On February 28, 2020, I got a call from my doctor..
That sounds terrible, no?
I had had a weird mammogram a couple weeks before and had to have an ultrasound and 3d mammo as follow-up.. This has happened before, so I wasn’t the slightest bit worried. I have “dense” breasts (TMI?) So I went and had the second mammogram and ultrasound and the ultrasound took a LONG ass time. I mean, too long. I mentioned that to the technician and she told me that “the doctor would be in to see me”
Heart sinking reply.
He did come in to see me and together we scheduled a biopsy for February 24.
So today is the one year anniversary of the day my doctor called and told me I had breast cancer.
You know, it’s weird. All the COVID noise was out there, the fear was just starting to happen. I did have a friend accompany me to the biopsy, but that kind of supportive gesture was about to end. I remember being really pissed off leaving there, that I had to go through this. And yet, as the days moved on everything around me, the news, got worse. And by the time my doctor called on Friday I kind of knew the breast cancer was going to be a thing and I was already in the process of down-playing it, pushing it to the side because there was so much worse to come (how much worse we didn’t know, but there was a sense, right?)
I probably should have led with the fact that this was caught in an annual mammogram, it was very small and that, right from the start I had a great team and a surgeon that assured me she’d get it all in a lumpectomy, and she did. I should also say that a year later after mammogram and ultrasound I am cancer free. Those are the facts, and this is a factual story.
Because COVID happened. That is a factual story.
I started to quarantine, well, I think it was right away. And life shifted dramatically, not because I had cancer, but because there was this other threat out there, out to get us all, that was killing thousands around the world and at our doorstep. And so, frankly, my cancer became something that was not important. To the point where I barely told anyone…it was all best friends need-to-know. But most of those people were not even in town. And COVID and cancer became a whole mixed together thing for me. While I was busy doing all the right things about both of them, I was also busy placing my attention on COVID and denying the cancer.
Truthfully? The denial runs so deep that I, and I mean this, really feel almost nothing about the cancer to this day. I have to take a chemo/hormone pill for the next few years which is a reminder, I guess. Every once in a while I’ll catch sight of my breast and it’s slight misshapen-ness and I think “yeah, cancer”. But I have no witnesses. A dear friend took me to the biopsy and then left town (planned get- away). My sister drove down for the surgery and then drove immediately back home. Then we were in full lock down and I did radiation alone. I live alone. Having no witness to all of this helped make it feel unreal and encouraged me to discount it.
(I’ll write about the surgery and radiation in another post; it was pretty interesting and apocalyptic!)
That idea of no witness making it unreal. I witnessed it! I went through it, handled it all. But no one brought me soup or took me to lunch or held my hand or drove me to radiation or was available to cry to if I had wanted to (and the shield was strong…tears were practically nonexistent, a reaction that seems weird when faced with a cancer diagnosis) . Not because they wouldn’t but because they couldn’t. I tell you it was the weirdest fucking thing that ever happened to me. It was like I was living in a snow globe , and yet that is where it gets muddied again because EVERYONE was. COVID was putting us all in one. And was mine any worse than someone else’s? I wasn’t dying or trying to live on a ventilator with a disease no one could help. I just had this little bit of cancer that needed to be seen to, and people knew how to see to it. There were protocols and good outcomes to cancer, who knew with COVID?
My diagnosis wa a blip in a HUGE blop.
I really am OK, cancer free and have no reason to believe it will be otherwise. But it was weird and I wanted to get it down. And, while I am writing it, I am still painfully (and this is just starting to hit now) aware of the fact that there was no witness, other than myself. Friends knew, now you know, but that’s not what I needed. I needed to be seen and circumstances made that completely impossible.
COVID’s effect on the world, our grief and sense of self, will be far-reaching and persist for a very long time. It could make us kinder , more helpful, but we already know that hasn’t happened. Nor will it on a collective basis, though I am trying my best. There are a lot of different kinds of loss and a lot of ways we handle it. This is how I handled a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. It’s sad and infuriating. AND…there are well over 500,000 beloveds dead in the US, many more globally.
This is a story about COVID.