(Just a heads up I’m going to talk about what it was like to find out I have either pre-cancerous cells or cancerous cells – the doctors aren’t sure yet. It isn’t very light reading so you may not want to read it. My main intent is to give a sense of solidarity and normalcy to anyone else dealing with this type of news. Also I’ll write more this week about how I’m doing so much better now.)
One thing no one tells you who has had to deal with oncology (and that you couldn’t imagine even if they did) is that when a doctor tells you they found a tumor during what you thought was a routine appendectomy, is how often you think about dying.
At first you hope and pray benign, benign, benign. You cling to that in between imagining your own funeral and your family without you. When you find out no, not benign, the fears come even faster because you are not ready to leave this beautiful life. In a bizarre turn of events at age 37 your body has cells that (whether the doctors are unsure until your next surgery if it is technically considered cancer yet or not) if left alone, if you carry on the same path, will kill you.
When oncology calls you put your head between your knees and breathe because you notice you are hyperventilating and trying not to have a panic attack. Also you are nauseous everyday and you wonder if it is the growths spreading. (It’s one of the questions they keep asking you, are you nauseous? Were you experiencing nausea?) Also you still have some post-surgery abdominal pain, is that normal at this point? And you are tired. All of it in your mind, cancer, cancer, cancer. You lose twelve pounds and people who don’t know tell you you look great.
You avoid people who can’t control their own panic because you have absolutely zero emotional reserves for anyone other than your very own people in your very own walls and you tell yourself you are barely holding your own shit together although truthfully, during this time you really aren’t. At times you are mad you are a person who needs help, who needs empathy.
You don’t tell anyone about how many times a day you picture life without you in it because you realize it is totally crazy town up inside your head, but also because no one imagines their loved one will be the one that actually dies tragically. You think longingly about when you had days, weeks, months, years where you didn’t think about dying, not even one little time.
Then maybe the worst day, you google. If you are reading this and you are recently diagnosed please listen to what everyone says. For the love of all that is good and holy don’t google. Don’t google. Don’t google. You will read things you cannot forget even though you will really, really want to. You totally loose it and spend the whole day weeping, absolutely sure you will not live to see your children move out.
You consider the progression of pleading in your mind. Please let the tumors be benign. Please let me not need chemo. Please let me if I need chemo that there be one that works. Please let me live at least long enough for my kids to be okay.
You also joke, you joke a lot because this helps take away from having tears spring up unexpectedly at bill paying, carving pumpkins or putting your kids to bed. When you get calls for test appointments you didn’t know you needed, you joke that if you don’t have cancer already, after this many CT’s you will. There is also a lot of numbing with facebook and with television and the election because you just need some non-cancer distraction every day. You feel thankful for this, but also a bit guilty because thinking about death gives you an awareness that you really should be making the most of your days.
In between all this you hug your kids, you hug your husband, you list your gratitude’s. And pray, yes you don’t really stop praying although it would take God to make sense of all the anxious, frantic, disjointed thoughts coming from your mind. Thankfully that is what God is for. Someone who has been through a lot and has a beautiful faith and spirit reminds you that when you don’t have words the Holy Spirit will pray for you. You count on this. You ask other people to pray for you because you know they are more coherent and rational and also they love God and they love you and prayer feels like the best gift anyone could give right now. You borrow some of the faith of everyone you know because this really is the only thing getting you through.
You can read Surprises Part I here