The Day I Became A Breast Cancer Statistic

[spider_facebook id=”1″]img_3295 img_3290 img_3296There have been a couple of turning points in my life, but there was one particular event that rocked my entire world. Funny how your world can be upside down, but life goes on around you like everything is normal.

On a Tuesday morning around 11:15am on October 1, 2013, I had my purse on my arm and was ready to walk out the door to grab CFA and take it to the school for Parent’s Lunch Day.  My third grader was anxiously waiting for her chicken nuggets and her mother….and I couldn’t be late….and I wasn’t

Just as I was about to touch the front door knob, my phone rang.  On the other end was a PA that I had visited a couple of times in the previous days after my very first mammogram.  I had thrown my mammogram order away the year before, but this year, my gynecologist suggested I get one. My insurance would pick up the tab…so I’d play the game.  A couple of weeks went by before I took my coffee stained, wrinkled order into the diagnostics center to have a mammogram(insert eye roll here).  It was supposed to be breeze in and breeze out kinda thing….and it was…the first time.

Since it was my first mammogram, the tech assured me that there was no reason for a panic attack  if I received a call back because it was routine–clearly, she didn’t know me.  Apparently, if there isn’t a base-line to follow and you move, another mammogram is needed because the picture may or may not have a blur.  Since I’m not still…ever…why in the world would I think I wouldn’t get the call back from “accidentally” moving during a mammogram…I knew better.

The next day as I was walking across my yard after grabbing the mail and my phone rang…of course, it’s in my hand because I’ve learned to use it as another appendage.  However, this time, I had laid my phone down because I was reading the “abnormal” results from the gynecologist visit, while trying to absorb the news, when the ringing phone jerked me out of the zone. On the other end was a tech telling me that I needed to come back in for another mammogram because there were abnormalities…lovely.  In a 3-minute window, two events had sent me into a tailspin…which is kind of a typical day for me, but this tailspin wouldn’t stop spinning.

I went back to have my second mammogram.  The second test isn’t as easy and for the first time in your life, you wonder if there is a pressure limit on your boobs that should require a gauge like a tire…because I was sure, my “C” cup was about to have a blow out and I was going to be left with an “A” flat.  In her cute little reassuring voice, the tech told me she was going to show the radiologist the film, she’d be right back, and I could get the heck outta there.  After about five minutes I could see the radiologist–armed with my film–was approaching my door.  In my most redneck voice I could muster up in my head, I thought…”awww…hell naw…”.  I don’t remember much after he walked in because after the words “cancer”, “pattern”, and “biopsy” were mentioned….my ADD  kicked in and I was mentally thinking about my memorial service,  how carnations better not be in any flower arrangements, and how Dolly would say “yes” when asked to sing at my funeral service.  A pessimist?  Nah.  Just a human who thinks cancer is your death sentence.

The radiologist didn’t seem concerned. I mean, this is his job, he sees it everyday…and I believe he even joked a little– while interrupting my mental funeral planning.  He told me I needed a biopsy, but he had a vacation planned. Yay. His hiatus meant I’d have to wait until he got back…so I did.  On a Thursday afternoon, my husband took off from work, my daughter played hooky from school, and we took off to Rome, Georgia for me to have a biopsy (I really wasn’t even sure what that included).  I had absolutely no idea what it meant or any details.  I found myself in a robot mode that was going to last for months.  Honestly, I never thought about breast cancer…until that day, after we parked the car, I glanced up to see the cancer center building, and for a brief moment, terror hit me.  I cried for a second and decided to lay that crap aside. Then I pulled up my big girl thong, slapped on some trashy, glittery, lip gloss…and followed my family into the building to face my demon.  Except…after waiting over a week on “joking doctor”(who, btw wasn’t funny) to get back from the Caribbean, having a mental breakdown in the car, sign in at the desk, only to be told ” the machine is broken”.  My immediate thought?  Well, somebody better fix it because my husband getting off from work was comparable to Jesus being present for the Second Coming.  Ahhh…but they gave me a Sears gift card for my trouble and told me come back on Monday. Who in the crap goes to Sears?  Really? They couldn’t spring for a Macy’s card? Amazon? Victoria’s Secret? I felt like Charlie Brown…and got a rock.

