Right before I left for the hospital for my double mastectomy on Thursday morning, I started to compose a post called, “I Don’t Feel Sick, So How Do I Have Cancer?”
The day before, I had a lot of ups and downs, ranging from “OMG this is the last full day my boobs will have on this planet!” to “OMG get these off” to “I can’t believe this is happening.”
One of the strangest things about cancer is that since my diagnosis, I’ve felt completely normal. I don’t feel like anything is wrong with me, so it’s easy to start wondering whether three types of imaging and two biopsies are actually, in fact, wrong.
But Thursday evening, however, things felt a lot different.
I woke up in the recovery unit breast-less and asked my mom what the breast surgeon had found when she biopsied my sentinel node. My mother looked at me sadly and said, “it’s invasive, Sari. It is in at least one of your lymph nodes.”
Oddly, I wasn’t surprised. For weeks, I’d been saying that I could feel it in there. I could feel it moving toward my armpit and inching toward my lymph nodes. I knew it was spreading, even though it wasn’t “supposed to.”
Yesterday as I was getting released from the hospital after 4 nights, the breast surgeon visited me on her rounds. That’s when I finally cried.
I cried because I am thankful I have such a capable breast surgeon. I cried because I met her before I knew I had cancer, and she was the one who quantified my risks, came up with a plan for early screenings, and warned me about how many false positives there can be. She was the one who called to say, “they think they found something funny on your very first MRI,” and there to say “I didn’t want or expect to see you with this diagnosis so soon.”
And in the hospital yesterday, she was there to confirm what I knew without a doubt all along: if I hadn’t caught this now, it would have killed me.
I had no lump. I had “DCIS” which we called “baby cancer.” Not real cancer because I found it really, really early. Nothing much to worry about – the cancer was contained, and once I removed it, it would be gone forever.
But as it turned out, I had a cancer that was ready to travel. I’m praying it never got the chance, that it reached that first node and stopped. I won’t know how bad the cancer is until we get the pathology results. But we do know that it’s bad – it’s not baby cancer.
So it turns out I have cancer. The kind of cancer that kills. The kind that likely requires both chemo and radiation. And in a dark moment during a particularly nauseating and painful episode post surgery, I thought, “I can’t do this. It’s too much pain. How can I go through this AND chemo and radiation? What if there’s no point? What if it’s too late, and it gets me like it got Brandi?” But like kids who think high school is the be-all-end-all, I didn’t have perspective. Now I’m seeing myself making progress every day and I know I will make it through this.
I am clinging to the survivors of “bad” cancer and remembering that yes, this cancer kills people. But also, sometimes it doesn’t. And in this case, I’m choosing to believe that it won’t.