When The Doctor Says “You Have Cancer”
I know I am not the only person out there who grew up expecting to get cancer one day. Cancer can be in your genes, and when it’s in your family, it’s just something you come to expect.
Mind you, I was expecting to get breast cancer in my 60’s or something. Never, ever, a blood cancer at the age of 25. But so is life.
Cancer is not something I used to dwell on a lot, but it certainly crossed my mind. It was something I would purposely think about before doctor’s appointments. Or sometimes it would just sneak into my subconscious and I would try to sneak it back out.
I know one of the main reasons why people like to read blogs is because its voyeuristic. I’m a journalist, I get that. People are generally interested in the lives of other people. That is, when they’re not too busy obsessing over their own. I know there are people out there who think about their impending cancer diagnosis, and wonder what the hell getting that news is like.
I mean, we see it in the movies and on TV. Stiff, stern, and slightly concerned doctor tells sympathetic protagonist that they have the Dreaded Cancer. We feel shock for them and figure their life is probably over. Or, at least over for the next few months while they get chemo, turn pale, and lose their hair.
I want to tell you about how I was told. About how it all went down. And what it’s really like to hear the C-word from your doctor. Surprisingly, it starts in the shower.
It was the evening of June 21, the day before the CT scan that had me admitted to hospital. I’d been experiencing pain in my neck for over a week and the doctor at the clinic mentioned a possible irregularity when she felt my thyroid. I’d just gotten home from the gym. I think I had just done a light elliptical workout, as my workout capabilities had been drastically slashed in recent months.
As I touched my damp, swollen throat, a thought that had been lurking deep in my subconscious came bursting forth. I’d been working hard at suppressing it for a while, but in this moment I had no control over it. My mind screamed “WHAT IF IT’S CANCER??” and I started to cry. I cried because I was scared, and I cried because I felt silly for being scared when I was a relatively otherwise healthy person.
The next day I went to work like any other day. I was used to breaking off from the office to visit the hospital for x-rays and physio for my broken arm, so this scan was no different. My mom insisted on going with me, unlike my other scan days, which I found abnormally annoying. It was a laundry day, which means all my comfortable clothes were dirty in the hamper. So I was left wearing this little black dress with stockings.
Most of you know how the story goes from here. That CT scan showed a blood clot (better considered restricted blood flow) in my jugular vein – a biggie. As soon as I stepped back into my office after the scan, my family doctor called and told me to go immediately to his office. From there, I went straight to emergency (my mother freaking out the whole way, bytheway) and into the CT scanner again to look for more blood clots in my chest.
At this point, I thought I was going to need surgery on my throat to remove the blood clot. I thought the clot, which was on the left side of my throat, was related to a surgery I had on my left arm a few months earlier.
I know I went into the hospital around 3:30pm on one of the stretchers in the back area of emergency. I was still in my dress and stockings. The guy next to me was passing a kidney stone, and there was a drunk throwing up on the other side of the room. My dad had rushed in, having just left a game of golf before starting the 18th hole.
I think it was around 7pm that I saw my family doctor walk into emergency. The same doctor I’ve had all. my. life. I figured he was there seeing other patients and came in to check on me. But when he started talking on the phone at the nurse’s station, I perked up to listen.
I didn’t catch a lot of it, because I didn’t want to worry more than I already was. I mean, I thought I was in for a gnarly scar on my throat and all. But it was clear he was on the phone asking someone advice on interpreting scans. I definitely heard the word “Hodgkins.” A word I knew had something to do with cancer, but the extent of which I had no idea.
By now I am still laying on the stretcher, my parents are both seated at my side. My family doctor gets off the phone and we expect to see him come towards us. He steps behind a curtain to grab a chair, this is where my mother claims she saw him stand for a second and gain his composure.
The moment he dragged the chair next to my bed, I knew something was up. Whatever he had to tell me, he had to tell me sitting down. Doctors in hospitals don’t just pull up chairs. They breeze in and out and deliver news looking over you at the foot of your bed.
I can’t remember his exact words, but these are the details that will always stick out in my brain. My doctor said something about it being more serious than we thought. He said “the scan shows a large mass in your chest,” and as he said this, he placed his hand over my chest. A gesture that made it seem all too real.
I lost my breathe for a split second. I shot my head sideways to my mother, and realized my life had just become a nightmare.
I quickly looked back to my doctor as this news sunk in. My father was already on his feet, with his hand gripping my shoulder. He immediately asked about my chances of beating this, and my doctor went into all the possibilities. From the beginning, they knew it was lymphoma. While I could have been facing a grim diagnosis, I was wheeled up to the oncology ward that night feeling hopeful that it was the kind of nightmare I could recover from. One I had to recover from.
As each day passes, I realize more and more why I’ve been able to digest this news in such a calm manner. I really think that deep down inside I knew. I think I knew something was wrong with me for months beforehand, and that evening in the shower is when it all came to a head. Maybe I knew before I even got sick, and that’s why cancer was strangely on my mind at such a young age.
My diagnosis was a little different because I was admitted to hospital right away. I didn’t have time to go home and deal with the news on my own. In a split second, I became a cancer patient in the oncology ward.
I have to admit that I now realize that being told I have cancer is not the scariest thing I can imagine anymore. But being told I have it for a second time… A third time… A fourth time…
What I’ve really come to realize, is that life does not stop with a cancer diagnosis. It goes on. I woke up the next day on June 23rd and went through the motions. I still wake up every day and go through the motions. A cancer diagnosis is not something to live in fear of, or even dread and expect like I used to. It’s just about going on with your days as best you know how, enjoying what you can, disease or no disease.