Tag Archives: breast cancer

“Cancer! Cancer! Read all about it!”

mammo_custom-760729a6d10df0eefa39736be908f8e3a473b5ac-s900-c85

The photo of my chest looked like the Milky Way, sprayed with clusters of stars. It covered almost my entire left side, also traveling outside my chest, up to my underarm and the surrounding lymph nodes. For something so deadly, it was strangely beautiful.

I was in shock. I knew I was going to have to go pick up my kids from my mom and she would never believe this. Childish maybe, but I asked the Dr. to call my mom and explain the seriousness to her because she had a history of invalidating everything I ever said and chalking it up as drama. I was terrified and alone and the last thing I wanted was to go pick up my kids from her only to be mocked or discredited.

When I returned to her house. She said nothing. Didn’t look at me, as if to not notice I was standing there. She was watching television. Completely motionless. I sometimes replay this vision in my head. It’s so surreal because when I imagine receiving such news about my children, I can’t bare it. I would be a wreck. Some people might say, “Why would you want your Mom to be sad?” The thing is, I didn’t. I just wanted to feel like I meant something. To see someone is worried about you is to know that they love you. I felt unloved. I wanted a hug, some comfort –and all I got was her staring at the television completely unaware of my presence (or purposely ignoring me), I wasn’t sure.

“Hey Mom”. I said. My eyes were puffy, red, wild. It was clear I’d been crying.

“What took you so long? I thought it was only supposed to be a couple hours. It’s been all day” she said flatly.

“I know and I’m sorry. The Doctor called you and explained everything right?” (hoping this would get me off the hook).

“Yes, she did. You didn’t have to have her call me Kim! You think I wouldn’t believe you?”

A little relieved to know she believed me but stressed and now to trying to appease my Mom I said “I’m sorry Mom, I just didn’t want you to think I was exaggerating. I’m really scared right now and need support-”

“I think you’re Doctor might be exaggerating”, she said. –There it was. Invalidation.

“Mom, she’s a Doctor. She knows what she’s talking about.” I stated defensively. “I just, I know it might not be cancer but (something deep down knew it was) I’m scared.”

“Well, they haven’t tested it yet Kim. You’re jumping the gun. I don’t know why you always have to be so dramatic. It’s probably nothing.” She sneered.

“You’re right. I’m just…how will I sleep while I wait? I’m so afraid. I just know something is wrong and the radiologist…she said she sees these things all the time and she said mine is so bad that she can tell just by looking at it that it is 99% likely that it’s Breast Cancer.”

“You’re panicking for no reason! Stop being so dramatic!”  *she pounded the counter* ” I can’t believe she’d say that when they haven’t tested it. It’s most likely nothing.What -=do you want Kim. You want me to cry? Want me to cry for you Kimmy? You just won’t be happy till’ you’ve ruined my day!”

(All I wanted was some comfort. Validation. Understanding. I was scared and with good reason.) My heart was beating so loud now I couldn’t even hear myself talk. It sounded like I was in a tunnel. Adrenaline booming through my veins. I was flushed and light-headed. Without even thinking about it or realizing it, I was hyperventilating and began to sob like a child. “You don’t care. I could die and you don’t care.” The words came out as if my words were an automatic stream of consciousness. I didn’t even think about it or realize I said it.

My Mom in a mocking tone “Here we go. He comes the Kimmy-I-want-attention-tantrum! These things happen all the time and turn out to be nothing. I’m really mad at the Doctor for blowing this out of proportion! Look at what she’s done to you! Getting you upset for no reason. You need to get yourself together Kim!”

–I knew I had to get out of that house immediately.– She wasn’t going to give this “My daughter may have Cancer” story any credibility. At all. Regardless of how upset or scared I was.

Sobbing uncontrollably, I grabbed the kids. On the way out the door she said “Maybe you just need a nap. You’ve been really tired lately”. –in my head I’m thinking no shit lady! I have Cancer! But I stay quiet through the tears now–. As the door closes, she squeezes in quickly, “Call me when you know. I bet it’s not Cancer.”The days and nights spent waiting for my biopsy felt like an eternity. I felt like I had completely lost my mind. Almost an out-of-body experience. My insides shook. My nerves were shot. Tossed and turned in bed. Nightmares. Tears. Alone. The grip of fear was stronger than anything I’ve ever felt. If you can imagine the fight or flight adrenaline response you might experience if you were being robbed,– imagine that feeling lasting for days.

Finally. Biopsy day. I was awake on the cold, metal table as they removed pieces of one of the tumors from my chest.

Shaking, heart racing- but I tried to stay cool. Cracking jokes with the nurses and Doctor. I was rambling nervously when I stated that if the Cancer turned out to be “bad”, I would just move to Canada where healthcare was free. I thought this plan was genius. My doctor stopped in the middle of the biopsy, stared me down and said “You don’t have a damn clue what you’re talking about do you!?”

I was a little taken aback. I knew she was from Canada so I thought she’d be in favor of my new plan. Maybe even give me some insider Canadian tips.

