About a month ago
I had a cold. It was a particularly annoying sinus cold, and I was not pleased, but I was doing my best to just recover and move on with my life. Like you do when you have a cold, and two children, one of whom is about to start kindergarten, and a new job to figure out, and so on.
Wednesday, September 4th
Pandra had been feverish for a few days. That night, she woke up screaming and freaking out, and had a febrile seizure. Adam and I nearly decided to take her to emergency, but it passed quickly enough and she recovered. We decided that I would go with Adam and Lyra to Lyra’s checkup the next morning instead of going to work, bringing Pandra along just to make sure things were okay with her.
Thursday, September 5th
Lyra had a scheduled 5-year-old checkup before starting kindergarten, when she gets a booster and they check to make sure she’s still growing properly. She got her shots like a champion, she was in perfect health, and all was well. After she was done, we had the doctor check out Pan.
Pandra was still a bit feverish, but the doctor told us that the fever would break in a day or so, and she would break out in a rash, and then she would be fine; because she had fifth disease, one of those baby viruses that babies get, and get over. She told us to manage the fever with tylenol to make sure she didn’t have another febrile seizure and freak us out, and I picked up Pandra to pack our things up and head home.
And then I coughed.
The doctor, who was leaving the room, heard me and turned right back around.
“Oh, dear, let’s check you out! I don’t like the sound of that cough.”
I handed the baby to Adam, who went off to the waiting room with both girls while I got the once-over on my cold. She was concerned, she said, because the cough sounded like it had some acid reflux kind of thing going on. I agreed that yes, I had been experiencing some acid reflux, and it was annoying. And then the doctor noticed a lump near my clavicle, and I, offhandedly, mentioned that something felt kind of off on the right side, upper part of my lungs.
And so she sent me to get lung x-rays that day, because our doctor is very thorough. For that, I am grateful.
Sunday, September 8th
On Sunday afternoon, I get a phone call from the doctor — the lump she found showed up on the x-ray, and was something to be concerned about — enough so that she was booking me in for a CT scan as soon as possible. She told me that the Radiology department would call the next morning to set up an appointment, which they did.
Monday, September 9th
I hadn’t had a CT scan before. The giant donut machine was neat, and the process was quick and easy. It took less than an hour and they sent me on my way. Next was just to wait around for results.
Tuesday, September 10th
I hadn’t heard anything by midday, and wondered if I should call my doctor. I decided to wait. By the time I left work, I still hadn’t heard anything, and was starting to figure that maybe no news was good news. Maybe they hadn’t found anything of note. I went about my evening, making dinner and putting the kids to bed and making a lunch for Lyra. And then I noticed my phone had a voicemail.
“Oh, dear, I just wanted to call and let you know, we got the CT scan results back, and there’s something in there. It’s maybe… oh, how big is it… well I guess it’s about the size of a lemon or so, just sitting in your chest there. So can you come in tomorrow at, say, 10:30?”
Well yes. Yes I could certainly come in tomorrow at 10:30. And I didn’t particularly sleep at all that night. Instead, I lay awake thinking about cancer, and my daughters, and Adam, and how I would be really sad to have to stop breastfeeding Pandra earlier than planned, and worrying that I might not be able to sing again because of a growth gone wrong in my chest. These were the thoughts that kept me awake. Especially the one about possibly not being able to sing anymore. I guess that’s just the one that my mind decided to latch on to as the worst. possible. thing.
Wednesday, September 11th
Adam and I sent the girls to daycare and school and went to see the doctor, promptly at 10:30. We sat down in her office and she told us that, so far, there wasn’t much to tell, except that there was something there in my chest, and that they didn’t know exactly what it was yet, but the most likely thing was a lymphoma of some sort.
Lymphoma. Now that’s a big word. My doctor was avoiding the other big word that it’s closely related to — cancer. Now that’s an even bigger word. Hard to say, hard to write, hard to think about. But there it was, laid out plain in front of us. It might possibly be something else, but it probably wasn’t. We wouldn’t know until after a biopsy.
The thing was, this wasn’t a terrible end-of-the-world diagnosis. This was, in fact, the best possible scenario of bad scenarios. If you’re going to get cancer, it’s a pretty good one to get, because there are a lot of options out there for treatment. On top of that, Adam and I have a good friend who, in the past few years, went through diagnosis and treatment of lymphoma, and has recovered, so we were very familiar with the process. But we still didn’t know for certain if that was what I had.
