It is 3:20 in the morning, and I’m about 20 feet from my front door. I feel like I could take off running down the street because I’m so excited that I finished chemo. I’m not going to write about chemo now because it will literally make me sick to do so. Chemo is evil. It may kill cancer cells, but what it does to the body is pure evil.
I haven’t wanted to write lately out of fear of not being able to fully capture how I feel. And for some reason, I want to remember every last detail of this experience. And truthfully, with the exception of chemo, being diagnosed with breast cancer has been overwhelmingly positive.
So, I’ll just tell it in chronological order. Bear with me, because this goes back a ways.
My late grandmother, Betty Trice, survived breast cancer twice. The first time she had it was in the late 80s. I was in the fifth or sixth grade. She had the cancerous breast removed and reconstructed and went through chemotherapy. One day during the summer, my family was together at my aunt and uncle’s lake house in Weatherford, and my grandmother took off her wig and I screamed.
|My beautiful grandmother, Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Trice. She was incredibly strong. She worked a full-time job as a secretary at Bell Helicopter, while raising four relatively well-adjusted kids.|
|Granny loved playing golf.|
She and my relatives were sitting on fold-up lawn chairs in the backyard while my cousin Lindsey and I were playing in the lake. The sight of seeing my beautiful grandmother bald was shocking. I was 11 or so, and I was way too old to have behaved that way.
That must have been the summer between my fifth and sixth grade years, because I remember in sixth grade having an all-consuming fear that I had breast cancer. I didn’t even have boobs, per say, but I would stay awake at night scared to death that I had cancer. My mother took me to see our family doctor, just so I could hear him say that I did not have breast cancer.
I never really thought about it much more after that, even when my grandmother’s breast cancer came back. I think this happened when I was in high school or college, so, the mid-90s, when I was too busy concentrating on myself.
Later, in May 2010, my grandmother died—not of breast cancer but from complications of Alzheimer’s. During the last few days that she was alive, my grandmother’s great niece, Margie, spent a lot of time with us, helping my mother take care of my poor Granny. We talked about how strong my grandmother was, how she survived breast cancer not once, but twice. Margie also said, in passing, really, that Granny’s sister (Margie’s grandmother), died of breast cancer when she was 35.
It hit me that breast cancer runs in our family and that I should be doing breast self-exams, something I’d never done before.
On Christmas Eve day 2010, I was in the shower, getting ready to see the Trices for our usual family get-together at our friend Larry’s house. I was in charge of making asparagus, and I had found this incredible Paula Deen recipe online.
Allie had been throwing what probably ended up to be a two-hour tantrum because she wanted to wear her green-striped froggy bathing suit and tights to our Christmas dinner (we relented). I’m sure Miles was cool as a cucumber, as he usually is unless he’s teething.
|Two hours. For two hours, Allie threw a fit so she could wear this bathing suit to our family Christmas dinner.|
And while I was in the shower, I found a lump in my right breast. I didn’t think much of it, but I showed Mario. He didn’t think much of it, either, and we decided to forget about it until after Christmas.
In January 2011, I went to my OB/GYN, Dr. Tovar, about it. I remember clear as day him saying, “I’m 95% certain this is a fibroid.” I was pretty certain it was, too, but I was a little worried that he didn’t say he was 99% certain. He said that because of my family history, he’d like me to get a mammogram.
Did the mammogram. I remember the radiologist coming in to the exam room after he had reviewed the images, and he said, “this looks like a fibroid and smells like a fibroid, but I’d like to have one of my colleagues take a look at it..” Then he asked me an odd question: “Are you OK either way, whether we do a biopsy or not?” And I said sure, that I trusted him.
A few days later, Dr. Tovar called me and said he wanted me to have a biopsy because the images showed a little bit of calcification. Of course I Googled this “calcification” thing and didn’t find anything too alarming about it.
On January 31, I went in for the biopsy. I had on my black Ugg boots, and the nurse and I were talking about how comfortable they were. I had just changed jobs at work (same department, different manager), and I called my new boss to tell her that the biopsy was a little more invasive than I had anticipated, and that I’d need to stay home the rest of the day.
Then the weather went nuts. It iced, like it does in Dallas. The ice was so bad, they nearly had to call off the Superbowl. Our sitter closed, and we were stuck in the house with the kids for several days straight. Now, I love my babies, but it is HARD to entertain an 11-month-old and almost-3-year-old inside a house for more than a day. We must have watched a dozen “Max and Ruby” episodes on Nick Jr. I found a half-eaten banana in between the couch cushions that Allie had stashed. My babies weren’t old enough to go sliding down the streets or make snowmen. It was miserable, really.
|OK, so not too miserable.|
It was so cold that Spanky Mae couldn’t bare to put her little paws on the ice to potty outside. So, she pooped inside. In the playroom. At one point, praising God for a mere two minutes of quiet time to read a full paragraph from a newspaper, I realized it was too quiet. I looked in the playroom to see Miles mushing something around in his mouth. Dog poop.
We had to get out of the house. I begged our sitter to keep our kids the next day so I could risk my life and drive to the office over sleet-covered highways. This was a Thursday. February 3.
I worked until about 4 and headed out to my Jeep in the parking garage. My cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. It was my OB/GYN calling from his personal cell phone.
He said he’d looked at the pathology report. “It’s cancer,” he said.
That’s all, folks! I don’t mean to be all cliff-hanger-y. This is just breast cancer. People survive it. But I’m too tired now to finish the full story.