You don’t hear much from survivors of cancer, do you? Those stories are fairly rare. More people survive cancer than die from it, but we also feel guilty for surviving. Therefore, we don’t talk about it.
Here’s my little cancer story….I’m still alive nearly 15 years later, so clearly, it’s not note-worthy, but here it is nonetheless.
I was 32 years old. I was married. I had an 18-month old son with some health problems of his own. I went in for a routine check up–I’d put off because honestly? No woman likes her routine check up. I went in because I had a lump in my breast. I figured it was just my luck! I had a baby (like I’d always wanted), and now I was gonna die. That lump in my breast got me to the doctor for my annual check up.
My doctor knew I was afraid of breast cancer so she ordered an ultrasound on my breast. She also gave me my annual Pap test. Too much information? Deal with it.
Two days later, I received the letter from the ultrasound doctor–cystic breasts. The lump was nothing to worry about. I rejoiced! I felt so very happy and lucky. I went about life as I’d always wanted.
It was about 60 days later that I got the letter in the mail. The letter had been lost in the mail. It had been wet and dried and ripped down the side. I grabbed it on a lunch break and went back to work and opened it.
It was a standard Pap smear form. There are (were) three boxes to check: normal, abnormal, and cancerous. The cancerous box was checkmarked. There was a handwritten note on the bottom that said,
“Julie, your Pap test showed cancer. Cervical cancer is easily treatable. There’s a specialist that will be here December 31. I’ve arranged an appointment for you.”
I received the letter January 18th.
I was at work, reading it over and over. There was a pamphlet sent with the letter. A”your Pap smear” pamphlet. There were photos of normal, abnormal, precancerous, and invasive cancer. There was a handwritten asterisk drawn by the photo of invasive cancer.
I gave the whole thing to a co-worker and asked her if it said I have cancer. She also read it a few times before she said, “yes, Julie. I think this says you have cancer.”
I told her I needed to leave. She understood. I left work and went home and called my mom and told her what the letter said. Mom said, “no. It doesn’t say you have cancer. They don’t tell you that in a letter. You probably have a dysolasia. Call the clinic. You don’t have cancer.” I read the letter to her again and described the handwritten asterisk on the pamphlet. Again, she said, “call the clinic. Then, call me back.”
I called the clinic. They said there was no record of the letter I received. I asked if the record showed I had cancer? The nurse sighed loudly and said, “yes. It does say that.”
I asked if I could get in to see the specialist I was referred to. She said, “he’s booked out until February…..I’m guessing you can’t wait that long.”
I said, “no. I can’t wait that long. I just found out 2 months after I was diagnosed. I have an 18-month old son. I’m not going to wait.”
She said she’d make some calls and call me back.
In the mean time, I called my mom back and confirmed cancer. I called my husband and told him it was cancer. I called my dad as said it was cancer. They all asked, “do you want me to come there?”
I told them to wait until I heard back from the nurse.
The nurse called back and said the doctor would see me January 23rd. I had 5 agonizing days to wait hoping it was just a mistake, dealing with the reality, hoping it wasn’t true. Then, I saw the doctor.
He was disgusted by the letter. He also said I looked fine to him, but he took a few tissue samples. He took a few tissue samples for biopsies. He said he’d rush them and call me the next day no matter what.
I went home. Went to work. Lived my life….and waited. I went home at 4:30, checked the machine–he also had my work number and no call came. It came at 5:30. He called and said, “I’m very sorry. You have cancer.”
I asked how bad it was and he said he couldn’t really tell. He said it was either hysterectomy bad or radical hysterectomy bad–maybe chemo, maybe radiation. He explained all of it to me. Either way meant no more babies. He scheduled me for an appointment at Mayo Clinic February 6 and told me to be ready to stay there.
I called mom and dad and couldn’t say much, but I asked them to please come. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything. My son still cried. I still picked him up. I still went to work, but I wasn’t really there. I came face to face with my own mortality. So did my parents. So did my husband. It was too much to deal with.
My husband drove me to Mayo Clinic for my appointment. There, I was examined by the best female oncologist in the world (I’d been told). He looked at my slides and told me that he also did not know how bad it was. He wouldn’t know until he got me into surgery–the next day at 7 am.
That night, I had my mom and dad with me. My husband said he cared more about saving my life than he did about having more kids. I said there must be a reason and I would accept whatever happened. I’ll spare you the rest of surgery prep since you maybe already know. My mom told me she couldn’t believe how brave I was. I told her, “it’s not brave. I don’t have a choice.”
i had to be at the clinic at 6 to be prepped by 7. I had to sign a waiver authorizing the doctor to do whatever necessary to rid me of cancer. I brought along a picture of my son and a sleeper of his to remind me to be strong.
I went into surgery at 7 and came out at 3:00. It was 5 days in recovery finding out what happened and hearing again how rare it was. It was wondering and trying to understand what happened and why. It was a second chance.
I did not need chemo or radiation. But I survived cancer–mostly because I stood up to it. It made me a different person.
Physically, I have no cervix, no uterus, no Fallopian tubes, and no pelvic lymph nodes. I haven’t had any of those for nearly 15 years now.
Emotionally? I believe in being myself, living my life and enjoying every moment.
But I don’t talk about it much….because I survived.