The moment I heard the words “you have cancer” my heart fell a thousand feet. My initial reaction was a feeling of hopelessness. However the voice on the other end of the line was kind and careful. She was the one who had first felt my lump the day after I found it. She was the one who took my concerns seriously and sent me for further testing. She was one of my midwives. Her name is Mandy. Mandy had said, “Hi Liz, where are you right now? Is your husband near?”
I replied that I was at home and Steve was at work. She continued “Okay. We got your biopsy results back and I’m so sorry…The tumor is malignant. You have cancer… is your husband able to meet you here? I am on call but have no births scheduled so come to the office and we can talk. Whatever you need.”
I called Steve. I said those three little, big words “I have cancer” then we were both silent. He immediately came home and we went to the office. Except when we got there Mandy had been called away, to help with a birth. My heart sank again. But then we were taken into a room where My Midwife, Claudia, was standing. Claudia was the midwife who had delivered two of my babies. One unmedicated. One born not breathing. We had done hard things together. She felt like a mother to me, when I didn’t have one. We were already connected so seeing her, my heart began to lift.
What she said next was what I needed most. “Oh Elizabeth. I know you were expecting Mandy and don’t know why things happen the way they do but I want you to know you are looking at a 20 year survivor of the same breast cancer you have. And I know you can do this.” We hugged and cried and talked and hugged some more. I left that office hours later, with a peaceful heart and a brightness of hope.
That day I was diagnosed with DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma in-situ. Meaning, it was not thought to be invasive. At that moment it was considered stage 0 breast cancer. The timing was important. We had caught it early! So we went forward with treatment, having a bilateral mastectomy a few weeks later, thinking that was the only form of treatment I would need.
After the tumor was removed and tested fully, I got another call. This time from the nurse at my breast cancer surgeon’s office, Amanda. She spoke carefully, “Hi Liz, we have the results back from pathology and the good news is we got clean margins and no lymph node involvement. However, the tumor had become slightly invasive, growing outside of the duct and has tested negative for both hormones and HER2. This puts the tumor at a grade 3, meaning it’s more aggressive and changes your diagnosis to Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Stage 1. Because of this new information we do recommend chemotherapy.”
My heart sank for the second time.
Six weeks later I began 8 rounds of chemotherapy that lasted 3 months. I lost my breasts, I lost my hair, I lost a part of myself that used to wear rose colored glasses. While that summer was really hard, it was not impossible. I learned so much about my own capacity and grit, and also about tender-hearted love and ongoing, gentle kindness from others. So though I am maybe a little bit jaded, I have also gained a lot. And for that I am grateful.