It’s when you are completing those mindless activities that the strangest things can occur to you. Today I was getting the laundry together and suddenly I thought of a very special Christmas eight years ago. It wasn’t when I got engaged or the first Christmas for either of my children. No, it was the Christmas where I thought I had breast cancer but I didn’t know for sure.
I sent out Christmas cards and a corresponding letter that talked about everything the family had done that year. I never mentioned anything about all the tests I was having and that there was a suspicion I had breast cancer. On the bright side, my first symptom of breast cancer happened in late October so I still had all kinds of great things to report from the rest of the year. You have to look for those silver linings.
When I went to my family Christmas, there were about 20 people there. My husband, one brother, and his wife were the only people in the room who knew my secret. I didn’t want to share the information until I had a final diagnosis. Since I had a biopsy a few days later, I potentially had a lot more tests to come until I would know for sure.
So, for Christmas 2010, I remained silent. I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s Christmas, although I had tarnished Christmas for the other three people who knew. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all about protecting everyone else. I was protecting myself too.
Part of me wanted my life to be normal, if only for a day. I could pretend there wasn’t a biopsy waiting for me in a few days. I could hang onto the hope that subsequent tests would show that I had a benign tumour and that I didn’t have cancer. I would be able to dodge the cancer bullet. Everything would go back to normal.
And so, the four of us showed that we didn’t have to take acting classes. We pretended that everything was fine. I’m sure they were watching me to see how I was doing. I was watching them to see how they were doing. Every once in a while I scanned the room to see if anyone seemed to be able to tell that something was going on. Each time I could see that all was calm and all was bright. Everyone was smiling and laughing. I was glad that I had kept my secret. To me it was worth it.
On December 29th, I had my first of several biopsies. This one was an ultrasound-guided one. Unfortunately, I had the same radiologist who had given me my ductogram that had inconclusive results. Once again, he struggled. I heard him call out that he was switching to a different size needle because I had very dense breasts. Eventually the test ended and I went home and put an ice pack on my left breast. I rested on the couch with a cover over me so my teenage sons couldn’t see the ice pack and I could pretend I was just tired. My secret was still safe.
Eventually, the bruising from the botched biopsy started to surface. Each day I looked at my breast to see how the colour of my bruising had changed. There were shades of purple, some greenish tones, and various shades of yellow. If it had been on a tie dye shirt, I would have thought it was attractive. The other silver lining, if there really was one, was that my breast had swelled enough from the procedure that the blood that had been coming out of my nipple had temporarily stopped.
When I finally got my results, they were once again inconclusive. My surgeon ordered an MRI to see if she could figure out a diagnosis without me having to repeat some tests. This same radiologist, who I reported for his negligence, turned down the request, which was a second time.
With no answers to be found, in January 2011, my surgeon gave me a late but welcome Christmas present. She sent me to a different hospital in another city. I believe she saved my life. I got the attention I needed from medical people who had the skills to perform their jobs. I had a mammogram, an ultrasound, an ultrasound biopsy, a fine needle aspiration (FNA), MRI, and an MRI biopsy. It took that many tests to make a diagnosis and to get a clear picture of the extent of my cancer.
While it wasn’t the news I wanted, I was just happy to know what I was dealing with after months and months of chaos.
At Christmas 2011, I got to laugh again when I saw the looks on everyone’s faces when I whipped of my wig and they saw me for the first time without hair. In fact, my hair was just starting to grow again. I had a hairline and the beginning of some wavy hair. Neither the Christmas before my diagnosis and the one after my treatments had been ruined. It was another small blessing and something that showed me the magic of Christmas was still alive and well.
Give yourself the gift of inner peace by focusing on what you have and not on what you don’t.
Over 30-years of writing experience, about 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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