The past few months, attending doctor’s appointments are akin to showing up to my worst speaking engagement ever. I haven’t adequately prepared, I’ve left my speaking notes at home, the projector for the slides won’t work and the tech guy is nowhere to be found. In this case, I’m also standing in front of a hostile audience like a fool in a thin blue hospital gown that opens in the back.
This is the feeling of vulnerability. My surgery was six weeks ago and yesterday was the day to finally find out my treatment plan – an unknown cocktail of chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.
My husband drove me to my oncologist appointment. I barked at him about something stupid and then apologized, aware I’d been miserable to live with lately. One of my realizations I’ve had through this whole mess is how deeply this man loves me. For this I feel terribly lucky. I closed my eyes when we hit gridlock on Broadway and practiced the breathing I learned at meditation class.
It was a 2.5 hour appointment, but 1.5 hours of that was waiting around sitting on hard chairs. Everybody was pleasant enough so I don’t feel like dissecting this particular patient experience.
It turns out that I have a weak pathetic kind of breast cancer which replicates at a snail’s pace. It could have been brewing in me forever before it escaped my milk ducts and showed up on as a ridge above my heart.
For treatment, I got the best possible news: because my cancer is slow and the grade is so low, chemotherapy will barely affect my recurrence rate. If I have chemo, it lowers my recurrence risk by a puny 1%. For me, it is clear I’m not going to put my family and me through the hell that is chemotherapy for 1%. So it is radiation and five years of estrogen blocking medication for me.
I’ve been lurching around in shock for months, sometimes so deep in denial that it felt like a documentary film crew was following me around recording my fictional life. I took in this news in the same way, numbly, while my husband kicked into giddy celebration.
I have dodged a bullet. There’s no reason for this – many good people who are surrounded by love and prayers and engage in positive thinking and clean living do not dodge chemo at all. I feel guilty for having such a stupid little cancer while other women suffer so deeply.
I was unlucky to get breast cancer. But I was lucky to end up with this particular cancer. This makes me the luckiest unlucky person you know.