Diagnosis In, Life’s Normalcy Out

What started with the relief of a normal mammogram on April 28, 2008 would soon become anything but normal. I was an average woman with above average breast cancer risk following the diagnoses of two of my sisters in the previous four years.

I was doing the recommended screenings and I didn’t feel anything palpably different in either breast. It was still a nervous time whenever I had a mammogram though, so I was lighthearted and on my merry way for another year . . . until my doctor called on May 5.

She and the radiologist who read my mammogram were recommending a breast MRI. They were aware of my family history, noted that I had dense breast tissue, and MRIs were starting to be utilized more for breast imaging.

I remain forever grateful to these two doctors, one whom I knew and one I didn’t. The suggested MRI took place on May 8. Interesting procedure, that one. Noisy. Close. I left relieved to be done and that I was giving due diligence to my circumstances.

On May 10, Darcy and I ran the Brookings Marathon, our fifth marathon, on a rainy morning. My thoughts were raining down questions like “What if I am running with cancer in my body?” and “What if this is my last marathon?”

I was. It wasn’t. But I am getting ahead of myself. On May 12, things got exponentially more worrisome with a call from my doctor. A “suspicious area” had been found in my right breast. An ultrasound was the next suggested step in this grueling series. Damn! This really could be something. I had entertained such thoughts already, but now they came to stay.

Later that week, on May 16, I underwent the much simpler and shorter breast ultrasound procedure. Technically, it was a normal ultrasound. I even have the letter to prove it. In a world of millimeters, my “suspicious area” was hard to pinpoint. I found comfort in knowing the area of concern was very small.

The radiologist who did the ultrasound was kind and reassuring, but also pragmatic. She suggested either waiting 6 months and taking another look, or having an MR-guided biopsy. Easy call for me there. Biopsy it.

The MR-guided biopsy took place 11 days later, on Tuesday, May 27. It was the first time my breast tissue was invaded for a fact-finding mission. It wouldn’t be the last. Results would come in a day or two. Already a month out from that normal mammogram, I was getting used to waiting.

The day after the biopsy, I didn’t expect to hear anything and I didn’t. The distraction of work helped keep my mind occupied. May 29 dawned with me edgy and anxious. I simultaneously hoped to hear something and dreaded the possible news.

I missed the first call from my doctor around noon and an after school meeting meant I missed the second one. I was on my way home when she and I were able to connect. I was driving and asked if I should pull over. When she said “you probably should,” I knew what my biopsy results were.

Her words were something like “you do have cancer, two different kinds.” Sitting in a random parking lot off the freeway, my normal life became anything but for the next days, weeks, months. Diagnosis in. Life as a cancer patient began.

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