0 Liked

What it feels like to be diagnosed with breast cancer (Day 5)

Pretty overwhelming! It’s not yet overwhelming in a “oh my goodness I have a horrible disease” or a “life is so unfair” or even a “I am having so many emotions right now” kind of way. It’s more overwhelming in a “my daily schedule has been completely taken over” kind of way. Attempting to accomplish pretty much anything since Monday has been pretty much impossible. I am constantly interrupted by doctor’s offices, phone calls, or emails, or I remember forms I need to fill out, or forms I need to fax, or forms I need to get faxed to me. SO.MANY.FORMS. And so many visits! Like this week I had 9 doctor’s visits (5 in one day) and met with 17 different medical professionals. I hate to complain about this because frankly I am getting amazing care and I am very lucky to have access to it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not pretty overwhelming!

It feels a bit like running a race right now and I think it probably feels that way because that is exactly what I am doing. It’s a race against the clock to chemotherapy. While my tumor does not appear to have spread past my breast, it is quite large and quite aggressive so they don’t want to go taking their sweet time. (It’s not like an emergency or anything so don’t go picturing this tumor biting off my face in the near future or anything, they would just like to start in the next few weeks).

There are two legs of this race to chemo that overlap one another. The first, is the testing. I had the basic testing completed to give me the diagnosis so that’s out of the way. But then there are the clinical trial’s tests. These are tests that are required as part of the screening for a clinical trial I am trying to join. Georgetown is a research hospital so as a cancer patient you have the opportunity to join in clinical drug trials. Although people have described these trials to me as “very exciting” I have yet to have my heart skip a beat in anticipation, but it does seem like a smart thing to do to get yourself in a trial (for reasons I can explain more at some point). So, that means I get to have a second biopsy, a mammogram, a CT scan, a bone scan, an MRI, an EKG & Echo, and a few tests I’ve never heard of and can’t remember.  These all sound harmless enough but in reality they each include some element that takes a little bit out of me, whether it’s getting some weird injection, drinking a strange colored juice that makes me sick for hours, fasting until I could eat my own arm off, having my blood drawn from the same sad vein for the umpteenth time that day or sitting for hours in a waiting room the temperature of a meat freezer. I realized today that this has just sort of become my life: the checking-in, the waiting, the needles, the: “can you say your name and birth date for me?” a thousand times a day. Basically I went from being a person with a life to being a patient with appointments. Luckily I have enough really amazing doctors taking care of me that I think I’ll be able to maintain at least some of my humanity. (I’m basically already a “regular” at the breast health center. I am thinking about baking them all some brownies.)

The other leg of the race is one to save my fertility. In thinking about putting all of this stuff out there for the world I have definitely felt like fertility was the most forbidden of all the topics I might discuss, or at least the most hidden. I can understand that in typical situations that there is probably a very real shame and a deep disappointment for people who need fertility treatments. In my case, however, it’s a fight for my right to make a baby someday so I am going to tell you all about it (eventually). For now I’ll just say that the problem is that chemotherapy can make some women lose their fertility. So I am going to start fertility treatments (like tomorrow) to save some embryos. This will involve daily, self-administered injections (oh joy!), every other day trips to the fertility clinic for ultrasounds and blood work (I am just waiting for my veins to collapse in protest) and then some minor surgery at the end for retrieval. As someone who has had IVF before recently told me “it’s a lot to go through even when it’s the only thing you are focused on,” which made me feel better about the fact that the thought of this fertility stuff, on top of everything else, is totally exhausting me right now.  As I said, I am Overwhelmed.

It’s strange to be daydreaming about a time when ALL you’ve got going on is chemotherapy but that’s where I am at right now. Chemotherapy is sure to bring probably even bigger challenges but at least there might be some kind of schedule? Although maybe a schedule won’t even matter because my health will be so up and down that it will still be totally overwhelming? I obviously don’t know yet. All I know is that by Day 5 a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming, in a bad way. It has fortunately, also been overwhelming in a good way with the absolutely ridiculously incredible amount of support I’ve gotten from friends and family. The more I share the more love I get in my life which has been so incredibly awesome that I might just start telling strangers on the street what’s going on. I came home from a terrible 8 hour day at the hospital today in which I was stabbed a half dozen times, filled with chemicals and put in several very large and scary machines and I had not one, not two, but THREE packages waiting for me from very thoughtful friends. Clearly, I am going to survive thanks to YOU wonderful people!