During my cancer journey, I was hesitant to let too many people know before I had all of the facts. Since I let everyone know I was planning on Joining the Survivors Club, there have been many questions. In this "A Year Ago Today" Series, I will attempt to answer those questions and also work out what the hell happened this last year in my own head, heart and soul. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.
The short story: A year ago today I found out I had cancer, got some ice cream, and then went back to work.
The long story:
A year ago today, I went in for my follow up appointment to Surgery #1. As I wrote about last time, my doctor typically did follow ups 4 weeks post-op. Since he scheduled this one for 2 weeks, I had a feeling I wasn't going to like what I was going to hear. I went to work that morning, Mike picked me up at the office and we drove to my 11:30 appointment in Schenectady.
When I got there, I was taken straight back to the doctor's personal office. No exam room to sit waiting in, just a desk and a few chairs. The doctor pulled his chair around to the front of the desk. He spoke quietly and slowly, oh so very slowly. He summarized our short history together, from diagnosis to surgery going step by step through the whole thing. As he slowly worked his way up to what he actually wanted to say my heart was racing and my bones ached with nerves. In my head I was screaming, "Say it, just say it. I know you're going to say it, just get it over with." I knew what was coming, how could I not? It was just taking so damn long.
The overly kind doctor took my hand, he looked me in the eyes, he said something like the bad news is you have cancer, the good news is, we caught it early. He diagnosed it as stage 1a, that it was contained and that he got it all out. He told me stories of his patients who had gone through the same things, how they were healthy, fertile and still alive 20 or more years later. He assured me his tears were only a match to mine, that it wasn't that I had a terrible diagnosis, it was that he hated to see his patients cry. He said, "You will be fine, you will do well. Very well." Over and over. "You will be fine. You will do well."
With legs that were not my own, I walked back out of the office and to the receptionist. I handed her the paper with boxes checked and scientific terms scribbled out in the Doctor's terrible handwriting. There were tests to schedule and appointments to be made. She looked at the paper, she looked at me. Her eyes reflected the sadness and fear that must have been in my own. She filled out another paper for me to take to the scheduling nurse. She wrote that I would need a CT scan and a follow up appointment with an oncologist. She filled that out and then wrote across the bottom, in all caps just like this:
And that was when shit started feeling real. It was the first time I really saw and felt the words. I took my paper back to the scheduling nurse and got the CT scheduled and was told my information would be passed on to the oncologist's office for them to set up an appointment.
We left the office, back outside into a beautiful sunny day, passing by people who weren't in the medical arts building to hear they had cancer. I looked at them as I walked out, wondering what their news would be, what they were there for. Was it just a routine visit? Were they going to hear great news? Would they, too, hear bad news? How was the world still moving and people still going on with their days? What would my days start to look like?
Mike and I got back in the car and just sat there, staring straight ahead, wondering what to do. There was so much to do and so little we could do all at the same time. He wanted to me to tell him what I needed. I wanted to fast forward through all of it, so that it was a day I was looking back on, not going through. But I had to go through it, I had to feel it, I had to make a decision. So I made the easiest decision I could. I told him there was a new TCBY and I wanted to go have some ice cream. Then, I did what was comfortable, routine and familiar. I went back to work for the rest of the day.