I showed up alone on Monday after having a weekend of hell for personal reasons.  That was the day that I had the revelation of, when I’m mad, I’m not nearly as afraid….so…I thought…bring it!  Let’s get it done! I have no fear!  I was led back to a room, put on a table–naked–when suddenly the table rises–to the ceiling for all I know.  The religious table that you think is approaching The Throne enables your boobs to fall through holes…yes…two round holes that are exactly what you are envisioning.  This ride to the top provides the doctor and his assistant to slide under you in their chairs and do whatever it is they do.  I laid in the same position for an hour.  I never saw the doctor’s face because I was looking at the wall with strict orders not to move, and–to this day–can’t even tell you his name.  I only heard voices and clicking on a keyboard.  They whispered, they clicked, they whispered, they clicked…and then silence.  They had LEFT ME IN THAT ROOM ALONE! Then more voices, clicking, whispering, and clicking…till my hot temper got scared and I asked–in my mad voice–“Is there a problem?”.  I mean, honestly,  I couldn’t be real mean…who could take a naked woman with her boobs falling through holes in a table seriously, anyway?  Not me….I would’ve been pointing and laughing at me. For all I know, they could very well have been.  Their answer was, “I’m sorry.  We couldn’t figure out how to do this, but we got help…so it’s okay now”.  OH MAH GAWWWD! Who were these clowns and why were my girly parts entrusted with them if they couldn’t figure out the computer thing?   They left, I was told to get dressed because we had another test to do…so I did….but it took a few minutes.  I had laid there for an hour, I couldn’t move,  but no one offered a come-along to pull me out of the bed that could have been a part of a storyline in “Fifty Shades”.  Kinky and cool…but weird and scary. I found out later that incident was not a normal biopsy.

I went next door where they did a mammogram after a biopsy.  My thoughts were…are they trying to kill me?  My thoughts were confirmed when I looked down and realized the heffa’ doing the test had squeezed me so hard, there was a hematoma the size and color of an apple on my left boob.  Was this normal?  I’m not the Web MD kinda chick, so I rolled with it…maybe it was normal.  My thoughts were everywhere because I forgot to turn the sound on my phone off.  It was beeping every four seconds because I forgot my sister was mad at me…and she was texting me and telling me how much she loved me **sarcasm**.  I got dressed after sitting with ice on my “apple boob” for 30 minutes and was ready to GET. OUT. OF.  DODGE.  The PA, who looked fresh out of school –whatever school a PA goes to–and couldn’t have been more than 25,  walked me to the front door.  No apologies for the apple, no introduction to the doctor, and no Sears card.  Her only question was, “Do you want us to call you with the results, or come in?”  My thoughts? Well…I don’t know kiddo, you’re the expert, what do you think?  She told me that a phone call would suffice because there was only a 13-18% chance that I had cancer, and her expert gut instinct says… I’m A-O-K.  Alrighty then. A phone call it is…

The very next day at 11:15am, just as I was about to touch the door knob to go to get CFA, my phone rang and it was the girl child, who was dressed as a doctor, from the day before.  She addressed me as Mrs. and wanted to know if it was a good time to talk….ummm…I’m assuming “the talk” didn’t mean she wanted to ask me why my phone was beeping with love during the entire biopsy.  In fact, “the talk” didn’t include much except for her to say…”I’m so sorry, the tests show you do have cancer”.  I froze. Her very next question was, “Have you considered which surgeon you’d like to use?”  Hold up, Trigger! You said I was okay and this phone call was supposed to confirm your expert opinion. Now you wanna talk surgeon???  A surgeon had never crossed my mind!  The only thing I remember saying was, so cancer is what is going to take me out? Her reply was, “No ma’am”.  The shock left, she continued to talk(but I only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher) I started sobbing and then I hung up on her. I just hung up. I didn’t know what else to say, I wasn’t educated about this, and I had a hungry kid waiting on me.

I sobbed all the way to CFA…because life goes on, cancer diagnosis or not.  I got to the drive-thru window, where the dear girl asked if I was okay…I took a breath long enough to say…”No. I’m not. I just found out I have cancer.”  The girl behind her said, “Oh, ma’am. I’m so sorry, but I know how you feel. Tests this week revealed I have a brain tumor.”  I sobbed louder.  Then those very young, compassionate girls…held hands, grabbed my hand….and we prayed for each other at the CFA drive-thru window. I bet the cars gearing up for lunch behind me hated me…us.   I don’t remember her name or what she looks like…maybe she was an angel sent to me. I’ve thought of her a lot over the last three years, and hoped she became a fighter like the one she prayed for.

