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What it feels like to be diagnosed with breast cancer (Day 1)

It definitely wasn’t what I expected. I expected the diagnosis, by the time it came around, but I didn’t expect the feelings that followed. The radiologist had said “very suspicious.” They had assigned me a nurse navigator and made me an appointment with a breast surgeon oncologist. Everyone had been SO nice. Their behavior could also be classified as “very suspicious.”

In the first second I felt the lump I thought about only one thing: breast cancer. It immediately consumed me and sent me into a panic. It felt like an invasion. The panic was, of course, followed by a stream of sober facts about the likelihood that a lump, in a 30 year old breast, was cancerous. 85 percent chance it’s NOT cancer, said Andrew, quoting a plethora of Google results. The odds were pretty squarely in my favor.

But then, after an ultrasound, a mammogram, a biopsy, and a lot of overly nice treatment from medical professionals it seemed like I had beaten those odds. And the waiting was SO painful. It was like just sitting still, for hours on end, in that panic I had first felt. Like crawling into a storm and trying to be nonchalant while it tears apart your house. I thought I would get a phone call from them on Friday but didn’t hear anything. Then I thought I would hear from them Monday morning but heard nothing. Eventually Andrew and I slid solemnly into a cab, not knowing if they would have the results ready or not when we arrived for the appointment with the breast surgeon oncologist. They had the results, they said. Someone would tell us soon.

After waiting for what felt like 6 hours inside the room while my pathology report waited neatly in the file just outside the door, the nurse practitioner finally came in to ask me some family health questions. Then she sighed and picked up my pathology report and scrunched up her face. “Did they tell you to expect bad news?” I said they had, knowing what she was going to say next. “I am so sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer.” I felt the tears well up and then quickly subside. In that moment my overwhelming feeling was surprisingly not sadness, or fear, or doom, or dread but just pure and simple relief. I didn’t have to wonder anymore. I just knew what was wrong with me and it wasn’t the worst news I could have conceivably received. It feels very strange to say that I was happy to receive a breast cancer diagnosis, but that’s what I felt.  I then went into action. I did all of the things I had imagined I would do when I got the news. I called my mom, then my dad, Andrew called his parents, we called our siblings, then our closest friends, and then I sent out a mass email. Now everyone would know and we could all deal with it together.

The response to this spreading of the word far and wide has been primarily one of overwhelming love and support. Not everyone gets to hear how much their family, friends and co-workers love and respect them all at once and for something that is almost completely outside their control. So the next emotion I felt was gratitude. I am grateful to have the opportunity to peel back the layers of everyday relationships,  to discover how deep and how important they are, to see how quickly someone who you only get to see a few times a year can turn into your biggest champion and greatest source of comfort and to understand how truly incredible and compassionate all the people in your life can be. That is a really incredible thing to witness and I feel privileged to do so.

If I was to take the storm metaphor to it’s logical conclusion it could be that I am currently in the eye of the storm. Everything is calm right now. I am quietly getting and sharing information but not yet dealing with the daily frustrations and pains that are to come, or what promise to be earth- and identity-shattering changes to my body, my looks and potentially my outlook on life. I know that I haven’t really processed what all of this means. I know that there is a lot of sadness and loneliness in my future. But right now I just feel relieved and grateful to be diagnosed with breast cancer, which means this journey has already had some unexpectedly positive consequences. Let’s just hope there are more of those to come.