spoiler alert: biopsy results are in–i don’t have cancer but a type of pre-cancer.
when i was little girl, i remember thinking that i might be someone special, just waiting to be discovered for some incredible talent that i hadn’t even discovered yet. like someone would see me walking down east leonard street and say, “wow, she’s destined to become the world’s best ballerina.” this despite the fact that i quit ballet after i peed my pants because i was too afraid to ask to use the bathroom. warm pee running down my tighted, leotarded, six-year-old legs, collecting in a pool around my pink ballet shoes.
i daydreamed a lot of scenarios–a pro-tennis player (i’ve played tennis under ten times in my life), an HIV/AIDS researcher who discovers the cure (my eyelashes always got in the way to see through the microscope clearly), an archaeologist who unlocks the biggest link in our evolution (i don’t like feeling perpetually dusty), a biomedical engineer who creates the world’s best amputee prosthetic limbs (physics was the hardest subject that i eked through, vowing never to turn back after finishing the final exam).
these daydreams have largely dissolved. i know myself, what i’m good at, what gives me juice, what sends juice into the world. so i’m a pretty typical thirty-something. and i’ve come to be ok with that.
what a cancer patient is always seeking is a “typical” pathology report or scan result. atypical, abnormal, unusual….those aren’t desired words for us.
i received a message from my oncologist’s office yesterday morning, “dr. rugo will call you when her plane lands.” we all know how that usually goes when the big guns are brought in to deliver the results. so i did what any typical person would do. i reorganized my underwear drawer, walked in the sunshine to a taqueria and got a beer, perused the public library shelves and got annoyed that i missed some cool black history month events there, and helped my friend mary unpack in her new apartment. typical time-passing stuff, all the while playing through absolutely every scenario possible and coming to accept them, calmly, almost serenely, thinking to myself, “i’ll ask to have my port placed in the same location. i need to talk to HR to figure out how to extend my medical leave. i wonder which chemo drugs they’ll use this time.” and so on.
“well meaghan, it’s not the worst news and it’s not the best news.”
the news: i have 5cm of atypia in my left breast (my artist-formerly-know-as-healthy left breast). this a risk factor for developing breast cancer, kind of like ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). often times when these atypical cells are excised, there can be invasive cancer embedded in them too. but other times, they can sit in a breast and never change forms or become cancer.
i have two options: take a watchful waiting approach with more frequent scans, or have the area surgically removed through a lumpectomy. we’re working on getting an appointment with the surgeon to understand her opinion, how the surgery would work, how it would leave my breast, and so on. when i told dr. rugo that my gut reaction was to opt for surgery, she thought it was a good idea. and then when i asked her if my hormone therapy (the monthly zoladex shots + tamoxifen) help prevent cancer from developing, she said of course and don’t stop them.
as the news has sunk in, i have many more questions. if i’m on hormone therapies, why did this happen? did the radiation that got scattered to my left breast cause this, given that the biopsy location is towards the center of my chest? what about the lymph nodes that were active on the MRI? what if the tissue is removed and invasive cancer is found, then what? given that 5cm seems significant, how was this missed on my clinical exam in january? how does this change my screening in the future? how severe and intensive will this surgery be, and would anything else in my treatment plan change? why am i atypical? why can’t i just be typical again?
i’m scheduled to return to work in two weeks. i just wanted these last few days of medical leave to be, well, typical–reading, yoga, walks, sunshine. instead, i have this. and breasts with criss-crosses of steri-strips on them and the left breast with a serious bruise from the core biopsy (that’s another story for another day – very glad it’s over).
thank you all for your kind, encouraging and generous selves. it’s helped to know you’re there…even though i’m sorry that i need you to be there. ttyl.