How I Found Out


In August of 2014, right after I turned 35, my doctor wrote me a prescription and told me to go get a baseline mammogram. I blew it off. In August of 2015, at the age of 36, my new doctor wrote me a prescription and told me to go get a baseline mammogram. For no reason in particular, I listened. They told me that I have dense, fibrous tissue, and an ultrasound would be needed for a clear view. This was not news to me. I had a biopsy in 2006 that came back benign. Lumps come and go. I'm lumpy. I don't get worked up about it. The ultrasound came back clear, but they suggested I get annual mammograms starting then instead of waiting until I'm 40. In February of 2016, I had my annual check up with my primary care doctor and nothing was out of the ordinary. In August of the same year, I received a letter from the radiologist's office reminding me of my yearly check up. I blew it off. That same August I found the lump. It was small, pea-sized, and the only reason it caught my attention was its location. This one was up near my armpit. I noticed it while checking to make sure I had done a smooth shaving job (Hey. We're all friends here.) I mentioned it to my mother. She told me to keep an eye on it. "If it feels like it's getting bigger, go see someone about it." I kept an eye on it. It got bigger, but I did not go see someone. It grew to the size of a peanut, then maybe a small grape. It was turning oblong instead of round. But for some dumb reason that September when I went to visit my doctor for another reason and she asked "Anything else?" I said no. Something jumped up in my head and I thought "the lump!" but still I said no. She asked on a whim if I ever had a chest X-ray. I said no. She wrote me a prescription and told me to get a baseline chest X-ray. I blew it off.

By the end of September, what felt like a second lump popped up next to the first one. This one was right at the top right of my breast. It didn't feel round or even oblong. It felt bumpy. When I picture it in my head it looks like the surface of the moon. Other things were happening too. I was getting tired out easily and migraines which have been a problem all my life, started becoming chronic again. I remember telling my body out loud, "If something's wrong you need to be more obvious. I'm not getting whatever you're trying to tell me." Meanwhile, a third lump popped up. This one was small and felt like the first one in the beginning.

I realized sometime in the middle of October that the third one was not actually a new lump, but part of the bigger misshapen "cratery" one that was now growing in farther toward the center of my breast. For the next two weeks, I became obsessed with these lumps. Checking them every chance I got. Were they getting bigger? Am I being a drama queen? Is this my imagination? Am I overreacting? Could it really be cancer? No way. I'm only 37. I'm healthy. It doesn't run in my family. It would be such an inconvenience. I don't have time for this. It's nothing.

On October 21st, Sara came to visit. She had a party to go the next day so she came in early and stayed at our place so we could get a little time in together and catch up. David hung out with us for a little bit and then went to bed. Sara and I stayed up talking about girl stuff and our jobs and wedding plans. I mentioned my lumps. She said to go get them checked. And I went on this whole thing about how it's nothing and they're gonna make me do a mammogram and an ultrasound and a biopsy and I've had a biopsy before and it's a waste of time and I'm gonna have to miss work because it's not just the tests, it's also all the bulls**t follow up appointments and it's going to be, like, a month out of my life all for nothing. Sara patiently sat through my diatribe and just said, "Right, but what if it's something? Just go see your doctor." So I promised I'd call the following Monday.

On Sunday, David caught me feeling myself up yet again, and asked, "Lumps?" And if I look back now, I think I can say this is the moment I really knew something was wrong. It was because of my initial reaction to his question. I got quiet and protective and defensive and couldn't look him in the eye. As if something in me knew I'd been irresponsible for not going earlier, but I couldn't have said it out loud at the time. I looked down and mumbled I would call the doctor in the morning. I already promised Sara.

I called Monday, October 24th. My doctor told me to come in later that day so at 1:30, I left the office and went to see her. She agreed it was weird and said I'd need a biopsy right away. She had her assistant pull up some nearby places and suggested I call them today. Then she took me aside and told me they won't start with a biopsy. They'll have to do a mammogram and ultrasound first. And then she gave me some very good advice. She said that I should not go the same radiologist I went to before. They are a stand-alone office and it will be impossible to get my records from one doctor to another. It'll waste too much time. She told me to go to a breast cancer center where they do everything under one roof. All my information would be in the same system and it would be much easier to make appointments. She said I should go right then to the radiologist from before and get my records on a CD- to bring them with me to my mammogram so they can compare. Don't waste time. She gave me a prescription for a mammogram and ultrasound and as I walked out the door, she called after me, "Good luck, Faith." And then I knew she knew too.

I left her office and went immediately, as she suggested, to the radiologist and got my records. That baseline information turned out to be very important and I'm glad I (finally) listened to my doctor. After that I got on the phone with my insurance company to find out which major cancer centers in NYC they cover, got some phone numbers, and went back to the office. It took a few calls, but I finally got through to the correct desk and they had availability that Wednesday, the 26th for both a mammogram and an ultrasound.

