A picture says it all

These are my boys, B and D when they were 5 years and 8 months old. The day I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. December 22, 2005.

This happy picture belies the harsh reality of that day. The mortality that came to roost on our young family’s doorstep so unexpectedly. Behind every picture is a story. This one is no exception…

I had recently returned to work from a 6 month maternity leave. It had almost been a relief to return to the simple stresses of a government job after the emotional trauma our family had been through in the past months. When D was only 8 weeks old we learned he was congenitally blind and would probably loose his hearing later in life. If you heard an odd sound on June 18, 2005, it was our parental hearts breaking.

In September though I started back to work full time I was still nursing part-time. By October, however, D was refusing to nurse on the right breast. At first I thought it was him showing his pique at my leaving him all day. He would pull away just as soon as I placed him to the breast and scream like a banshee. But he would calm down immediately when given the other side. As it continued Daddy-O & I remembered that we had been told at Children’s Hospital to be careful to change his nursing positions frequently because blind babies are prone to developing positional preferences. Well, I figured I could tolerate a little engorgement if D had some favoritism going on. After all, I was going to ween him soon anyway.

So I waited it out until D was 6 months old in November and I weened him. For that 5 or 6 weeks I’d, of course, felt very engorged on my right side. Very heavy. And my breast was a bit larger and tender. Nothing you wouldn’t expect from a sudden nursing strike. And it just got worse when I weened him completely. In fact, the heaviness in the center of my breast sort of coalesced into an actual mass at some point. It kind of solidified, I guess. I had several girlfriends who had had similar experiences after breastfeeding. It had gone away for them after a few weeks. So I’d wait a few weeks. I wasn’t really worried about it. It was too big to be a lump. It was the size of my fist.

There was only one problem with my little fantasy. My period started up again. And the whatever in my breast got bigger.

So Thanksgiving weekend found me with a slightly larger than fist-sized mass in my right breast and all my friends and doctors out of town. I couldn’t call my OB/GYN fast enough that first week in December. The first available appointment wasn’t until December 23rd. Note: I am not one to push the panic button. Far from it. I tend to be abnormally calm in the face of adversity and I rarely complain. (Case in point: I drove myself to he ER with a tubal pregnancy, my fallopian tube ruptured on the way & I still made it all on my own.) Yet I had to step in here. My big complaint to the nurse was that “I was not comfortable waiting 3 weeks to have a fist-sized mass in my breast checked by the doctor.” I guess it worked because I was worked in the next week.

I left my OBs office with reassurances that it “did not feel like cancer”, an appointment for a mammogram and a consultation with a surgeon.

Naturally, the mammogram showed nothing. Yet the technician knew, as I did, that something vast was there. She insisted that the radiologist follow up. The ultrasound also showed nothing conclusive. I was sent away with a clean bill of health. Thankfully I still had the surgical consult to go.

When I got to the surgeons office I aggressively pursued a core needle biopsy. Denied. What I received instead was a fine needle aspiration. Holy cow! Not a nice procedure. A few days later, those results came back a-typical but also inconclusive. Moving on to the originally requested core needle biopsy. While this sounds meaner than the FNA it is actually much easier. Mostly because you are numb when they do it. I’ve come to realize how important this is.

On December 22, 2005, while sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, the nurse called and asked me to hold for the surgeon. (FYI: that is never a good sign.) It was, of course, cancer. He rattled off a bunch of stuff that I don’t even remember now because while he was talking I was hurriedly typing off emails to my Mom & the secretary who had been waiting with me for the news.

“It’s cancer,” was all the messages said. When I hung up the phone I cried at my desk.

I cried for my babies that were probably going to lose their mama. I cried for the road I was about to travel – a trip I’d never asked to take. I cried at the thought of telling my husband when he was only just healing from the soul-wounds of D’s disabilities. I cried to wash away my weakness and find my power.

Over a year and a myriad of medical treatments and procedures later I discovered blogging. It has been my joy and my salvation. In the blogosphere I have found a world of woman that understand where I have been, where I am now, and where my future may take me. I fit into this world as I don’t fit in the other support groups filled with quilters, motorhomers, and grandmothers. And I have found information.

In the blogosphere I find help with my boys. How do you explain a thing like cancer to a 5 year old? When and older person gets cancer you tell children that they are sick. That seems right to kids. They’re old. But Mom’s are America and Apple Pie and Home and Comfort and all the things that comprise childhood security. When a Mom gets cancer it rocks a child’s world. It rocks the very foundation of the family.

Wow… this has gone on too long. It was hard to tell B. But Daddy-O and I did the best we could without any guidance. We kept things upbeat and positive. We like to live life like that anyway. A Control Freak makes a poor victim. Ha! So take control!!!

At any rate, this picture is the first evidence of me taking back the control of my life. I chose to continue to live. To live with my boys and for my boys. That Friday before Christmas and for every Christmas to come. With cancer or without, every day I am on this Earth will be a day I live.


8 Responses to A picture says it all

  1. bcjenster says:

    Great choice you’ve made!

  2. I too have an interesting relationship with control!! You go girl!!! I feel like I am in pretty amazing company with the women in this group.

  3. whymommy says:

    You sure do, babe. You’ve been an inspiration to me as I’ve walked this path the first year — you’re so open, and yet there are so many other things in your life, and your love for your boys shines through so deeply.

    Wonderful story … and GOOD FOR YOU for persevering to get the tests you knew you needed!

  4. sprucehillfarm says:

    I enjoyed the post . As always you insire me. Thanks for all your support you have given me this year!

  5. Raj says:

    God bless you Stella. That was the first time I’ve heard your story in whole. You are a wonderful mother, wife, co-worker, and friend. I’m glad you’re here with us; being of service to others.

  6. Wow you are a true inspiration, I to feel as though I am in amazing company on this blog, such brave, warrior women. I am so pleased to get to know you. Jen B. xx

  7. What an amazing story. Sent chills down my spine. Good choice! And congrats on the new blog.
    I am the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of a breast cancer survivors. I know that there’s a very high risk that I will one day travel down this road too.
    I’ll be back often to offer support and to glean knowledge from you and your amazing co-bloggers.

  8. Powerful choice, and a powerful post. Brava!

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