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In Honor of Sara
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Oddly enough, I have always wanted to natter on about my daily life, my quirky insights to things, my life as a mother, my sick sense of humor- but I just figured I never really had an interesting reason to do so- then BAM! My golden ticket- a cancer diagnosis in my fifth month of pregnancy. Yep. That should do it. Pretty damn interesting indeed. So here I am. I'm 35. A lethal combo of a dreamer and hard core realist. Married to my absolute best friend for only a year, I have two beautiful daughters who are the pearls from the oyster that was my first marriage, and my third daughter is due in March. She will end up being the little pearl of the oyster that is her mom's cancer. Boy, if you are a child of mine, you are almost a shoe in for your own novel. I hope they pay attention in English class.
So. Deep breath. Get your number two pencils sharpened, and choose your answers wisely. Turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this... Whatever.
Here we go.
On the second day of November, 2012, I married my best friend. My daughters did too. I fact, our family married that day. The four of us. James took my girls under wing as if they had always been his.
We embarked on a lot of adventures together, bought a brand new home, made it ours, spent most of the summer on Lake Michigan, in his childhood home town of Ludington, Mi, fixing up what we would call our little lake house. My kids made memories in the same house that he did as a a boy. I literally started to savor every bit of my life, with all 5 senses. It was hard to believe that I finally felt like I had found my nirvana. Literally. I quit my job, and became the stay at home wife and mom- and loved it. I still do. The sweetest part of that summer was on a hot evening in July, when alone at the lake house, I discovered I was pregnant. I'll never forget it. I had to call James right away- I couldn't keep the surprise. I really didn't think we would have a baby of our own. We had been trying, but just figured my two girls would be it. Much to our delight, God had other plans. Summer quickly turned from green to shades of yellow and orange, and fall was upon us. Katey started 5th grade, at a new school, I coached her cheerleading team, and Cece started preschool. Both girls were flourishing. James and I were too, as we were so excited with each pregnancy milestone we reached. In late October, we found out that we were being blessed with another little girl. I couldn't believe it. I cannot say there has ever been a happier time in my life. It seemed like the planets finally had aligned, and after surviving what had seemed like my own personal hell, of heartbreak, divorce & disappointment, I was finally seeing my own silver lining. But for some reason, I felt cautious. I didn't let myself dive in completely- because a little voice kept saying- "just wait"...
James and I married on a Friday. Everything about that day was delicious. All of it. We had cupcakes at our reception, from a little bakery downtown. Our wedding cake was just for us, and from the first ceremonial slice cut, we shared & savored it to the last crumb... I'm not kidding. We honeymooned in Chicago, and you can bet that cake came along with us. Chocolate & white layers with raspberry buttercream frosting in the middle & buttercream on the outside. Divinity.
Naturally, a year later, my husband decided to bring home a replica of that cake on the morning of our first anniversary. It tasted even sweeter the second time, as we sliced into it, not wearing a tux & a wedding dress with glasses of champagne - but being in sweatpants & pajamas with coffee. It was our breakfast. One year. Time had wings. That weekend, we spent at home together. Just us. We support rival college football teams, (he Michigan & I Michigan State), and the two headed off in a much anticipated game that afternoon. We watched the game, ordered Chinese take out, and just spent the time together. We donated the altar flowers at church that Sunday, and served coffee at the luncheon following the service. We wanted to be no place else, other than where it had all started a year prior... Little did we know, that after that Sunday, our lives would never be the same...
Several months prior...
Back in April, we decided to start thinking about a baby of our own. I visited my OB at that time, to see what our options were. Because my cycles were irregular, I was put on metformin, a drug typically for diabetics, to help with my fertility. About 4 weeks into it, I noticed a lump in my left breast. I brought it to the attention of the OB office. An NP examined me, and determined it was nothing. Dense breast tissue at most. Breast cancer was not even on my radar at that time. A second appointment with a nurse midwife, checking on the fertility process, I asked about it again, and was reassured it was likely hormonal. A few months passed. The lump grew. I found out I was pregnant, & at my OB intake, I asked about it again. This time it was still "nothing" but an ultrasound of my breast & a breast surgeon consult was ordered. "Just to put my mind at ease". I went ahead & had the ultrasound done. A week later, I received a letter, stating that it was nothing. Just dense breast tissue- NO ABNORMALITIES. I did what anyone else would have done. I didn't schedule the referral appointment with the breast surgeon. Why in the hell would I? I just got an "all clear" from the radiologist. At that point, I figured mastitis after the baby arrived was my biggest worry. Cancer? Pffffttt.
