Feb 26, 2013

Therapy 1: The Day Of The First Appointments

Here's the thing that I can't bring myself to say.  My wife has breast cancer.  On one hand, I can't believe it.  Of course.  Who could?  But on the other, negative side of my personality I feel like I've been waiting for this my whole life.

I can't exactly say I'm an emotional wreck.  At first I was a bit.  All I could picture was bringing up our daughter alone and talking to her about how much her mother loved her.  Even writing that sentence brings me almost to the edge of tears.

But if I am a wreck, it is in my absolute emotional inconsistency.  One moment I'm all confidence.  C'mon- you heard the doctors.  And they're recognized cancer experts!  Everyone around says this guy is the best surgeon there is.  It's Mass-fucking-General for crying out loud.

Then literally the  next moment I can be cowering in a corner, afraid even to utter the "C" word.  Shuddering as I stutter out words like "Chemotherapy" and "Lymph Nodes".  Maybe partly because I know the effect they'll have on people.  Because so recently they had that effect on me.  Not quite so much now, though.  It seems with repetition, the human mind really can get used to most any new reality.  It's sick, in a way but we- humans I mean- could perhaps not cope without it. 

Today we talked to two oncologists, a radiologist, and a genetic therapist.  They thought we'd like it better if we talked to everyone in one day.  Maybe.  We learned that her cancer is invasive- meaning not contained in the breast "sack" it started in.  That it could have the ability to spread  (shudder...)  And we learned its size (not the smallest, but certainly not the biggest).

But we also heard today that the blood test that would show if it spread to the liver came back negative (which is a good thing) and that a chest X-ray to see if it had spread to her lungs was also negative.  So that's two worries off the table.  The genetic abnormality test, along with an MRI of both breasts (that's coming Monday), and then actual surgery and analysis of the tumor/lump, and the lymph node test (to show that it's not spreading) would eliminate a whole lot more.

These doctors are good at telling it like it is.  To some that might hurt or sting a little but to me it feels like they're telling me the truth, rather than giving me some candy-coated well-wishing bullshit.  I'm very afraid of people withholding the truth from us because they know the news is bad.  Don't get me wrong- I'm scared to death of the bad news.  I just hate the idea that others would know it and not tell us.  My own mental issue- disregard.

Also, why do I feel better knowing these facts than before we knew if this lump was even cancerous?  That goes against all sense.  I still feel that freezing iron hand gripping my heart from time to time (as I described 3 paragraphs back) but not quite as often as during that 5 days of unsureness.

This is perhaps because I am realizing that breast cancer is not in fact a death sentence.  I really thought that over the weekend.  I couldn't even think about it, because I assumed if the biopsy came back 'yes' then a long slow inevitable decline began.  Everything I heard today seems to contradict that.  I hope with all my soul I"m not wrong. I pray with everything in me that I won't regret writing those words.

But I don't think I will have to. In my small, tentative ways, with the friendlier doctors, I tried to bring up this fear, this point of view.  It was regarded with tender laughter.  No, things aren't like when we grew up, one person said.  For a quick example, the surgeon told us that back 15 years ago or so, they'd simply take a sampling of lymph nodes under your arm during surgery and your arm would swell up (that's part of what the lymph nodes do- drain fluid from your arms) and they'd see if they found any cancer cells.  Now they put a dye in the breast and pinpoint the exact lymph node that the breast "drains to" for lack of a better term.  And your arms don't swell so often.  And it's a more accurate test of whether disease has spread.

I'm posting this days later because I didn't want anyone to find out this way.  I hope you don't.  I hope Kathy and/or myself have told you.  I hope I'm not violating her trust to post this.  But she's already put it out there on her own blog.  So I think I'm ok on that score.  Still, my apologies if I've shocked you with this news. 


  1. Hey man-
    You posted a comment on a blog post of mine some time ago (coincidentally about MY wife) and I also know of you from the local cycling scene. Anyway, was just poking around this morning and saw this post and wanted to wish your wife, you, and your family all the very best as you go through this difficult time. While they've made such advances in the last couple decades (my mom's bout with breast cancer was, dare I say, pretty easily won), it's still scary as f*** to hear those words. And as I'm sure you know and others have told you, your wife is literally in the best medical hands possible.
    So best wishes to you all and healing thoughts for her,

  2. Finn,
    Thanks much for your comment. Esp. appreciate the news about your Mom. Happy for her, and you, and hope that bodes well for my wife's tangle with BC.