So One Time I Discovered I Had Cancer: Part 2

The Surgeon

If you read Part 1, you know these posts are long and not very funny. These are my version of a story I feel compelled to tell. I’m telling it in little pieces, because that’s how it happened, and it’s too much to say on a post or two.

If you need a smile today, I recommend checking out this, or this instead.

When my doctor came back to the exam room to talk to me, after everyone else had gone home, I was more tired and detached than nervous. Clearly this was all going to turn out to be something wildly blown out of proportion – some sort of easily treatable cyst or infection – and if I got all upset, I’d feel pretty silly later. Hell, knowing me, I’d probably found a way to move during the X-ray and bumble the CT scan.*
*Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m not exactly the picture of grace.

My doctor sat down with me in the exam room, something a doctor had never done before. She still had that same strange expression on her face – a frozen expression, the corners of her mouth slightly upturned in an almost-smile, with her eyes very, very focused on me – which I’m sure was meant to be comforting, but was really just jarring. She touched my hand while she spoke to me, something else a doctor had never done.

Just a little bit more than others

Some statements just stand out more than others.

She’d taken a look at my scans, and since she wasn’t sure what she was looking at, she needed me to go see a thoracic surgeon. She didn’t want to say it could be cancer…but she had to be honest with me. It could be cancer. She’d scheduled the appointment for the coming Tuesday, and told me I’d need to pick up my imaging work Monday evening from the lab so I could take it with me.

I was thrown off by these rapid appointments. Same day CT scans and surgeon consultations within a week? Everyone knows you have to wait forever to see specialists. I knew that from a recent catastrophic series of appointment attempts I’d had with a cardiologist.

I confess. I was in a little bit of a daze when I left the doctor’s office and went to my parents’ house for dinner.

Yep. Dazed

A remarkable amount of my daze-related thoughts have to do with words. Grammar is cool, guys.

My dad asked me what was wrong.

Our stove really is in the center of the kitchen

Because usually I am not so preoccupied with my feet. I know that’s hard to believe.
I’m pretty sure he was making spaghetti.

I told him the doctor said I might have cancer.

There is no not-awkward way to have this conversation

Look! Feet!

He looked at me for a minute, shook his head and laughed.** We have a history of all kinds of medical problems in our family – everything from high blood pressure to strokes – but the one thing we’ve always been off the hook for was cancer. He reassured me that I definitely did not have cancer, and it must be something else, and I was going to be fine.
**Some of you are going to have a snap judgment reaction to this. My dad didn’t laugh because he wasn’t taking me seriously. He laughed because he was trying to make me feel better. To better understand our family, you should probably know that I laughed when the doctor said “cancer” too. For this exact same reason. I just didn’t buy it.

But even with that said, my dad insisted on going with me to see the surgeon.

When I went to the imaging lab Monday night, the technicians there told me my General Practitioner had already picked up the images. She’d picked them up and gone to meet with the surgeon personally. So the surgeon already had the images, and wasn’t that great? I didn’t have to worry about it.

It's not great when your doctor picks things up for you.


Only, that scared me a lot more than if I’d picked up the images myself. Doctors are busy people. Why would she take time out of her schedule to pick up lab work for me, and talk personally to the surgeon I was going to see?

I found out when we got to the surgeon’s office on Tuesday morning. The surgeon I saw – let’s call him Dr. SeriousFace – had the same frozen expression on his face that my General Practitioner wore the week before. He dove right into examining me, asking questions about symptoms I’d never linked together before. He poked, prodded and examined, and seemed terribly interested in the upper part of my breastbone. When he poked there, it felt weird.

He was very serious

Meet Dr. SeriousFace. I did not think he liked me at all.

People don’t poke other people in the breastbone all that much.

Don't DO that

Because it is unpleasant.

He took Dad and I into another room, a little closet of a room with a few computer monitors and my imaging lab work pulled up on them.

He showed us what my insides looked like at the moment.

My lungs were kind of against this whole thing.

They looked like this.

My dad sat down. I’d never seen my dad sit down when someone told him something.

Stop looking at my boobs, Internet

Also this.
This view is what my chest looked like if you could view it from my shoulders down.

I felt like I was watching things happen on a TV. I wanted to comfort my dad, but he was talking with the surgeon about biopsy options. A needle biopsy, or a surgical biopsy? What was the best choice? What would the doctor choose for his own daughter?

I didn’t care. I would just do whatever the doctor said was best, because Dr. SeriousFace clearly knew his business. His face was so serious. It conveyed a lot of confidence. It could be a few different things. Dr. SeriousFace told us. It could be a thymoma, or some form of lymphoma. We wouldn’t know until the biopsy was complete and the results could be analyzed.

It was not a hard decision. I was really just like "Tell me what it is and make it go away."

It’s a funny thing, when someone tells you tough news. If someone you really trust is there, listening with you, your brain sometimes just doesn’t really process technical decisions.

We picked a needle biopsy.*** It was the least invasive. It would leave me less scarred, and it wasn’t exactly like they could miss the giant thing growing in my chest.
***I did have input. But since either way, I was going to have a biopsy, which kind didn’t seem so important at the time.

As Dad and I drove home, I smiled at him and said “it’s a pretty crappy day when your best option ends in “oma.”

This is how my dad and I communicate

I have no idea how to draw cars.

We laughed. That part was nice.

I would have my biopsy the next week.

So One Time I Discovered I Had Cancer: Part 1

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.

Of course 25 is adult age. Because car rentals!

Birthday tiaras. They’re totally a real thing that everyone needs.

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.


Honestly, I was the physical embodiment of the word “meh.”

I blamed the tendency towards depression that runs in my family. Things continued on. My mom and I did yoga together.

Seriously. She's rock steady.

I did not inherit an abundance of lady-like grace from my mother.

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.

"Time at the doctor's. Round 1"

Worried? Who’s worried? Not I.

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.

Blame everything on allergies, because there is so much pollen everywhere

I didn’t even have allergies until I came to the South. Thanks, the South.

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.
**To Texas!

And I shall love them and hug them until they can't stand me anymore.

Yay! Family! ❤

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.


Ever since he joined the army, these wrestling matches became distinctly unfair.

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.

Hey! Lookit! My insides!

I live in the South. God gets a lot of play in the world of medicine.

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 didn't think it was funny, really

Honest and truly. This was my exact thought, sitting there in the quiet, under the fluorescent lights.
I didn’t really think it was funny, actually.

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 the BETTER xray. The one in the office was blurry

I feel a little bit like a harlot, exposing so much of myself to the Internet.
I’m only letting you see my insides for science.

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.