On Feb 8, 2017, I finally went to see my nurse practitioner about a breast lump that I’d originally noticed six months before, the previous August.
From the split second that the expression on her face shifted as she felt the lump and sent me off with an order for a diagnostic mammogram, everything changed. I went from hemming and hawing about spending the money on a copay for a doc appointment for something that would obviously turn out to be nothing…to a downward spiral into despair like I’d never felt before.
Looking back on that time, knowing all the self-calming techniques and meditation methods that I currently practice, if I were going through this now one thing is very clear: I would still have panicked.
It bears mentioning that on Feb 8, 2017, I did not get my diagnosis. That appointment simply opened the door for scans that I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go through, but it devastated me regardless. In the two weeks that it took before I could actually go in for the mammogram and ultrasound, I died many times over.
The fact is, nothing ever prepares you for a cancer diagnosis. No matter what sort of mental calisthenics you practice, cancer is still CANCER. And even the idea that cancer could be a reality is terrifying.
There is no “alternative wording” that makes this easier. Sooner or later, you’d still bump up against that six-letter word that, for someone in my generation, meant a distinct possibility for a very sad ending (which arguably is an outdated and potentially irrational view, but that’s what you get).
So rest assured, if you ever find yourself in this situation, no matter how you’re handling it, you’re doing a good job. Because you don’t really “handle” the news, you just splash around and try to keep your head above water.
Doctors, I’m told, practice delivering the news in a calm but empathic manner. Trust me, that’s kind of lost on the patient. Since my lump was clearly cancerous on the diagnostic ultrasound, I actually got the news broken to me twice:
My radiologist (after the ultrasound): “I have two things to tell you. One, you have cancer. Two, you’re going to be okay.”
My general practitioner (after the biopsy): “It’s as we feared. It’s cancer.”
See, whether the delivery is kind of upbeat with an attempt at a positive ending or whether it’s more reserved, anticipating the patient’s fear at hearing this, it doesn’t matter. Because once you cross that threshhold, you can’t turn back to “it’s nothing, have a nice day”. You are literally propelled forward into the next steps, and there will be many of them.
But there are a few things to remember. Being thrust headfirst into the world of cancer means that at least you’re not standing still like you are when you’re worrying about a diagnosis. Recalling Churchill’s famous quote, “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. Of all the times in a cancer journey, the point right around the diagnosis is the most terrifying because you know you have cancer but not necessarily how “bad” your situation is or what the next steps are.
There is relief in the movement of information and the passage of time. If there is a way to focus on the next step, always the next step, without getting overwhelmed by the tidal wave brought on by the concept of having cancer, you will be able to gingerly find yourself a path through which to navigate the cancer journey, and there is peace in that.
And if there isn’t peace…you’re still very normal. ❤