In the eye of the hurricane

During the first meeting I had with my oncologist he warned me that cancer was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. I heard what he said, but my gosh I now realize he wasn’t kidding.

As I write this I am about three and a half weeks post diagnosis.

The call telling me I had cancer quickly stirred up the most intense, fast, forward moving motion. Work with the navigator to schedule appointments with the oncologist, the radiation oncologist, the surgeon, trying to figure out work, trying to breathe, making time to tell others the news…and yet, there’s waiting.

For eight days I knew I had cancer. But for eight days I did not know if I was Stage 1 or Stage 4. I did not know what the pathology details were. I did not know what the fight for my life looked like. I did not know if I would need chemo. Also did not know if I would need surgery. Oh, and how about radiation? Eight days of knowing nothing other than I had cancer within my body. Talk about feeling like an eternity. For eight days I didn’t sleep well, but when I would doze off the first and only thing I would think about was cancer. This wasn’t a dream. This was my reality.

Once day eight rolled around I finally learned more details. Invasive ductal carcinoma. Hormone negative. HER2 positive. Get genetic testing done. Schedule MRI to see if it has spread. Finalize treatment plan. Outpatient surgery to place port and begin chemo. Weekly blood draws to check counts. Reimage to see if the tumor has shrunk. Surgery. Radiation. One year of post-treatment medication.

Wait a week for insurance to approve MRI. Wait for results.

Oncologist calls, and the MRI showed a spot in my armpit measuring a bit larger than they would like — implying the lymph node may be reacting to something (or not). Order an ultrasound and biopsy to see if the cancer has spread to that spot (but praise God there was no other suspicious spots which showed up on the MRI — an answer to many, many prayers).

Order the ultrasound and biopsy. Wait for insurance to approve. Realize the imaging center you’ve used for every other procedure this far cannot do it so need to go to the hospital for this procedure. Re-wait for insurance to approve it. Hospital needs to schedule procedure(s) a minimum of five days out. Today is Friday, and the procedure is next Friday. Another full week of waiting.

The waiting. It’s like the eye of a hurricane. It is calm. It feels slightly normal. Everything seems ok.

…and yet you know there is a hellacious storm ravaging around you. Circling around you is actually the scariest, gnarliest part of the storm. The worst is still coming. But here you are trying to live in the calm and not think about what is to come. Enjoy and embrace the stillness.

An actual picture I took in South Beach Miami a week and a half after diagnosis (yes, my oncologist knew I was going). So much calm and beauty…and then the storm rolled in. Felt like I was living a real life metaphor.

Hurry up and wait.

Honestly, I was driving somewhere the other night and had a moment where I thought to myself, “I feel physically fine. Do I really have cancer? This isn’t real.”

I definitely have cancer. I’ve lived with that reality for almost a month. By the time I start treatment I will likely be almost six weeks post diagnosis.

Yet all I can do is wait.

Saying this part is hard would be the strongest understatement of my journey through this detour chapter yet. It’s hard. Really, really hard.

But here I am. I’m living with as little fear as I can, and embracing genuine joy and abundant gratitude here in the eye of the hurricane.

Cancer: hurry up and wait.

Published May 21, 2021

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