The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 4Laura Ann Miller
The Breast Cancer Diaries | Part 4
Step by Step
December 16, 2021
I’m thinking about the long in-between and all the stress of wanting to know whether I had cancer or not. I just wanted to know and waiting for the answer was hard. It’s like Tom Petty said – the waiting is the hardest part.
I guess the easier path would have been to find out I didn’t have cancer.
Knowing the results was good because it’s put me on the path I need to take to heal.
And now I know. The knowing has opened another door.
I find myself in another long in between –the information gathering phase: more appointments and tests and procedures before the treatment begins…
In all this in-between there’s school and midterms and Christmas and work. Life is carrying on full steam. I can’t slow it all down.
I follow this flow and try to be present in it all while I wait again for what I imagine is the start. But I’m realizing there isn’t one specific thing that will mark this start.
This healing is a process. Step by step.
And I’ve already completed so many steps in this step by step journey.
I’m reflecting on this and trying to understand how to live just like this, to not think of these moments as in-between because I’m waiting for the next thing.
Day by day.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The Next Step
When I got the phone call with my primary care doctor letting me know I had cancer I listened and took notes, my only question was, “What do I do? What is my next step?” The doctor told me I would need to meet with a breast surgeon and have an MRI.
I knew where I wanted to have my treatment based on the recommendation of a dear friend who is ahead of me on this path. I picked my surgeon and made the phone call. I was told she is normally booked pretty far in advance, but there was another doctor if I couldn’t be seen soon enough. By God’s grace she had an opening the very next morning-
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” -Henri Matisse
The Good In the Bad
12/1/21 | Wednesday
Meeting with my breast surgeon for the first time:
There were no butterflies or quotes about flowers in this room. Only gray walls and medical illustrations, one titled, Understanding Breast Cancer. Mike was fascinated. He read and took photos to re-read later. I just wanted to lay back and close my eyes.
The surgeon talked with us for a long time. And then it was our turn, Mike had exactly 13 questions, but the bottom line, the big question… Mike asked about the outcome, “Is this life threatening?”
My doctor answered right away, she believes I’ll be cured from this, but “I’ll have to go through some things first.” Mike continued with his questions, but I let that fact sink in.
She knows what I don’t. She knows what lies ahead of me on this journey. I’m ok not knowing what she knows. I can only face each day at a time. I think back to the very beginning of the lockdown with Covid and reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer-
Give us this day our daily bread.
This is my prayer again.
Over and over.
12/5/21 | Sunday
You are not in control.
You are not alone.
These are the words that struck me from our Pastor’s message today. Because I know it more now than ever. I feel the meaning in these words.
There are four beautiful women I know walking this same journey. They are all on different parts of this path ahead of me. I can’t help but think how I’m joining them and one day I’ll be further down the road and be there to support another sister on this road.
Others go before us, encouraging and giving hope.
We are not alone in our suffering. Like my Pastor says, “We go together”.
And there is One who always goes with us-
“…and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
God is with us.
12/6/21 | Monday
My MRI is done.
This is the first appointment I’ve gone to by myself.
I’m sitting in the car watching the rain bead and roll down my windshield.
It was easier than I anticipated.
And It was harder than I anticipated.
My nurse told me the whole process would be about 20 minutes and that I would need to remain completely still in order to get the images she needed.
I laid face down on the table with my head towards the front of the machine and my feet towards the opening. I didn’t feel claustrophobic. I didn’t mind the noises. I had earplugs and headphones on with music playing. There was an underwater aquarium scene to watch and I couldn’t decide if I should close my eyes or watch it. I watched it most of the time.
The hard part was keeping completely still for so long. I didn’t realize until too late that I laid down with my whole body tensed up. Keeping this tension for twenty minutes was the difficult part. I was afraid my breathing was too deep because I instantly became aware of each breath. How could I breathe without moving my chest? The normal rise and fall?
Was I still enough? Are the images going to show the doctors what they need?
I can feel a slight pain in my chest while I write this. Is that the cancer?
12/7/21 | Tuesday
Tuesday. The “multi-modality” day. Basically, multi-modality simply means many or more-than-one discipline or experts.
Today Mike and I are set to spend two and a half hours or so to meet with the team of doctors and a social worker who will be treating me.
Aside from my initial appointment with a breast surgeon this appointment has me the most anxious. What are they going to tell me?
I don’t feel sick and it’s wild that I need to be seen and treated by so many people- two oncologists, a radiologist, a genetic specialist, a nurse, and a social worker.
After we meet today, this team will meet with my surgeon Wednesday morning and come up with a plan for my treatment. This meeting is called the cancer board.
But right now, we’re here, just waiting in the car.
Neither of us are getting out. It’s early and the parking lot is empty.
One more step today.
We eventually got out of the car and checked in. That process was quick and just like that I was in my pink robe waiting in the room for the day to start.
One by one they came in the room to talk with us about my cancer and treatment options.
The information was overwhelming. But the doctors were amazing and took their time explaining so many aspects of breast cancer to us.