She said, “Why do you think I’m here? That place is complete nightmare. The entire system is bankrupt. You think you’re clever huh? Go there. You’ll die.” She quipped matter-of-factorily. ” I have to fly my Dad to the states here because there, he would sit on a waiting list for a year and a half. Be grateful for what you have here, immediate access to top technology and professionals around the world.” Then she sighed, “Look. The Cancer IS bad. I don’t even have to test it to know that. This is just a formality. Obviously we need to know the exact type it is which will help us form your treatment plan.” She continued,” But if had to guess right now, I’d guess you’re in between a stage 3 and 4.”

I immediately went dizzy. It’s a good thing I was laying down, otherwise I may have fainted. Tears started to stream towards my ears as they fell backward, toward the table I was laying on. She squeezed my hand and said sternly “You don’t have time to sit on a waiting list in Canada. If you don’t start chemo yesterday, you may not last 6 months. But don’t be scared. Be brave. You are in good hands. You will have a team of doctors to put together the best plan possible for you.”

I was hyperventilating. And managed to whisper, my voice cracking “Do you think I’ll survive?” Her eyes became as lasers, and she responded “Do you believe in miracles?”

I got dressed while she jotted down a book she recommended for me about miracles and I left…by myself. Head buzzing. My ears were hot. The adrenaline was pumping my heart so hard I thought I could have a heart attack. I got in my car and was so distraught while trying to drive home that after some time passed I suddenly realized I was headed up a mountain. I wasn’t even driving in the direction of my home.

Tears streaming, I was praying, talking to God the whole way home. “God, I know I don’t deserve a second chance. I know the mistakes I’ve made …but please, don’t do this for me. Do this for my children. It’s not fair to them. I will do better. I promise. Just please, please God, help me.”

Days past and I waited for the results. If you’ve ever felt that heart-sinking feeling after you’ve lost someone you truly loved–that heartbreak, that’s what I was feeling. My heart was wringing in pure physical pain. I would zone out like a zombie. Just staring, as if into another world…

“Mom, MOM! …I’m talking to you! Can I have some Orange Juice?”

I’d snap out of it, shake my head, look at my sons eyes and my stomach would sink.

I was a single mom, in a tiny 4-plex apartment in a little ghetto we so endearingly referred to as “meth row”.  Two boys, aged 10 and 7…and a 9 month old daughter.

Pretending to be strong for them is probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do. And I’m not so sure I succeeded very well.

More waiting for the results on the type and stage of the cancer. Days.

Finally the phone rings. It’s Monday. I know this because they weren’t supposed to call till’ Tuesday–it’s early.

“Hello?”

“Hello…Ms. Millet?”

“Yes. That’s me.”

“We’ve concluded the testing and we’ll need to schedule you to meet your team of doctors asap! The tests reveal you are what is called HER 2+. Basically, this means it’s highly aggressive. We need to do a full body scan to see if it’s gone anywhere else but as of right now, you’re a stage 3C. If we find Cancer anywhere else, I’m afraid that will make you a 4.”

-I didn’t know what this meant. I didn’t understand the different types and stages. Wasn’t breast cancer just breast cancer?-

“What does that mean?”

“Well”, he hesitated. “We are going to do everything we can but what it means is that you may have about 6 months. It depends on how well you respond to the treatments. Take some time. Talk to your family and when you feel a little more composed (I was obviously freaking out at this point), call us back so we can get you scheduled right away.”

I immediately called my Mom and my sister Sky, on a three way phone call. I told them before anyone. Though I would soon wonder why…

“Hi. Mom? Sky? I just spoke with the Dr. It’s Cancer.”

This seemed like the longest silence in history. It was deafening.

After a minute I said, “Is anyone there?”

Sky said sharply “Yes, I’m here Kim. I just don’t know what you want me to say!”

It cut like a knife.

Confused and trying not to cry too much I said “Um, uh…I don’t know? I just, I just…you wanted me to call… Remember? You asked me to call.”

Sky rebutted “Yeah I did but I just feel like you want sympathy or attention. Do you want me to cry? What you do want me to do?”

I was spinning. Why was she doing this? My heart was so weak and she was beating it with her words that were like bullets — and these words still replay themselves in my head to this day.

My mom was silent. Nothing.

I said “Mom? Are you there?”

“Yes Kimberly!” Whenever she was condescending, she made sure to say Kimberly in a tone that sounded like singing, going up an octave at the end.  It was as if to say “Yes! I’m tolerating your drama!”

–They didn’t believe me.— That’s the only way I could make sense of their responses.

Either they didn’t believe me or they didn’t care. Either way, the pain was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in this world. I hope I never feel anything like it again for the rest of my life. I was reeling, drenched in a pain that was unrelenting.

I realized the conversation was over. I wouldn’t be getting any support, any love, any understanding, any help. I was going to battle this alone.

“I gotta go” I said quickly and I hung up.

I cradled my 9 month old and rocked in the corner on the floor. The tears didn’t stop. The pain pounded me like a drum.

Suddenly I realized my daughter was burning up and she was coughing terribly.

I put her in the car only minutes after finding out I had Cancer and took her to the doctor.

It took all I had at the doctor’s office to remain composed. They ran some tests and then informed me that my 9 month old had RSV– a serious respiratory infection that babies under a year can get. It can be very dangerous and contagious.

