Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day One

I never thought that I would write a blog. No offense to all the bloggers out there, but it just seems like such an exercise in vanity. Who wants to read about me and my kids, vacations, job, interest in genocide studies? But I am officially at a loss for non-written words, which I know will surprise most people who know me. I haven't seen so many of my friends in a long time--we're busy, the days and weeks and months fly by, people are all over the country. There are so many excuses. Some of you have talked to me about other hard times I've gone through recently, and I really thank you for that. Though now it seems like small potatoes--like those worries were a dream and now I'm walking around in a cloud.

I found out yesterday that I have breast cancer.

Is it too soon to be writing this? I don't know anything--stage, prognosis, radiation or chemo, nothing. I know that I found a lump in my left breast last Monday night while lying in bed with Gabe. I was complaining that my boobs have gotten smaller from weight loss and nursing. He rolled his eyes at me, and I put my hands on my breasts and said Ha! see this? oh...wait a minute. Does this feel weird to you? I could tell by the look on his face after he felt it that it did. The question I have now is, where is that do-over button? I would love to go back and not complain about my breasts ever, not when I was 10 and I didn't want to get my first bra, not when they were so engorged I couldn't stand up after Augie was born, not last Monday. Because the thing is, I've always really liked them. They've stayed perky over the years and after two kids, I can wear clothes easily due to their size, they've produced milk for two babies. I guess right now they just don't like me back.

I'm not one to dawdle. I called my doctor and went in the next day. He thought it was nothing--a blocked duct from nursing, or more likely fibrous tissue that I could feel because I only have two of the three parts of the breast left (I have breast tissue and skin--no fat. you lose weight, you lose it everywhere). In the notoriously backed-up world of Northwestern's Breast Cancer center, I somehow got an ultrasound appointment for this Monday.

I should have known as things progressed that it didn't look good. The doctor wanted to redo the ultrasound herself. Then she ordered a mammogram, that sadistic torture-test designed to make women feel like scared livestock. Post mammogram, I was told I needed a biopsy. I could reschedule it, or the doctor could do it herself over her lunch hour. That day. I think in my heart I knew that if she was willing to do that, it was bad.

The next 28 hours were some of the hardest of my life, but I tried to be as normal as possible. I tried to go for a walk but my breast hurt too much from the biopsy. It was gorgeous Monday, and we spent our time outside in the backyard with our next door neighbors. I argued with my daughter about bedtime, watched tv, made love to my husband, tried to sleep. I went to work on Tuesday. Then at 5:30 I got the results from the doctor. As soon as I heard her voice I knew. She told me I have three small masses in my left breast, a total of 3.5 cm in size. They are cancerous. There--I said it again.

I have breast cancer.

I'm 34 years old. My son hasn't even turned one and I am still nursing him. I'm sure that will soon change, as I am being encouraged to wean as soon as possible. But he's been sick, wondering why I can't pick him up (I wasn't allowed to lift anything after the biopsy), holding up his arms and saying "mama." So screw it. I nursed him this morning. You can ask me to change everything in my life, but you can't ask me to do it all at once. Give me a few days, ok?

My daughter is 4. I need to tell myself and both my kids that I will beat this thing and be around to argue with them when they're teenagers, so they can hate me and resent me for some reason other than dying. I'm not supposed to say that, right? "Be positive, keep your spirits up." I know, I know. But this post is called Day One, and that's how I'm feeling. I want to see my kids grow up, I want to grow old with Gabe even though he drives me crazy sometimes. He said last night that if I get sick of him, that's ok. He wants to grow old with me, but if we grow old apart, that's ok too. As long as I grow old.

How likely is that? I don't know. I was told I could have a lumpectomy and radiation, so maybe I caught this thing early. But I haven't done the follow up ultrasound to see if it's in my other breast, and I haven't met with the surgeon. I have no idea what to expect.

So much is going through my head. I keep thinking about looking like a boy. I've been worried about that anyway--thus the complaining about my breasts that led to this in the first place. Before I got pregnant with Augie, I weighed 142 pounds. I'm about 5'6". I looked ok, but wanted to lose 10 pounds. Well I've done that and then some since he was born--this morning I weighed 117 pounds and fit into some vanity-sized 0 jeans. Truth be told, if I could help it I would have stopped losing weight at least 8 pounds ago. I've managed to lose my booty, which is just a shocking thing. When I was a real size 0 as a sophomore in high school, I was 5;3", 95 pounds or so. And I still had an ass. What the hell happened? The irony is this isn't due to cancer, so everyone tells me. Just a coincidence. Again, I wish I hadn't complained, at 140 pounds, 117 with a flat ass, whatever. Your body's just on loan, after all, and sometimes you go through a major financial crisis with it. Ladies, enjoy it. Stop obsessing. I know I never will again.