Three things stood out to me from our time together-
- Even though this is an early stage cancer (Stage 1) it is still behaving in a way which is deemed aggressive, this is the cause of so many aspects to the treatment, surgery, radiation, hormone pills, and possibly chemo. My cancer is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (the most common form of breast cancer), the sub type for my particular breast cancer is Luminal B. My first doctor told me, “It’s lightning strike random… nothing you did could have inspired this. It’s just here.” This helps as I think back to my Google searches… Breast cancer has so many different factors involved with it. I hated having to learn about it all, but my genetic specialist was so full of knowledge and passion for the subject. She helped us understand all my test markers and made me feel safe in her care.
- The 3 Goals to treating breast cancer:
- Get rid of it
- Don’t let it come back
- Don’t let it spread
- My last doctor today asked me again about how I found the lump. I told her about the change to the look of my breast, but that I didn’t know when I saw it to be concerned, maybe it was that way for six months before I found the lump and then got the mammogram and ultrasound. She asked to take a look. When she was done she said she saw what I was talking about, but it was extremely subtle. She said, “Don’t beat yourself about it. Even six months ago it would have been even more subtle… I would not feel badly about that.” This is also a comforting fact.
I mentioned this change in Part 1 of my story because if other women are reading this, maybe it could help someone else choose to get a checkup or check for a lump. I didn’t know the outward change could indicate cancer. By God’s grace this was found. The other thing of note is that women should start getting mammograms at age 40, unless you have a family history of cancers or breast cancer then ask your doctor, you may need to start sooner.
I am 42. This was my first mammogram.
The Second Call
12/8/21 | Wednesday
I thought the doctor appointment with the multi-modality meeting was the hardest part of all of this yet, but it wasn’t.
Because yesterday, despite sitting in a pink robe on an exam table meeting cancer specialists, nothing was happening. Mike was with me taking notes. We were meeting the team; doctors, nurses, med students, our social worker and we were all just talking. I learned about breast cancer and treatment options, we talked about my reports, the biopsies, the MRI and all the possibilities going forward. And then I got to leave.
But I left with the knowledge of each doctor’s thoughts. I left knowing they would all meet this morning and review my case.
I was in class when the nurse called. She called to tell me which doctor would be calling me later. She told me I would get another call to schedule an echocardiogram and port placement. I knew then which treatment option the doctors had chosen. I didn’t know where to go. I stepped into the hallway but it was busy with students. The stairwell is private, but it echoes and the little blue couch downstairs is in the church lobby with Christmas music playing over the speakers. The tears started to fall and I had nowhere to go.
I called Mike from a bathroom stall and cried.
12/12/21 | Sunday
I went Christmas shopping today. I needed a few things for work and my family. I went alone after Mike and I watched church online. He’s not a fan of shopping And l like to wander and take my time. I needed some alone time for this today.
I found myself in the hair and beauty section looking at cute scrunchies. I picked some up for my nieces and almost put some in the cart for myself and then I thought of the chemo. I probably won’t even have hair soon. I put the ones I liked back. And then I saw the hair wraps. I picked up a box and put it in my cart. The satin scarf is a pretty abstract pink pattern. I practiced folding it and putting it on when I got home. I didn’t tell Mike and my girl about it. It’s in my closet for now…
My beautiful girl said if I lost my hair she would shave her head too. I told her not to do it. She has the most amazing long blond curls. She’s spunky like that though. I hope she’ll keep it…
12/16/21 | Thursday 1:07 AM
I cannot sleep now…
It’s a lot for an introvert who is fiercely private to open up and share from the deepest parts of fear and faith. But writing and sharing is helping me process this journey. It’s helping me see God is in the details and reminding me to not lose focus, He is with me through this trial.
I was wondering tonight if God’s is breaking me from my mold and changing me?
Or is this only a season? A place in time where all bets are off on my comfort zone ways and habits?
It feels intensely uncomfortable at times.
But there is good in this. This goodness is the connection, knowing I don’t have to face any of this alone.
I am grateful for that.
12/17/21 | Friday
Today is our appointment with my oncologist.
I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to know about chemo.
I think both Mike and I are feeling tense.
Once again, we’re taking our time in the car before all this begins.
But We did it. We got out of the car and went in.
We talked about chemo, side effects, medication I need, hair loss… and then we picked my start date, January 5th.
All the information coming at us, all the appointments to keep track of are putting my mind in a fog.
Mike is my sidekick, my encourager, my note taker, my inspirational coach, keeping me on track, keeping me laughing- taking me away from it all to our now named cancer dates. It’s something we’ve decided to do after the appointments. To make the most of our time together and have something good to look forward to after the hard parts.
Today we stopped at a place called First Watch. I had juice appropriately named Red Medicine and we shared a plate of million dollar bacon and it was delicious.
All I could say to Mike was none of this feels real.
I missed the last day of school Christmas festivities, but came back in time to say goodbye to one of my precious students. And then my team came in the room and surprised me with the most beautiful gift basket. They surrounded me and prayed over me and sent me out on this Christmas break with so much love.
12/18/21 | Saturday
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
A beautiful friend who is ahead of me on this journey sent me a text with this verse yesterday. And then in the mailbox I found a card of encouragement from my sister- She had underlined Isaiah 41:10
So I am reflecting, this early Saturday morning that I can’t sleep, on God’s promise to strengthen me and help me and uphold me in all that is to come.