Helena’s Cancer Diary – Part II

Note: thus far, the primary thing for other women to learn from my experience is that although neither self nor doctor’s examination found anything of concern in my breasts, a mammogram only two weeks after the doctor visit revealed a small cancer. Don’t wait, ladies. Now, back to my story.

After the “disappointing” lunch, it was time to meet with the surgeon. Even though it was “just” a doctor’s appointment at the Breast Health Centre in City Hospital, I had to check in as a patient and get a wristband, which I found a little bit unnerving.

“Are they going to do something today already? But I’m not ready, I need to make plans. But what if it is so serious, they have to act immediately?” were some of the thoughts that crossed my mind. I did get some reassurance from remembering I hadn’t been asked to fast.

Even when you are expecting it, the words “you have cancer” are a blow. And when everyone has been focused on how very small the lump is and how early it’s been caught, to discover you have to have a full mastectomy is another blow.

In my case, a lumpectomy was not a viable option because the calcifications elsewhere in the breast had proved to be another form of cancer – not the spreading everywhere kind, but something that would continue to grow.

When we asked the surgeon how long I would be in the hospital and I heard the answer “one night,” I was instantly relieved. “Well, that’s not going to be so bad,” I thought.

A sarcastic “ha ha” has to follow that comment. I hadn’t taken into account how hospital stays have changed. After meeting with the surgeon, we met with one of his nurses who went through what to expect in more detail. I wouldn’t exactly be waltzing home after my one-night stay.

But, thinking perhaps I could do a little bit of editing or writing work from home after a week or two, I asked “How long do you think it could be before I could sit comfortably at a computer for a couple of hours?” In my innocence, I thought a couple of hours surely wouldn’t be too much if I was at home and could lay down for a rest afterwards.

The shocked and horrified look on the nurse’s face was answer enough before any words left her mouth. It seemed as if it would be four or five weeks before such a feat was possible. She gently added, “You have to take care of yourself. You need to take time to heal.”

Now it was time to start telling people. Did you know there’s a whole logistical sequence to that? Who needs to be told first? Second? Who will be hurt if they hear about it through “the grapevine?”

Of course, my children were first on the list. The problem was they are scattered across Saskatchewan. One Facebook private message to all of them at once? That hardly seemed right. Setting up a conference call? They would have to be told of the day, time and number to call and it would all have seemed very weird. So, we met with my daughter who lives in Warman that very afternoon. Then two days later, I started on a quick road trip. *** kilometres later, I was home with only the teenager left to tell.

I arrived home after midnight on a Friday. The next morning, He-who-thinks-he’s boss told me there had been a message on the phone the day before from the doctor’s office. They were ready to set the date for my surgery.

Instantly it feels as if a rock has dropped deep into my belly, a dead weight settling there. This is real, it’s not a drill. I have cancer. I am going to have significant surgery. I am going to lose a breast.

Here’s Part III