During the next few months, the fatigue I experienced was overwhelming. I attributed it to being 34, raising 2 very active girls, and being pregnant. Then I started waking up at night. The pain in my left breast was excruciating. It felt like something was growing like ivy around the nerve endings in my chest wall, shoulder & down my arm. James would get up & make me heat packs to try to soothe it. I called my OB again, and was told that they would reinstate the referral to the breast surgeon. Two weeks later, we had our 20 week comprehensive exam for baby. Ultrasound looked great, and we found out we were having a girl. Toward the end of the appointment, I asked my OB to examine my breast again, and reminded her that we still had not been contacted about the breast surgeon consult. Again, she examined my breast & showed no concern, figuring I would "just produce more milk on that side" By this time, the lump was a mass, and was nearly the size of a ping pong ball. I left that day, again feeling lulled that nothing was wrong.
I finally called the breast surgeon & got the appointment set up. November 7th.
The morning of the consult, I showered, and as I was washing under my left arm, I found 2 more masses. I called James into the bathroom and had him feel. We both kind of looked at each other. Shit. We both knew something wasn't right. At that point, standing there, dripping wet, it hit me. What had hit me I don't know, but it didn't feel ok.
We proceeded to the appointment. Waited. Wondered. Finally we met the doctor, who said based in the ultrasound from August, he really didn't see anything wrong- yet he would perform a breast exam anyway. I took everything off, from the waist up, put on what looked like a giant bib that opened from the front, and we waited. (Looking back, my biggest fear that day for my baby was a mammogram -ha!)
The doctor and his nurse came in, and he started palpating my breast. He stopped. He excused himself, and left the room. He brought in with him, a resident, and asked if I minded if he had a look too. I thought to myself, "Why not. Grab a few beers & let's party". My stomach started to knot. They both felt me, and the doctor said to the resident "I want you to tell me how this was missed".
Long story short, he telephoned another surgeon/breast radiologist, and instructed us to go across town immediately for a biopsy. That's when I started shitting bricks, the lump formed in my throat, and that agonizing feeling of looming heartbreak that I knew all too well, tapped me on the shoulder. Again.
We walked into the office across town, and right away, we were taken into a room, where again I removed my clothes from the waist up. The radiologist came in and asked me for the short version of my history- then proceeded with the ultrasound. He kept pausing. Measuring. Looking. Measuring. Finally I said. "I want you to tell me exactly what you are seeing right now". He said "well, the good news is, is that there are good options for chemo in pregnancy". I looked at James & I think then and there we both knew. We proceeded with the exam, including 9 biopsies of my breast & nearby lymph nodes. Then we left. We went home. We held each other. We cried. We prayed. And we waited.
At 2:05 the next afternoon, I called to get the results of my pathology report. I was home alone, with Cece, my youngest daughter. I grabbed a scrap piece of paper and a pen, and as she sat next to me, thumbing through a picture book, I wrote what the doctor was telling me. It was like I was taking report on a patient at work. Not writing my own prognosis down. In blue ink, on that yellow piece of scrap paper, without crying, I remember writing...
-2 tumors. Grade 3.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
-positive metastatic cells
-positive lymph nodes.
I hung up the phone. I think I said "fuck" in my head about 50 times, then I asked Cecelia if she wanted a snack.
My OB promptly called me and said she was shocked at the diagnosis. "How??" I thought.
I texted James, and told him that he needed to see about getting the night off work.
I called my parents. And when my dad answered, it was the first time I had to say out loud, "it's cancer" tears choked out my words, and he asked me to repeat myself. I did, and he passed my mom the phone. Immediately, they said they would be here, and by God, if 48 hours didn't pass, they were at my door. All the way from Florida, after only being there two days into their snowbird trip, they were here for me. That's how my family is.
James came home for the night. He knew before he even saw me. He walked in the door, and when his eyes met mine, I could see the tears welled up, about to spill down his cheeks. He said 4 words..."it's cancer, isn't it?" I nodded & we hugged the tightest hug. I finally felt safe, for the first time that day, in his arms-yet I couldn't cry. I felt in that moment, he needed MY strength. By that time, Katey had come home from school on the bus. I looked at James & said "get in the shower, now". From the other side of the bathroom door, the shower ran. He wept. I sat on our bed, with a blank stare- feeling like I was in a nightmare.
My dear friend brought is dinner that night. Some of the best pizza I've ever had. We spread a blanket in front if the fireplace and ate as a little family. The girls had no clue. James and I just kept looking at each other, heartbroken. My cousin came for the weekend. I made a few phone calls. The blur that life with cancer is began...
This will be our story.