There’s more

September 10. I have an appointment with Dr. Olsen to check out the lump. She does a referral for a sonogram and mammogram on my right breast. I mention that it doesn’t seem likely that the lump would show on a mammogram, given the location. She said something about it being “protocol since I’m a breast cancer survivor” and since the lump is on the same side. I think, “Whatever. Let’s just get it done.”

September 19. I go for the mammogram/sonogram at 11 a.m. at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Imaging. I’m feeling anxious. Just as I’m about to go in for the mammogram part the hospital’s computer system goes down. I’m thinking, “No. No way. I need to get this done today. Sh*t.” I’m told I can either wait or reschedule. Oh…I’m waiting. About 15 minutes later the computer’s come back up. Thank gawd. I go in for the mammogram, and of course, it’s impossible to get the lump in the image. But I get squished anyway. Then I go right in for the sonogram. The technician is very thorough. I’m thinking, “too thorough.” She sends the images over to the radiologist to read. Leaves the room. Comes back. Says my doctor will call me with the results. And as I leave she asks me if the Breast Cancer Advocate Maria gave me her card when we were chatting. I’m thinking, “Sh*t. I know what that means.” But I say, “Why no, no she didn’t. Thank you. Thank you very much,” and take the card. Ugh. I think I have cancer.

I go back to work and about an hour later Dr. Olsen calls and says the sonogram results were…I can’t remember the exact word she used, but it was something like…suspicious. I have two options, she says, surgery to have it cut out and biopsied, or a needle biopsy. I opt for the least invasive needle biopsy. I hang up the phone and feel my eyes welling up. Dammit. I think I have cancer. It’s then I tell my colleague Katie the awful truth of my situation. She remains optimistic. Me, not so much.

September 28. I go back to the hospital imaging department for the needle biopsy. Steve goes with me. I take a half a Valium to take the edge off. (What I had to go through to get a prescription for 4 tiny Valium is a whole other story.) The team, a young doctor and two young nurses, were very efficient and kind. I was glad I took the valium because getting the biopsy ended up to be challenging. Of, course. They said I would likely get results in 3-5 working days.

October 3. I’m at work chatting with Katie as we do most mornings. Around 9 a.m. my phone rings. It’s Dr. Olsen’s assistant letting me know I have an appointment. That day. At 11:30 a.m. I say, “Okay.” I hang up and tell Katie, “Well they don’t just call and tell you that you have have an appointment that same day to tell you good news.” And I’m thinking, “Sh*t. I have cancer.” We both start to cry a little. I know I have to call Steve. I do. He says, “Come home. And I’ll drive you to your appointment.” Katie says, “I’m going with you.” I guess I have an entourage. I’m a mess on the inside, so my outside could use an entourage.

It’s not my first rodeo

September 1999. It’s the week after Labor Day. Steve and I are getting ready to leave for a week long stay on a houseboat on Trinity Lake outside Weaverville, California. I am in the shower when I notice “the lump.” Right breast. I just had a mammogram in June so it must be a cyst.

I go to my doctor soon after we get home from vacation. She orders a sonogram since I just had a mammogram. The rest, as they say, is history. Sonogram is abnormal. Not a cyst. Surgery to remove and biopsy the lump. The diagnosis. Cancer. Sh*t.

Second opinion at UCSF Breast Care Center. Diagnosis confirmed. Sentinel node biopsy. Lumpectomy. General oncologist. Radiation oncologist. Radiation. Chemotherapy. I am only 47 years old.

It is the little bits of things that fret and worry us; we can dodge a elephant, but we can’t dodge a fly. —Josh Billings

September 2018. It’s a beautiful autumn afternoon. I’m working outside. Haul four wheelbarrow’s full of clippings, weeds, debris to the burn pile. It’s warm and I get over-heated. It seems out of character and makes me go, “hmmmmm.” The next day I feel like I pulled a muscle in my right upper arm. It’s swollen and there is a lump.