I laid my story out publicly that day via social media.  Although I was judged for my decision, called an attention whore, and even lost friends through my journey, I shared it anyway.  Every detail. I didn’t want “sister-so-so” or “brother-Christian” to load & gear up the prayer lines where gossip would start and I’d be dead by the weekend. So, I did it my way.  I told my story…and it was public.  However, after sharing my story, I decided there may be an opportunity to help save a life…so…I continued to share every step in my journey.

How could I have cancer?  I was 41-years-old. At the time of my diagnosis, I was running at least three times a week, I lived a clean life of no drugs or alcohol…I mean…I’ve never had a beer in my life and I’ve never even seen a joint.  I was in top physical shape, young, and I was going to make the 40’s my whipping boy. I have no intention of growing old gracefully and it was going to start in my 40s.  Then there was a cancer diagnosis that made me his whipping boy and forced me to get on board of a fast moving train that robbed me emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially.

After my very first mammogram, I was diagnosed with cancer.  I still get a weird feeling when I type “cancer”.  I am also the poster child for early detection.  I had no signs, no symptoms, no lumps, no abnormalities, no family history(I could remember)…and, come to think of it, my family doesn’t die from cancer…we die because we like groceries–good southern fried groceries–that make you fat and then we die from a heart attack. Breast cancer has never crossed my mind.  Sure I saw the Susan G commercials that played 67 times a day…but the crying girl always said she was walking for her mom or aunt….so…I thought it was hereditary. Not once have I ever got all sudsed up in Caress while in the shower and did a self-exam…thinking…let me see if I have a lump.  Never.  No one in my family had it, so that’s one ailment that I wasn’t concerned about….except….now I had cancer.

The day after my diagnosis, I was naked–once again–and sitting in a room with my best friend–Kim and my now cancerous boob.  I didn’t research a doctor, but after Mcdreamy entered, I kinda wished I had…good grief! Never mind cancer….what’s his name again?  Kim has been my best friend for over thirty years.  Together, we think we are a comedy team.  When I found out I had cancer, I could have either curled up in a ball terrified or found a way to deal with it.  I decided to go to the place I’m familiar with…humor.  I used social media as my outlet.  I joked about the hot doctor, I posted me in my gown declaring they made my butt look big, I wrote a status about being offended because no one had offered me beads after showing my boobs to everyone in North Georgia…I mean…that could give me a complex. There was a point that I just started taking my shirt off when I entered a doctors office (Not really, but it felt that way). I’m not afraid to say that after breast cancer, everyone north of Atlanta has had a gander at my boobs.  I found my peace and outlet on social media.  I had the most wonderful cheerleaders who helped me through the darkest time of my life…but that’s not all that I had.  Unfortunately, when you lay yourself out publicly, there’s room for judgement, scrutiny, and good old fashion haters.  I lost friends, or who I thought were friends, because I chose to laugh my way through a crappy diagnosis.  Really?  How dare someone judge me or flap their gums about how I chose to deal with breast cancer.  I decided karma would handle that, and the judgers might have to figure out how they will deal with their own diagnosis one day.  OH! and since I wasn’t bedridden and bald….surely, I’m just an attention whore.  Maybe I enjoy being stroked on social media…you know…by being a victim.  Those words were actually spoken about me. More than once.  I was stunned at the folks who supported me, and even more stunned at the ones who didn’t.  I realized there was jealousy because I had people who loved me and supported me…so those who were jealous, never picked up the phone.  It wasn’t “real cancer”….apparently, if you aren’t on chemo, there’s pretend cancer.  Who knew?! It was as if they thought I picked the lucky straw for breast cancer so I could finally do all the attention whoring I longed for…so they turned their back on me, but the ones who truly cared and loved me, never did. It’s a shame that I have been forced to defend how I decided to deal with a diagnosis because mean people climb up on The Throne, cross their arms, look down their noses, and judge something they know absolutely nothing about. I learned a lot about those types of people…mostly, they showed me who I don’t want to be.

