April 27, 2005 – The Diagnosis

The sun rose as usual in Benton, Arkansas, on Wednesday, April 27, 2005. The birds sang, the dogs barked, all over the world people went about their business like any other day.

Todd had accepted his new position in Pennsylvania and given his three week notice just days before. We were preoccupied with list upon list of what needed to be done around the house before it would be ready to show. It was our main topic of conversation.

I was a little miffed this particular morning because I had to stop my cleaning/ purging/spiffing-up momentum for a mammogram and a doctor’s appointment. Not that getting a mammogram was any big deal. I’d had lumps before and had been squished twice already. They were always the same thing – benign, fibrocystic lumps.

This lump was a little different, though. The small mass was just left of the nipple of my left breast and was pulling the areola in on that side. The effect was what I like to call “Marty Feldman Syndrome” or MFS. You know, one eye focused straight ahead while the other strayed off in an entirely different direction. Still, I only figured this had more to do with where the lump was and less to do with what it was.

What had me concerned was the fact my gynecologist was sending me to a “breast specialist” after the mammogram. He’d never done that before. In fact he’d never really been worried before, but this time he was obviously disturbed by the MFS. So I requested prayers from some friends and asked Todd to go with me.

The mammogram went as usual. I let the very nice technician manhandle my chest and tug on me just so there would be enough to cram in the cold contraption. I tried hard not to laugh when she said the ridiculous words, “Hold your breath and don’t move.” Really. Where am I going to go?

After the usual mammogram was the usual ultrasound. After the usual ultrasound was the usual quick consultation with the radiologist. This time, however, he said there was a bit of a chance of malignancy. About 20% from what he could see from the films. He was certain the specialist would want to schedule a needle biopsy. Bah! That meant there was an 80% chance of it being benign.

Films in hand, we headed to the breast specialist, more commonly referred to as the surgical oncologist. But I preferred the former title. Not quite as scary.

Todd and I sat in the cold, sterile room – he in the chair and me on the exam table in my lovely gown, feet dangling like a child – totally ignoring the huge elephant while we prioritized our ever-growing To Do list. The doctor came in with the films, clipped them onto the view box and introduced herself. She said the mass looked suspicious and a needle biopsy would be in order.

At this point I was more exasperated than anything. All I could think of was what a terrible inconvenience this was. I knew it couldn’t be cancer because I had no doubt God wanted us in Pennsylvania. He had been very persistent in this regard. And if He wanted us to move he wouldn’t give me cancer. Right?

“Here’s the deal,” I said. I told her about Todd’s impending move in just a few weeks and how the kids and I would be following as soon as the house was sold. If she gave the lump a 20% chance of malignancy as the radiologist did then I’d do the needle biopsy because I knew it would prove benign. So after explaining our situation I asked what her opinion was.

It was in that moment I realized she had been easing us into the reality of what we were dealing with. Her demeanor changed from professional courtesy to one of blunt frankness. “I’ve seen thousands of films and judging from this starburst pattern radiating away from the tumor, I would give this a 95% probability of malignancy.”

I’m not sure if I made a sound, but I felt as though I’d been hit in the stomach, the wind completely knocked out of me. Deep down I’d known this was different than the lumps I’d had before, but the shock was a physical blow. I was almost afraid to look at Todd and when I did I knew he’d been slammed by the same force. The doctor handed me a box of Kleenex and left us to gather our thoughts.

Not speaking, we clung to each other and wept. I was only 39. Our children were 10 and 13. We were supposed to be moving. Suddenly nothing made sense.

When she came back into the room I told her I didn’t want to waste time with a needle biopsy. That would just delay everything another week at least and time was of the essence here. I wanted to get this mess taken care of so I could get on with my life.

She agreed a needle biopsy would be nearly useless and before we left I was scheduled for a surgical biopsy and potential mastectomy the following week. Todd and I walked to the car in a mute daze, still reeling from the news. He finally broke the silence when he said he was going to try to get his Little Rock job back. I persuaded him not to do anything yet. At least not until we had stopped spinning and could think rationally.

As we drove home I looked at him and said, “There is a silver lining to this very dark cloud.” He looked at me, clearly unconvinced. “I’m serious. I can think of several benefits. First of all, the chemo will be a harsh, yet effective weight loss program and I won’t have to shave anymore. And I’ll have all the time in the world to read all those books in the office.”

He still didn’t seem to be on board until I hit him with the clincher. “And,” I said, going in for the kill, “insurance will actually pay for me to get a set of new, improved, perky boobs!” Yeah. That got his attention.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, though it seemed to drag out forever. Under normal circumstances my first phone call would have been to my mother. She and my dad, however, were on vacation in California with no way for me to get a hold of them. So instead I called my hairdresser and went in for a hair cut. Can you say “denial”? Or maybe it was just shock.

My parents were scheduled to call us two days later and I was struggling with what to tell them. I was afraid they would cut their vacation short just to come home and be there when I had the surgery. I really didn’t want them to do that. Instead my father happened to call this particular day about another matter. Dad’s not much of a talker and I was thankful it was him because I was pretty sure the subject of my mammogram wouldn’t come up. We were just about to hang up when I heard my mom in the background saying, “Ask her how her appointment went.” *sigh* I just said, “Not good. I’m having surgery on Tuesday,” and that was that.

Later when my mom called and mentioned they should change their tickets and come home I was able to convince her not to. I knew I was going to need them a whole lot more when I started treatment. Besides, Todd’s parents were in town to help and my sister, Terri, was coming to help, too.