That evening, a couple of good friends came over with wine, and we drank a lot of it. It was good.
Thursday, September 12th
My biopsy was scheduled for 11am the next day. Adam and I went to the hospital together from work. As we were walking up to the door, my phone started ringing. On the other end of the line was the Ultrasound department at the hospital, calling ten minutes before my appointment was scheduled, to tell me that they would have to reschedule me for the next day because of emergencies popping up and them not being able to fit me in.
We were mildly annoyed, but when I thought about it I decided that if someone else needed their time more than I did, they probably deserved it. They rescheduled me for the next morning, and I went back to work.
Friday, September 13th
I didn’t realize that it was Friday the 13th. I’m not superstitious, so it wasn’t really important to me, but people kept pointing it out anyway. Adam and I returned to the hospital that morning, where they did not reschedule me a second time, thankfully. I was sent off to a waiting room and changed into a blue gown. And I waited, and was bored. And I started a tumblr and called it Unfamiliar Ceiling.
A nurse finally brought me into a small room with an ultrasound machine, and a radiologist doctor followed soon after. I was having a needle biopsy, which meant that they would freeze the area around the lump, then insert a needle into the lump to get a few samples of it. I asked how it worked, of course, because I like to know these things. The doctor explained it as a little tray that sits on the end of the needle, and when he pushes a button it clicks and then closes, cutting off a piece of tissue and shooting it back up the needle in the tray.
I like to know exactly what’s about to happen because it helps me come to terms with it and not feel panicked or nervous. Like any other reasonably normal person, I don’t actually like needles. What I can do, however, is feel the tension coming into me physically and emotionally, recognize it for what it is (instinctual fear) and talk myself down from that until I reach a place where I don’t feel afraid or nervous. I don’t really feel much of anything but detached, at that point. My ability to dissociate is well-developed, and it has done me well in challenging health situations like heart surgery and having a c-section. It’s how I handle pain and fear. I’m very good having a clear head in a crisis.
He then made me turn my head to the wall so he could get a good angle on the lump, which is near the base of my neck. That meant I couldn’t watch, though, which was mildly disappointing. I asked him if I could see a picture of the ultrasound when he was done; he said he would show me one. I followed up by asking if I could take a picture of the ultrasound he showed me, to which he replied “I guess… if you want to?” Of course I wanted to. That’s what I do.
I finished the biopsy and ultrasound and went on my way back to work for the afternoon. Exhaustion from the week had started to creep up on me, though, and my brain was getting just a little bit squirrelly. By 3pm I was practically falling asleep at my desk. When I got home, I was beyond tired and I knew it. We ordered takeout for dinner because I was just done. Once the kids were in bed, Adam forced me to lie down on the couch and go to sleep. Eventually I moved into the bedroom, where I slept more. He got up the next morning with the girls, and I continued sleeping. By the end of it, I had slept for twelve hours, and still felt like I could sleep a bit more.
The weekend continued as a normal weekend does… laundry, and grocery shopping, getting outside for a hike, and doing things with our daughters. At times I would be distracted and nothing thinking about anything, then suddenly remember ‘Oh, right, probable lymphoma,’ and have a strange double-take kind of feeling. It was sobering and distracting, and then it was gone and I was carrying on with life, because that is what I do.
Sunday, September 15th
And now it’s Sunday night. I have another ultrasound on Tuesday, because they found a lump in my left breast, but they don’t think it’s related. It may just be something to do with breastfeeding. However, they want to check it out and make sure, because lymphoma. And then on Thursday I have another appointment with a surgeon, probably to schedule an excisional biopsy to take the entire lemon-sized thing out at once. I don’t know if that’s all it will take, or if I’ll need to do chemo as well. I don’t really know much of anything yet.
Since I don’t know what’s to come, I’m not going to worry too much. Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, and really it can only make everything harder, so I’m carrying on with life, I’m sharing what’s happening since that’s how I deal with things best, and I’m doing my best to not be afraid, without being too dissociated. That’s where humour comes into it. I will make jokes about this situation, because if I don’t make jokes then I won’t let myself feel anything at all. And that would be worse.