I was diagnosed on October 1, but surgery didn’t happen until December.  Thank you, American healthcare.  No, I wasn’t sick physically, but I can tell you about the toll that cancer takes on your mind and your pocketbook.  I was in my own private little hell from October till December…that private place was between my two ears.  There were many nights that I would stare at the ceiling and think…I have cancer in my body.  I would pray.  I was in a place where I realized the doctors, who I was entrusting my life with, were only human….just like me.  Ultimately, it was between me and God….it was only between us.  That was the time I realized that people were carnally minded and would let you down….I had to find a firmer foundation and I did. He never let me down. Not once.

After a lumpectomy, I had to heal for six weeks before cancer treatments would begin.  Yes, cancer.  There’s no big cancer or little cancer, little diagnosis or big diagnosis…cancer is just that…ugly cancer.  My best friend, Kim, was with me for every visit.  We worked our schedules so she could be there.  Contrary to what some believe, her job didn’t pay her to go with me to be my support.  Those were called off days.  She was there physically, she was my sounding board, she was there when I had the meltdown after seeing the word “oncology” for the first time on paperwork, and she was there because she cared and she loved me, in spite of my being whiny and needy….or what some call….attention whoring.  I didn’t dare drag my mom along because she would worry herself sick, so I leaned on her in other ways.  Poor Kim took the brunt of my diagnosis.

The cancer treatment included 33 radiation trips after surgery.  No big deal.  Not once did I let cancer dictate my life. I was doing a country music morning radio show on weekday mornings during the ordeal.  I would get up at 3:45am…be on-air from 6am-9am…then drive for almost an hour to endure radiation. I took one nap during treatments and that was the last week.  I was champ…and I don’t mind tooting my own horn. Before radiation could begin, I had to go for a 2-hour consultation(sorry Kim).  I had to have 3 tattoos put on me to serve as markers that I still see every day.  I had to go for “test shots” so they would know they were hitting the right spot.  For the first time in my life, I was going blindly into something I knew nothing about.  That’s very hard for someone who is intelligent and a complete control freak.  I made sure I smiled, I made sure I was Trish, I made sure I was going to be the one who inspired. No one was going to see my weak side and I hid it very well. So well that unless I brought it up, folks forgot my struggle.  When it was time for radiation, there I was naked…once again. It will go down as the most terrifying moments in my life. I never shared that part. I was terrified, but the techs herd you in like cattle.  There’s no coddling, comfort or stroking. You’re kind of on your own.  I was on my back while lying on a cold hard table, the room was completely dark–except lights from lasers…that’s when I would fall apart…that’s when I could feel the tears slide down the side of my face and into my ears.  No one knew.  No one made an effort to reach out…because I made sure I was strong enough to do it alone. In essence, no one cared because, apparently, it wasn’t necessary to put any thought into caring about me…Trish has got this.  I was as strong as everyone thought, except when I was alone…and in my head.

Every single time I pulled my black car into the parking deck at Kennestone Cancer Center, I faced a demon. I faced the demon head on because I had no choice.  I endured 33 radiation treatments that would sometimes be grueling.  After all, they are shooting you with radiation beams. Have you ever put any thought into what that really means to a cancer patient?  I had burns. Sometimes bad burns…they never had time to heal because you got spanked again the next day. Think about your nipple being sunburned times ten.  Yeah. That.  There were a couple of times that I would have a conversation with other patients who were waiting “their turn”.  I was always the youngest…and it seemed that every one of the women I spoke with had a diagnosis that included breast cancer many years before, but were there because of a new cancer.  Would that be me one day?  Is that what my future looks like?  I remember having a lump in my throat, the size of my fist,  a couple of times as I tried to exit the building as quickly as possible…and as I closed the door of my car, I would sob.  I would sob for them, I would sob for me, and then I would question if cancer really would be the very thing that robs me of my life one day.  Once again, no one knew of my struggle…no one asked…and I didn’t tell. Maybe they were busy judging my diagnosis, my random jokes, and cancer facts while I was smiling and making light of being in the darkest place of my life.  It was during those treatments that I felt the most alone in my entire life.  Cancer is a very dark and lonely place. Don’t judge what you don’t understand. Don’t you dare.

