worker, and his knowledge of that side of how things work comes in handy daily at this point. He’s the one who knows where to look for financial support, who walks me through my Advance Directive/Power of Attorney paperwork. Who knows where to apply pressure in this system. I’ve been my own advocate before, but this time will take both our combined powers.
But we get in for things, and we get in fast. So much so that I start chemo less than four weeks after my diagnosis. If this type of cancer is fast-moving and aggressive, then we will have to be too.
This past Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I did my fourth chemo (out of at least twelve, TBD), on the exact date my first body/brain scan was initially scheduled. Even with orders marked as “urgent,” we wouldn’t have gotten things moving without both Jonah reaching out to the social worker and me and the nurse calling each and every morning for cancellations.
There is so much to do. So much has already happened. I’m looking ahead at 8+ more weeks of chemo, a pretty intense surgery and recovery, and then radiation. It’s going to be a long haul of at least six months, likely more. And so I need help.
I hate asking for help. It’s something I learned to do better last time, but it still doesn’t come easy to me. So, my dear friend Onna made a wishlist and a GoFundMe for me. What I can use the most, though, is love, and encouragement, cards, notes, general support.
Send me your good vibes and your healing thoughts. Beam me love with intention, hug a tree for me (I’m looking at you, Laura!), gaze at the sky or something unusual in nature and think of me. Send me a song that soothes you or fires you up, or just makes you thankful for the weirdness of the world.
Whatever it is that you do to call in or send out healing energy and strength – I’ll take every little bit of that I can get!