I picked up her medicine and went home. This was going to be a long day, a long week, a long 2 and half years. On the same day I found out I had Cancer, I also found out my daughter had RSV. I was afraid, without help and alone.

Somehow, someway, I made it. Somehow, someway my kids made it.

People say “If you can’t help someone, at least don’t hurt them.” I wish these same people saying this now, had those same sentiments then.

But I remember what my Grandma said to me when I asked her why God let us have hard times. Her response? “We are like silver in the kiln. The more we burn, the more refined we become.”

*****Please know, it’s been 8 years since I found out I had cancer. These conversations are not verbatim but paraphrased from my memory.

Tagged , , , , , ,

You Gotta Fight For Your Rights to Party?

mammogram 2-2

Since she was born, she wouldn’t nurse on my left side. It was giving me a complex. What was wrong with me? I would pump almost daily on that side just so that I could keep the milk going. Breastfeeding was really important to me and it was way too soon to stop. She was still a newborn.

When she was about 3 months old, I started feeling pain on that side and had noticed the genesis of a thin, red line moving down the front of my breast. I immediately associated it with infection. Everyone knows that a thin, red line means that. Right? That’s what I thought anyway.

In the same location there was also a lump. I had experienced something similar when nursing my boys when they were babies. A plugged duct.

At the doctor’s office: “It’s Mastitis.” he shot off confidently. ” It happens, pretty common in nursing mothers, actually.” He gave me some antibiotics and off I went.

After the antibiotics were gone, I noticed the lump and pain hadn’t changed at all. Though the pain wasn’t really bad, just dull, it was still there. This was different from Mastitis. I had Mastitis before and it killed like a mother f***er. In a way I was relieved by this. I didn’t have to go through that pain again at least, but what the shit was going on?

At the doctor’s office again: “Hmm. We might need to lance it”, he said. “But first, let’s try something stronger.” He scribbled a new script and that was that.

This went on an on for about six months. I did NOT want to lance it. Just the thought made me want to hurl and I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right. Looking back now, obviously it was my intuition. Could you imagine what a cluster f*ck it would be to attempt to lance a tumor? I still shudder at the thought.

After 6 months of trying every antibiotic imaginable, I told my doctor, “I think I need a mammogram.” I had asked for this previously but was quickly dismissed, he said I was too young-30, and no risk-factors. It just wasn’t necessary. He rebutted with a list of reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea. My response, ” I get all that…but honestly, you’ve given me enough antibiotics to sink a ship and I need to know why this ship still hasn’t sunk. I’m not leaving until you write me a script for a mammogram.”

I had to wait 6 weeks for the appointment at the Radiology clinic. By now my daughter was 8 months old. This had been going on since she was born.

When I showed up at the clinic, the girl behind the desk searched the appointment roster. “I’m sorry Kimberly, we don’t have you down for another 3 weeks” she related matter-of-factorily.

I freaked. My heart dropped with a boom like an atomic bomb. I thought it would burst out of my chest. I felt dizzy and weak. I affirmed “that’s a mistake! It has to be! I’ve already waited 6 weeks for this appointment and this is an emergency. I HAVE to be seen.”

“I’m sorry” she said with satisfying pity. Her voice was filled with authority, “There’s nothing I can do.” A thin smile grew across her face.

“There IS something you can do!” I spat. ” I will wait in this uncomfortable waiting room chair all god damn day if I have to! Please talk to someone. I have to be seen today. End of story. I’m not leaving.” I was crying now. I clearly looked crazy and she looked bewildered.

She walked to the back room and again came back with her broken record, “I’m sorry, we are just too booked today. We can’t get you in.”

“I’ll just sit her then. I don’t care how long it takes. I’ll camp out if I have to but I’m NOT leaving until I’m seen.” I said with complete resolution, repositioning myself into the chair.

Again she walked to the back office. This time when she came back, she didn’t even bother saying anything to me. I just looked out the window and sat. Hours went by and we didn’t speak a word. The day was coming to a close. I fell asleep for a while and now my arm was numb. Finally, someone from the back office came out and asked to talk to me. I explained what was going on. She said “We can’t fit you in for a mammogram. It’s just not possible but I’ll see if we can squeeze you in for an ultrasound.”

Overjoyed, “I’ll take whatever I can get!” tears strolled down my cheeks again, this time they contrasted against my grateful smile.

As the nurse rolled the ultrasound mouse over my chest, she seemed disinterested and hurried. Then she stopped the mouse dead. She avoided eye-contact and stared at the screen. I could see her typing madly at the computer, her chin quivering. “Is everything ok?” I said. She glanced at me, shrugged and bolted out of the room almost slamming the door.

A few minutes later, about 3 staff members blasted through the door. The doctor (Radiologist) front and center. She sat down in front of me and grabbed my hand. “You knew didn’t you?”. It just came out. I don’t even think she meant to say it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Get her a mammogram NOW.” she barked.

Suddenly, they had all the time in the world for me. I knew this wasn’t good yet I felt a wave of relief. Gratification and fear pulsed through my blood simultaneously. Finally, I was going to get an answer.

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,