After I rang the bell–in smokin’ hot stilettos, I walked out of that place and put cancer behind me. I danced as a celebrity dancer for  DWTS of Cobb County to support Loving Arms Cancer Outreach.  I trained and I trained hard.  I put off a surgery because it was important to me to advocate something that had become very important to me. I raised thousands in a 6 week time span to help cancer patients in our community.  However, after the event, I prepared to go under the knife, and failed a pre-op.  Huh? After reviewing my cancer treatments, it was discovered that at some point the radiation had skimmed/hit my heart…and made it weak.  Then I boarded the Cancer Train once again…finding myself doing stress tests, having a heart cath, and looking at numbers for normal vs a weak heart.  I got no “oops, our bad”, “I’m sorry”, or even a freakin Sears card.  Nothing.  I had three surgeries last year while going to extreme measures to prevent cancer happening again.  I’m right smack dab in the middle of reconstruction surgeries today.  Once you’re hit with a diagnosis, the train only continues to go around a few times before you board again. The check-ups with surgeons, oncologists, cardiologists, mammograms, sonograms, it never stops…nor does the unending fear.  So, far…I’m a good statistic.

I’ve often said that cancer was the best worst thing that’s ever happened to me.  I’m not even remotely close to the person I was three years ago.  I was forced to do a lot of soul searching.  I pondered a lot.  I weighed out a lot of relationships in my life.  I learned to let go of the trivial crap.  I’ve learned to love those who love me back, and say goodbye to others, while  building  a wall  that would make Trump very proud. I learned that people who I saw supporting me, were also people who loved me, and that were never even on my radar.   I learned that there were some I didn’t see, faced the truth that they didn’t care and probably never did.  I learned to be compassionate because I knew what it was like to be openly and publicly scrutinized.  I learned to reach out because I know what it feels like to be lonely.  I learned that when faced with terror, I no longer run. I learned that I’m a lot of things, but a coward won’t be found in anything that defines me.   I learned that no one is promised their second breath….not because of cancer, but because I could meet my maker pulling out of the driveway going anywhere.  I learned that everyone won’t be inspired by the decisions I made on my journey, but I’ve learned to be okay with it.  I’ve learned to love, even when there’s not a chance in hell that they’ll ever love me back.  I’ve learned that I could be Mother Theresa, but I’ll still have a Hater Line.  I learned that I never want anyone that I truly care about to ever doubt how I feel about them…so…even though it’s a battle for me, I will utter the words “I love you” to the ones I’ve committed to hold close in my heart. I learned that your life can change in a split second, so I over-achieve in making memories. I learned that life passes quickly and I only have a certain amount of time to leave a legacy. I learned that my biggest hope is that people will say, “She was my friend. She helped me. She inspired me. It was because of her that I never gave up”.

I’m a better person because of the hell I’ve walked through.  There are days that I feel like I’ve faced every demon, so there’s not much I’m afraid of anymore or anything I don’t feel like I can whip.  Be assured,  if I go down, it will be after a very hard fight.  Cancer had a way of maturing me….and gifting me with a whole lot of wisdom.  It has been a pruning season–of sorts. Pruning hurts, but beautiful, productive growth is the outcome.

There’s one story that stands out….a high school friend sent me a message and explained she isn’t the praying type. She felt compelled to pray for me.  She told me that she hadn’t prayed since her dad died…and when she prayed for me, it’d be the first time she had prayed in five years.  Five years without calling out on the One I lean on daily.  How could that be?  During the whole ordeal, her message was my sucker punch. She may be the one who inspired me the most, and maybe her words and situation are what my journey has been all about.  Who knows?  She touched my heart and the very core of my soul and I’ll never forget it. I don’t think she even knows the impact her message had on me.  Tracy, if you read this…you were my inspiration.   It was you who pushed me to share me, my life, my journey publicly.   I knew I’d be just fine…but if JUST ONE could read or watch my story unfold after they got on a bended knee for me,  know that this was a God thing and witness God move for me while being a testimony for them…it was worth it.  It was worth it all.

I tell my story often and my message is this: If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.  Get your mammogram.  I did and it saved my life. Had I thrown the little piece of paper away like the year before, my story would be different.  I have three children that ignited a fire in me to live.  Today is the third anniversary of a really grim day in my life. However, I know exactly what I’m made of…I know I’m a victor and never a victim…I know that I have walked through fiery flames, but came out smelling like a rose…I know that my strength is enough to stun any doubters…I know that I have a bulldog tenacity that refuses to lose…I know how to go after what I want, and own it…I know that I’ve carried the heaviest of weights, and crossed the finish line.  I know who I am, I know what I am.  I know that I’m strong enough to make fiery darts bounce off of my armor, I know that I looked at a demon in the eyes and said, Go To Hell and, most importantly, I know that….I won.

-T

 

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