The mammogram and ultrasound were routine. Tears rolled down my checks as I watched the monitor during my ultrasound. By now I was already sure I had cancer and was just going through the motions I knew I had to go through to get the official diagnosis. I prayed. A lot. I prayed for patience, for strength, for faith. The screen was mostly white. The technician moved the wand around and these large black masses would come into view. It looked like space or maybe the ocean. The front window of the submarine or spaceship is totally clear, then a giant shipwreck or massive planet rises in front of you, larger than life. I liked that. I was humming the Space Odyssey theme song in my head, pretending it wasn't my body.

Since they were able to compare the previous baseline images with the new results, they were able to see immediately that these things had grown quickly. They also had blood running through them which means they're definitely masses, not cysts. The doctor said those 2 things, the shape, plus the 2 swollen lymph nodes were "very worrisome" but she couldn't say anything for sure until they were biopsied.

We had to schedule the biopsy a week out because I take aspirin. That was a "very worrisome" week. I actually called the next day and told the scheduling lady I was going crazy and I wouldn't last a week. She said since they had to do 3 biopsies, they needed a 3 hour block and my upcoming appointment was the first one available anyway but that if anything sooner opened up she'd let me know. It was a very kind, diplomatic way to say "Everyone wants an appointment ASAP. No."

So I waited a week and went in for my biopsies the next Wednesday, November 2. The week wasn't as bad as I expected. I focused on work, on other people, on prayer. It gave me time to adjust. As I said, by now I was sure, but I figured if I was wrong I'd be pleasantly surprised. I didn't plan on telling my mom or my sisters. I didn't want to unnecessarily upset them or make them wait that week out too. A friend reminded me that these things are the types of things mothers want to know and would hate to find out later. So I told my mom Friday. She was grateful for my friend's good advice, and she told my father and encouraged me to tell my sisters for the same reason. I didn't realize it then, but now I think it's information easier to swallow in bits. The "maybe" gives you time to think about it, adjust, game plan. Waiting until I knew for sure would have been a surprise cancer bomb to just drop on my unprepared family. So, I'm glad I listened.

The biopsies weren't very painful. Seeing the tumors on screen again wasn't as jarring as the first time. Now they were becoming my frienemies. "Oh hello, guys. You can stay...for now." I was calm by this point and ready for the diagnosis. They patched me up, and sent me home with ice. They told me I'd either hear from the pathologist or my own doctor in 2-3 days. I prayed they'd do it in two so I wouldn't have to sit through the weekend. In the dressing room, I noticed in the bright fluorescent lights that I could now see the bigger tumor. It was forming a dent in my right breast. I started to feel anxious for the diagnosis, afraid we wouldn't start treating it soon enough. Afraid that cancer cells were, right then at that very moment, breaking off and traveling to other parts of my body. Afraid they were already in other parts of my body. Every minute from then until the moment I started chemo felt like a gamble. And, I wondered who would call. Is it better to hear the news from my own doctor or from a stranger?

The next day, Thursday, November 3rd, I was sitting at my desk and I noticed a missed call from my doctor at 2:30. It was followed by a text message at 2:31 that said Please call me. I went to the ladies room and composed myself. My boss (BFBF) was away on meetings for most of that day, so I used her office for privacy and called back my doctor. She said, "Faith? I got the results. They're not good." I had 2 malignant tumors and the lymph node was positive too. I calmly listened to her advice on what to do next, took notes like a good student, thanked her, and hung up the phone.

I was prepared for this call. I knew it was cancer weeks before then. I was not prepared for the lymph node part. I burst into tears. My co-worker came running over and immediately hugged me. I told her I had cancer. It just came out. She was awesome. She went straight to her desk and started looking up doctors, and calling family friends who could recommend good doctors. I tried to finish up the project I was working on, and then realized it was useless. I called a friend who happened to text me at that moment. I was hysterically crying by then. She calmed me down (despite being in the middle of her own migraine battle at that moment <3 ). I hung up with her and made the call to BFBF, filling her in. She sent me doctor recommendations also, and told me to go home and take Friday off. On the way home, I called another friend and got advice on how to tell David and the rest of my family.

David was surprised to see me home early (workaholics don't leave work early) and then I had to tell him why. I hated telling him. I hated calling and telling my parents, my sisters. I felt so guilty for disrupting their lives and worrying them, as if I somehow failed them, and would be a burden now. David sat down next to me on the bed and put his arm around me. I started crying again and I told him I was sorry that this was the way we'd be starting out our lives together. He said, "Eh. We'll get the big stuff out of the way first." It was just about the best thing he could have said. For the next two weeks, I'd ask him to run his fingers through my hair at night because I knew it'd be gone soon. 

I think the rest is here pretty much- starting on day one of the blog.