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Friday, July 12, 2013

Okay/Not Okay

Okay, so we're getting into cancer anniversary territory. A year ago this week was when I first noticed the odd symptom that drew me into this world. Not a lump, but a spot of blood. And the rest, they say, is fucking history.

Coming home from herceptin today I was transported back to those increasingly worrisome days, focusing in on the day I knew something was really wrong. I had gotten a mammogram, and the tech showed me the spots that concerned her. Calcifications. "They're so tiny," I said. As if tiny meant harmless. Like snowflakes dusted across the screen. She said she would get the doctor to see what she thought.

The tinies


More mammograms, another ultrasound. Then needle biopsies of my breast and lymph node. At one point, in the dark and womb-like ultrasound room, I told the technician about Matt, and how all these activities reminded me of what happened to him. I said I was scared. Or cried it. She told me that she had had thyroid cancer in her early 30's. Now she is healthy with a five year old son. "Even if this is bad," she said, "you will be okay."

She knew of course, as did the mammogram tech, the residents that routinely poked in, and the radiologist. While the doctor performed the biopsy, the ultrasound technician squeezed my shaking hands and willed me to be still. Afterwards, the doctor showed me the mammogram images again, and explained again what concerned her. (I would later learn that the images on my mammogram were rated "BIRADS 4 - Suspicious abnormality.") She wrote down her cell phone number on a scrap of paper. "Call me anytime with questions."

The next few weeks were a blur of terror and kindnesses. The squeezed in appointments, the requirements waived, the soft voices. Wondering if I might die. My GP calling from Turks and Caicos when she heard the news. My surgeon holding my hand as I slipped under the spell of the anesthesiologist.

Over the last year the fear has waned, but the kindness has not. My oncologist still makes nipple jokes and tosses "Love ya, Em!" over her shoulder. My radiation onc tells me how tough I am, and the techs are easy and regular, and swapping cocktail recipes with me. The chemo nurses compliment my hair, and tell me not to lose any weight.

Last week, when the plastic surgeon told me to go to the ER for yet another surgery, I broke my no-crying-at-the-doctor streak. (The last time had been at my diagnosis.) After a minute of sniffling, I told him I was okay.

"No, don't be okay! I'm not okay. This is not okay. This sucks."

Ah, yes. So it does.

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