I left the McDs to walk to the lobby of our nearby hotel. The McDs was a below ground location with poor cell phone reception. The lobby was a quiet room, with two chairs and a nearby notepad and pen. I grabbed them and made my call. My doctor was leaving for his week-long vacation in the Maldives that afternoon and had come into the office specifically to get my test results.
"I'm afraid the pathology report shows cancer. We don't know all the details yet, but you need to extend your stay in Hong Kong."
In that instant, my life changed. It's not like I all-of-the-sudden had cancer . . . it didn't just suddenly made an appearance in my life, but it was definitely a sudden moment of awareness. I asked the doctor if we were looking at a mastectomy or a lumpectomy and he said that he couldn't tell at that point in time . . . that more information was needed from the continuing studies the pathologist would make throughout the week. We set up an appointment for ten days later, when he was back from vacation.
Cancer. Even though my mother had died of breast cancer, I never really thought that I'd have it myself. To be honest, I felt that if I ever got cancer that it would more likely be lung cancer due to all the pollutants in the area I live in.
I'm not a gal who needs to be coddled. I was very matter-of-fact on the phone and made notes as I talked to the doctor. Random thoughts went through my head as I walked back to the McDonalds. "Cancer. Okay, it's cancer. Cancer is treatable."
I took a deep breath and walked down the stairs and to the corner where three pairs of eyes watched me. I sat down and said, "Well, there's signs of cancer, but he doesn't know to what extent. We have to wait for more test results."
My eyes teared up, but I didn't cry. Cancer. What an emotion-filled word those six letters form.
More deep breaths. I answered their questions, using the notes I had taken during the conversation. This couple's son had lymphoma as a child (diagnosed in Hong Kong, of all places!), so they had walked the cancer road before. They prayed with us and used the words, "Vickie's cancer" in their prayer. I remember thinking about how traumatic those words sounded . . . I didn't WANT cancer to be attached to my name . . . and yet, I also remember thinking that all those other people in the McDonalds could be living out their own traumas at the same time! I didn't feel "alone" because I knew that we all have an untold, or non-public story.
A friend of mine recently referred me to the website http://www.writingthroughcancer.com . I HIGHLY recommend this site! It's put together by Sharon Bray, a cancer survivor. Writing Through Cancer features weekly writing prompts designed to encourage anyone living with cancer, another debilitating illness or difficult life circumstance, to write from that experience.
In other words, it's not just for those with cancer . . . it's for anyone living with a difficult life struggle.
This week's writing prompt was this: “Write about the moment when the doctor said, ‘Cancer.” She encourages each writer to "describe the moment in as much detail as you can: Where were you sitting? What were you feeling? Did you hear the doctor hesitate? Did you notice his/her face, her eyes? When you heard “cancer,” what happened? What was it like the moment before you got the news? And after?"
She then takes the challenge a bit further . . . "But don’t stop there. Write about that same experience again, only this time, put yourself in your doctor’s shoes. Write about the same moment again, but write from the perspective of the doctor, the one who delivering the bad news. What the doctor might have seen as she looked at you or heard when you came to the telephone? What might she have felt? Write in as much detail as you can. When you finish, compare both. What happened in each? What changed? Did you discover any new insights or understanding? Write about the experience of taking the doctor’s point of view."
I *have* thought about what my doctor may have felt. While he is a general surgeon, most of his current experience is with gastro-intestinal patients and thyroid patients. I'm not sure how often he has had to give a cancer diagnosis to people. I didn't sense any hesitation on his part. He was very matter-of-fact. I did notice that he never expressed any type of condolence . . . he never said, "I'm sorry, but . . . ."
Believe it or not, I felt bad for him having to come in the day he was leaving on vacation and having to give me "incomplete" news. I have since wondered if he was able to put it out of his mind or if he dwelt on the case while he was away. When I met with him upon his return, he was just as matter-of-fact as he had always been. He gave me the news that it was invasive cancer and that even more testing was needed for more complete information. While I was hoping for a less severe diagnosis, I was also quite relieved to have a definite answer. I had spent ten days praying and conducting research, so I was able to understand everything he was saying. Because of having time to prepare, I was equally matter-of-fact which made him say, "You're being very brave in the face of such news," I didn't think of it as being brave . . . I thought of it as needing more information before being able to react.
Yes, I've cried. I did most of the crying in the ten days between the initial diagnosis and the more complete diagnosis. At one point, I went to a park by myself and wept while sitting on a park bench, mindless to what others may have thought. I've been weepy a few times since then, but I can't say that I've had a major boo-hoo session in a while.
I ended up switching over to a breast specialist who saw me the same day as the follow-up appointment with the general surgeon. It only made sense in light of what we were facing. The full diagnosis of Stage IIIb breast cancer came two weeks after that initial phone call and my first treatment was ten days after that.
Did my world come to an end with my preliminary diagnosis on January 21, 2012? No. Did it come to an end with a more detailed diagnosis on January 31, 2012? No. Did it come to an end with my complete diagnosis on February 4, 2012? No. My world is still going on.
I may eventually die of breast cancer metastases. I don't know. However, the fact is, I'm not dead now. I am more than alive, living a whole new world order. I know that some people, when faced with a major crisis, may ask the question, "Why me?" To be honest, the question, "Why not me?" has come to my mind more often. Why should my life be spared hardships, only to have someone else to have suffering? This doesn't mean that I wish for this to be happening in my life . . . in fact, I still pray for a miraculous healing . . . but I don't protest that it is happening. I have cancer. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
More importantly, though, I have today. You have today. That's all any of us have. No guarantees of a tomorrow. I don't want to use the trite, "You could be hit by a truck" analogy, but where I live, that happens way too often! People get hit by trucks and buses all the time! When one lives in a developing nation, I think there are more reminders at how fragile life is.
I have been given the gift of one more day. That's as much as I can ask for. It's my hope to live each day with great joy. As I ponder "what's next?" I am reminded of God's faithfulness in the journey. What more could I ask for?