We had already told the kids I had a lump and the doctor wanted me to have a mammogram to make sure it wasn’t something bad. Of course I had to explain what that was, to which Taylor asked, “Will they pop back into place when it’s over?” That’s what happens when you encourage your children to ask questions. They do.

So that afternoon we told them the breast doctor didn’t like what she saw and I would be having surgery the following week. I don’t think we actually said the word “cancer” in this particular conversation. We figured the fact I was going to have surgery was enough for them to deal with. Besides, there was still that 5% chance it was benign.

There were several people who knew I was going in for a mammogram and I sent them a global email with the results of the day’s events. In the message I said we probably wouldn’t be answering the phone that day. By that night, however, I had spoken to the majority of them. What was funny – and truly made us laugh – was that I was the one comforting friends and family.

After the phone calls stopped and the kids had gone to bed, we laid in our own bed holding hands and talking. Despite the events of the day there was a feeling of peace. There were still so many unknowns, but, as I’ve said many times before, we knew God was in control. And that knowledge is the best source of comfort there is.

0 thoughts on “April 27, 2005 – The Diagnosis

  1. You can’t write these kinds of things without a “tear warning” at the top….. Some of us read from work (NOT ME!!) and then we sit here crying. Good thing I don’t wear makeup!

  2. Wow, Jen, just wow! I’m weeping too. God bless you and your family you’ve been through so much but there is obviously alot of love and faith with you. This was very moving.

  3. Terri – Why don’t you just assume you’re going to cry when you read my posts. I mean, the 1965 post should have made you cry, just thinking of how good it was before I came along. :o)Thank you, Rosie and Zeek.

  4. I don’t assume I’m going to cry when I read your posts…I assume I’m going to be LMAO. But even in the tearjerkers, there are almost always a few giggles. Insurance paying for perky new boobs…INDEED!!!! Thanks for sharing your story. It was very moving. Once again, you have left me rather speechless. Thanks, Jenster.Katy

  5. You obviously know how to take charge of a situation. I think I would have crawled into a hole for longer than a week – then again, Canadian health care runs much slower.I’m glad it’s two years later and that the chemo is over and that you are on your way to being healthy again. I know you still have skin problems and such but hopefully that will clear up soon.CindyS

  6. What an amazing story. I, too, teared up. I was deeply touched by your faith, however. God bless you and your family. And I’m so glad you’re here now, two years later, to share this story with us.(((((((HUGS))))))))

  7. Hey, Jenster. New blog reader here… I post occasionally on Manic’s blog, and love your witty comments and just knew I’d enjoy your blog too. What an amazing first post for me to read, though! Inspirational, funny, and touching.

  8. Katy – We had to laugh or else we’d be crying 24/7. :o)Em – I’m glad to share. Writing it out is good for me.Cindy – I’m good in a crisis. It’s when the crisis is over that I fall apart.Swishy – Thanks. But I’m no more amazing than any other woman. It just takes something like that to find out. That’s all.Holly – Dangit! I keep forgetting to put the hanky warning at the beginning. lolMonnik – Thanks for stopping by! I actually checked out your blog earlier today and wanted to comment on your latest post, but I couldn’t figure out how. LOL. I guess I can leave you a comment on another post. :o)

  9. Wow Jen. You have a way of writing that had me right there with you, as if it was happening now, in front of me. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it has given many people, including myself, a lot of hope and belief in the world. {{{{hugs}}}}

  10. You are so strong and I really admire your attitude. My neighbor who just got diagnosed is much like you. I hope she can also stay strong but also know that she’s allowed to sit on her pity pot when she needs to.

  11. I have spent the last day trying to think of something worthy to say here. Nothing seems to measure up in light of what you went through with your family. I am grateful you are healthy and may God Bless you mightily!! Such an inspiring story and I am glad you shared it! 🙂

  12. Can I be honest with you, Jen? My first thought after reading this post was . . . Wow! This is some GREAT writing. Seriously, Jen. This is where your voice comes across the loudest and that’s what a publisher is looking for — a strong, unique voice that moves the reader. Your fiction is fun to read, but THIS is what will get you pubbed someday, Jen. I’m sure of it. Oh, and yeah, I teared up, woman. Big time. Not just because it’s a moving telling of your story, but also, I think, because I remember that time and what you told us about . . . especially about you not wanting to alarm your parents while they were on vacation. I distinctly remember that part. Hugs,Jennifer

  13. Jodi – If I was there I’d let you hug my neck! :o)Burg – Not when I have to open jars! lolStacy – Thank you!Slackermommy – I’m sorry about your neighbor. Please tell her she can always email me if she has any questions or wants to talk to someone who can relate. I’m sure she probably has her own set of people, but the offer’s there for her.Jen – I’m glad you’re glad I shared it. LOL There will be more. :o)Jennifer – I have to admit, this type of writing is “comfortable” for me. Much more so than the other stuff I’ve tried.CTD – No need for words. LOL

  14. You sound so much like me (or I sound like you) that it makes me sure we would be friends in real life. When I started my cancer journey, all I thought at the beginning was “I just don’t have time for this”. I love that you are sharing this!

  15. I held my breath through the entire post, as though if I didn’t breathe, you would find out it was nothing, and that you could just go back to spiffing up your house.I’m glad to know you are okay now, but I still in my heart am so sad that this had to happen at all…hooray for knowing Who can give you comfort- and hooray that you were able to get rockin’ on the fight so that you would be here today to bless us all with your wonderful, truthful posts.awesome, awesome girl!

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