Still, no booty, now maybe no boobs and I'll lose my hair too? How is that going to work? When I'm going to meet people for the first time I tell them I'm the girl with the big red hair. Gabe said last night he was surprised that I'm vain about my hair since I seem so worried about losing it. I said it's not vanity, it's identity. It's not about liking it or not, it's about people knowing who the hell I am. What's the alternative? I'm the girl with the small bald head?

I've just bought a whole new wardrobe too. Now I'm either going to get skinnier, or fatter, or shit, maybe shorter for all I know, and I'm going to have to find all the old clothes I've boxed away to make room for these size 2s and 4s. I know this seems irrelevant--why am I so focused on the physical appearance aspect of this thing? I think right now it's because I just can't imagine the rest of it. Radiation, chemo, the pain, surgery, finding out how long I have, that's too much. Let me focus on the pencil skirts for a minute.

After all, the world keeps spinning. Case in point: after getting the news, I took a long walk yesterday to try and feel like a human being for an hour. While walking I got some catcalls and whistles from teenage boys, which has been happening a lot recently. Is that just because everyone else has just grown out of catcalls, or is this cougar phenomenon really catching on? Anyway I was thinking, oh honeys, you are trying to flirt with a twice-your age married mom CANCER PATIENT. Then a few blocks later I guess I was dazedly crossing the street, not as fast as I normally would. A guy screamed out of his car "Yeah, like I have all day!" It was strangely comforting to find out that people are still assholes.

I have never taken my health for granted. After having epilepsy and living through a terrible car accident as a child, I've always been happy with what my body could do. I can walk, drive, swim, deliver babies, and do all kinds of things that other people can't do. Whatever came at me as a kid, I dealt with it. I dealt with smaller things as an adult pretty well too: gallbladder surgery, infertility, cysts in my wrists. I've dodged a lot of bullets and led a happy, mostly healthy life.

I don't want to think my luck has run out. I hope you'll all see me out and about, lopsided, bald, what have you. I plan to try to be a cranky old lady because in a way, that's what I've always wanted. You know, just so the personality can fit the appearance.

It will help me to no end to write this damn blog, even if no one reads it. It's going to be a long road ahead and I'm going to be different at the end. Those who know me know that I don't cry often, and that I actually think it's a sign of weakness--for me, not others, I mean. But man, I've been sobbing. It makes me feel like someone else. So please don't feel sorry for me, as if that happens I might never leave the house, but know that I might seek out help--something I'm not that great at doing. And I'm going to end my Day One blog on this last note.

My kids are too little for me not to stick around a while. I don't want Gabe to get all the credit for how great they are.


  1. Kate, sorry to hear about your news of cancer. I will pray that it will take radiation and be cured. I had a scare when my oldest was 1 years old, I had the same thoughts believe me of 'not being around when my daughter was a teenager and what I a wanted to tell her that was important to me'. Anyway, I will pray for you and your family. You will get to change your hairstyle and color if you want every day even:) hugs.

  2. AAw, Kate, beautifully written and strong. I remember the days of your epilepsy, an episode in 6th grade, and still you were back in school the next day. You have come far, and I have no doubt you will thoughts are with you, my dear.


  3. Keep writing. It will be good for all of US, too.


  4. Dear Katy,
    I am sorry to hear about your news. I am hoping that you've caught it early, and know that you will get the best of care from both your doctors and your family. On a positive note: In 1970, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 52. She lived until she was 87, long enough to see her two grandchildren get married and start families of their own. She was as beautiful and funny and spunky as ever, even during her treatments (or so my mom tells me). I know you will be all those things too.

    Debbie Hammersley Cohen

  5. Katy, we'll ALL be reading this. Because we love you, because your writing is so beautiful, and because it will help every one of us. I hope you're serious when you say you'll be seeking out help. I love you, Kairos

  6. Katy- I'm so sorry about your bad news. Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts on this. It was very honest. I am thinking about you. Amy

  7. Katy,
    Sorry to hear of this. My mom had a similar situation when diagnosed with mouth cancer at 38 with 5 kids. Like you, she was a tough cookie and she survived many years and many surgeries and saw all of her kids grow up and even a few of her grandchildren. It's no fun but I hope you will allow your family and friends to help you get through it. Best, Dory Rand