I have cancer.
(Sounds like “Bond. James Bond.” I can live with that.)
The news came yesterday, delivered through the sad and apologetic voice of my doctor, whom I have always adored for his kindness, quiet expertise and sincere concern for his patients. (Thank you Dr. D. I know you’ve got my back!) I learned years ago that feeling competently and kindly cared for by my health practitioners allows me to best rise to the challenges facing my body. And here I am, challenged again.
I’ve been in a few life-threatening health positions before. Four ectopic pregnancies, including one that ruptured; and a badly infected gall bladder all come to mind. But these were all occasions, events really, that required–and received–immediate emergency care to overcome. There wasn’t a lot of time to contemplate living with these conditions, because there would be no long-term attendance required. Check it off my to-do list and move forward. And I did.
This is different. Cancer is different. It’s a disease. It can become chronic, and fatal. It has to be wrestled to the ground, firmly, and then stomped into oblivion. That takes time. And effort. And pain. And intelligence. And no small sacrifice from me and my family–in body parts, financial security, emotional distress and lifestyle. After treatment, I, The Patient, will stand vigilant watch over my body for the remainder of my earthly life to ensure that The Intruder never returns. I’m tired thinking of this and I haven’t even had my first meet and greet with the oncologist.
I am also annoyed. Thoroughly annoyed. Bordering on angry annoyed.
Honestly, I don’t have time for this shit. I happily live a busy (that’s B-U-S-Y) life. I’m wife to a complex, amazing, loving and steadfast man, and mom to an incredibly mature and kind 15-year-old high school cheerleader who possesses high goals and demands constant and delightful management. I work two different but related professions. By day, I’m all about communications and relationships at our school district, I job that I adore. At night and on weekends, I’m all about communications and relationships with quilters and other creative people throughout the world, another job I adore. We have a big, messy, spread-apart family that often relies on me to help with varied issues. And then there are my/our amazing friends, who are my brothers and sisters by choice. I am blessed, and I well know it.
My clan is gathering fiercely right now, surrounding me and mine with their bagpipes, bodhrans and swords (forgive me, but I’m reading the Outlander series, again, and I’ve got more than a few Scots running through my brain of late,) and I know I am loved and as protected as possible.
Yep. Just that.
Years ago, I read something from another gal facing breast cancer. She hated the constant allusions between fighting a war and overcoming her disease. She didn’t get how the battle mentality related to her circumstances. She recoiled when anyone used the terms “fight,” “war,” or “overcome,” thinking them violent and inaccurate. At the time I thought I understood her peaceful eloquence and need for serenity and acceptance.
Not anymore. For me, this is a fight, and I don’t face it alone.
Already there are new people in my life–strangers–who will become incredibly important as we strategize how to approach this cancer. I have new doctors to meet and interview, new nurse navigators who have already provided me with reliable information. (Information is the BEST tool for providing at least the small illusion of control in a circumstance like this.) My life will expand to include acquaintances and those not-yet-met who will become added support and sources of information from the journey we now share. It’s already happening and it hasn’t been 24 hours since I heard the words.
I’m a writer, a photographer and a quilter. I tell stories through words, images and fabric. I was also a longtime infertility patient. It took 13 years to create my kid, whom we lovingly call our “Lab Rat.” It was only in that last year of trying for her that I became open about what we were going through. I worked as a reporter at a regional newspaper, the Ventura County Star, and took the wonderful opportunity given to me to write a weekly column about our road through infertility, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and my subsequent high-risk pregnancy. To be able to put words to our experiences and feelings, and to share them freely, was the most cathartic experience in my life up until that time. What came back was an unmeasurable amount of solidarity and support; the sense that the pain we lived through was lightened by helping others with our information; and the concrete knowledge that when I need help, I need to speak up and ask, and it will come.
It’s only normal for me to do it again, here, with cancer.
So, the early signs are that this is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). Yep. I have another acronym to add to my personal lexicon, and my educator buds are ROTFL because I’m the one who always teases them about living in a pot of alphabet soup, as educators do. It looks like it was caught early. It looks like it is treatable. It looks like I’ll live to tell the tale. These are preliminary, best-guess looks based on preliminary info. I’m not be a cynic; I just know that there are more test results that haven’t been looked at yet. That’s what Tuesday is about.
I’m so proud that my daughter, Sam, wants to come to the appointment with me and my husband. She has big, solid dreams of becoming a surgeon when she’s done growing up. I don’t mind being her lab rat for a while. And one of my oldest and dearest friends also wants to come. Karen is a social worker who works in a hospital and is one of the most logical, clear-thinking and kind people I’m blessed to have around me. So, yeah, she gets to come, since she asked. I figure if someone loves me enough to want to crawl through some of these foxholes with me, who am I to say no? And Stephen immediately thought it was a good idea. Open book, Folks. It’s the only way for me to go.
In the meantime, know that if you’re one of my many beloved ones who I have not been able to call yet, that it’s not me ignoring you. It’s me trying to wrap B-U-S-Y up for a while. That’s one of the cool parts about being able to write this journey, because I can keep those who care updated even if I can’t get on the phone. For as long as possible, I want to keep daily life normal for my family and me. There’s a lot of prep work I need to do to free up my schedule and my brain for the battles to come. So, please, forgive me for not getting to you yet? And yes, feel free to call, text or email, if you’re so moved. Right now, all needs are met and we’re in a good place for this fight. I am okay.
Prayers are welcome. Hugging your own loved ones on my behalf is encouraged, because life is short. And only happy vibes will be received for the immediate future.
Oh, and yes, I’m making myself a quilt for this time. Because that’s what we quilters do when we’re facing a life moment: We hit the fabric. I’ll be documenting that as well, because those of us who share this obsession with needle, fabric and thread never get tired of watching the birth of another quilt. Just saying.