Something Is Wrong
Today is World Cancer Day, and that seemed as good a time as any to dive into things that – I confess – are a little hard to talk about in a family-friendly way. This post is long, and it isn’t very funny. There’s a disclaimer at the end of this post that I ask you to please read and consider, too.
I turned 25 in the spring of 2010. 24 had been a whirlwind of life lessons and a broken heart, and just enough time had passed since the hurt that I felt like I was getting my feet back under me. I was ready for 25 – ready for the thrill of quarter life crises and the ability to finally rent a car on my travels. I felt distanced from the emotion rollercoaster of youth, because I was 25, and therefore certain I was no longer subjected to the whims of being young.*
*Yes. I know. I was a pretty ridiculous 25 year old.
I was spoiled rotten on my birthday by friends and family alike. It was incredible. It was sweet. But I noticed that with the emotional distance that I first attributed to maturity, I wasn’t able to get very excited about anything. Happiness was measured. Excitement was more of a theory than a real experience.
I blamed the tendency towards depression that runs in my family. Things continued on. My mom and I did yoga together.
And I started to complain that lying on my back at the end of class was uncomfortable. It felt like something was pressing on my chest. So I went to see a doctor.
Nothing to worry about, of course. And when I noticed that by early summer, it sounded funny when I coughed, I went back to the doctor.
So it went. My cough stayed sounding funny, no matter what decongestants or allergy medicines I tried. I went back to the doctor, and was told it was acid reflux. I was given more medicine, which I tried. It didn’t change anything, except how much money I was spending at the pharmacy. I went back again, and was told it was allergies. New allergy medicines were ordered. And so the pattern went.
That summer, word came (quietly, because that’s how these things go), that my brother was up to be deployed, which is what happens to fancy military officers during wars. So I hauled off** to visit him and his family before he went, so we could spend a little time together before his mandatory year of desert.
While I was there, we ate quite probably entire cows’ worth of barbecue. My brother introduced me to the magic of the soy latte. My sister-in-law made killer food. I snuggled my tiny year-and-a-half old niece at every possible opportunity.
And, of course, my brother and I wrestled and rough-housed like we were attempting to murder each other.
That’s when I started to cough for real. I coughed so hard my eyes watered. I couldn’t breathe. I’d duck into other rooms to try and get myself together. All I could think, as I climbed back on the plane, was about those whooping cough “you’re going to kill your baby” ads.
I was sure I’d given my tiny, precious, adorable niece whooping cough, and I was practically in a panic. So the day after I got home, I forewent all other doctors, and demanded to see my specific doctor. I waited for hours in the waiting room, working on work assignments, until she could call me in. She listened to my worry about whooping cough – it’d gone around my office the year before and I hadn’t been recently vaccinated. She drew blood. She gave me a breath test. She sent me off for my very first x-ray ever.
And she came back in to the exam room faster than I have ever seen a doctor return after tests. Her face was very still, but her eyes were very shiny and sharp. She smiled, and it was stiff. I was confused as she held up the X-ray to show me a large cloudy spot, larger than my entire hand, showing across my chest.
She reassured me it might be nothing, but she also told me I had to go get a CT scan. I asked when that would be scheduled – sometime during the next week? With her smile still frozen on her face, she told me she’d already scheduled it, and I had to go to the imaging lab down the road right now. Not that there was anything to worry about or anything. I just had to go. Now. And after the CT scan was done, I would need to come back.
So, more than a little perplexed at this point, I climbed in my car, drove down the road, and got to the imaging lab.
Where a technician was waiting for me.
At the front door.
I didn’t have to wait. I was walked through an overflowing waiting room into the CT scanning room. I got my first ever CT scan on the same day I got my first ever X-ray. It felt funny, with contrast dye running through my veins and stars painted on the ceiling over my head. As soon as I was done, I was walked back out the front door and reminded to go directly back to my doctor’s office.
So I did.
As I sat in an exam room in the back of my doctor’s office, alone, I wondered what was going on. I remember thinking one thing to myself:
I had been at the doctor’s office for 8 hours. It was 6:30 at night before she came into the exam room I was waiting in.
Because she wanted to make sure everyone else had been seen and sent home. So she could talk to me.
This is a disclaimer, because I want every reader to understand one thing: This is MY story and MY experience. I’ve worked very hard for years to filter it through my brain for others, so it’s not just harsh feelings and fear. Every single person who goes through cancer lives through a different and unique experience. Just because this is how it happened to me does not mean someone you know with cancer will feel any of the same things or behave the same way. One of the biggest pet peeves of any survivor I know is this: “Oh, well, my cousin/friend/distant acquaintance also had <insert type of cancer> and he/she is TOTALLY fine.” That doesn’t make us feel better, and I sincerely doubt it’s even true.
Please just remember – we’re all different people, and how we handle the various diseases that fall under the cancer umbrella will always be unique.