Writing about cancer is hard. Lots of people get it and write about it and live through it, so it’s not like I have anything of value to add to the conversation.
But then, that has never stopped me from contributing to the conversation in the past, so I will try to explain what it’s like when your body turns against you in the prime of your life.
You just stop
When your cells go rogue, you change courses really fast. Your mind shuts everything else out so that the only thing there is cancer. Suddenly that coworker who you hated and was sucking all the emotional energy out of you means absolutely nothing. That newsletter you were editing is also meaningless.
Everything around you slowly, gradually grinds to a halt.
You stop the process of signing your daughter up for ballet with her friends because you have no idea if you will be tied up with chemotherapy or surgery or what. You waffle back and forth between sending out the custom-made monster-themed invitations to your son’s first birthday party or just saving them all in his baby book unaddressed and unmailed.
You call your babysitter and ask her if she can keep your kids a little later because you and your husband received some life-changing news, and you thank her profusely when she says “of course” with no questions asked and even says her own family’s home-cooked dinner is almost ready and your kids can eat with them.
You freak out but try really hard not to
You sit on the couch with your husband and two Bud Lights and think through the most likely case, even though you have no basis for knowing what your case will be.
You know you have invasive ductal carcinoma. You tell your husband that the most likely thing that will happen is that you’ll be inconvenienced at some point in the next few months with a lumpectomy. A not-too-terrible surgery. And surely you won’t need radiation or chemotherapy. There’s just no way this has spread or will be all that bad.
But what if it is? Pathology reports are hard to read. What you don’t understand, you Google. And when Google tells you that on a scale of one to three, with three being the worst, yours is a three, your heart starts to beat a little faster. And you start to breathe a little more rapidly.
You wonder if you’re going to die, and you think, no way. I’m not going to die. I’m not even sick. It was just a lump, for God’s sake.
You Google and change lanes
The pathology report says the cells were dividing at a fast pace and there were quite a few dead cells in your two tumors. Which is not really a good thing. Cancer cells live much longer than normal cells, so the fact that they’ve been in your body long enough to have died is not a good sign.
You and your husband keep Googling and Googling until you can get in to see the breast surgeon, and you do this without talking to anyone else because you don’t want to freak anyone out.
At some point in the purgatory between the indecipherable pathology report and the visit with the breast surgeon, you drive alone in your Jeep, and if you’re lucky, you get the sense that I got at this point.
If I die, it will be OK. My children have the most loving, engaged father imaginable. They have aunts and uncles and friends and neighbors who adore them and will make sure that they are raised in a loving environment to grow up and become happy, well-adjusted people (as well-adjusted as can be expected from the Medina/Trice/Allison/Talkington gene pools).
And they would be OK. I would watch from Heaven as they play soccer and learn the piano and have their first crush.
Who says this? What mother in her right mind says it’s OK if she dies before her kids are old enough to start school? I don’t.
I didn’t conjure up this sense of peace on my own. It was God given. Because no reasonable, rational person says they’re ready to die when they’re 33.
But this peace was real and it was pervasive.
I still cried when I leaned over Miles’ crib and swept his messy hair from his face. I cried when I thought about not being there with Allie when it was time to buy school supplies for the first time.
But I knew that God loved us and would take care of us.
And after that realization, I wasn’t scared. I had switched tracks into my alternate reality. I was in it, and all I wanted was to find out what I needed to do next.
You bask in God's grace
Thankfully, the breast surgeon, Alison Laidley, put everything into perspective for us. She showed us my mammogram films and explained what was concerning about them. She told us why I wasn’t a candidate for the lumpectomy + radiation protocol, and why I’d need a mastectomy of, at the least, my right breast, and likely both breasts. And why she thought that, even though my tumors were classified as grade three, the cancer was likely only stage two.
She freed up my mind so that, even though I never mailed out invitations to Miles’ first birthday or signed up Allie for dance classes, our family was in a good place to celebrate the birthdays of these two little ones.
|The invitation that was never mailed (or rotated properly before posting, because Mario took Photoshop off my Mac and made me use a stupid open source program called Gimp, which doesn't work. Go figure.)|
|I never mailed his birthday invitations, but I did make him a cake from scratch! It was horrible -- in taste and appearance.|
|One of my favorite pictures of all time. My son sleeping on my dad. Life does not get any better than this. On the left is Allie sitting on Aunt Nicole's lap (I have good hand recognition. But poor framing skills.)|
|Allie's birthday, which falls a month after Miles', was also a lot of fun. She got the Barbie Fairy that she wanted. This was the first birthday party that included friends, not just family.|
|I'm pretty sure I used Evite for Allie's birthday party, and I didn't make her cake from scratch. But Mama Toni bought her the best cake in the world (from Whole Foods), and I made the cream cheese frosting from scratch for her cupcakes!|