January 24th 2021
I love roller coasters! I mean…LOVE THEM! I would go to amusement parks and stand in line for 2 hours for an “about a minute” ride, which is crazy if you think about it…
The last time I rode coasters (at approximately age 47…a few months before the day I got T-boned by a drunk driver ending my roller coaster days forever!), I finally learned that if you are willing to go on as a solo rider you can enter the fast track lane. I probably rode about 30+ times that day on a dozen different rides at Universal Studio…last ride ever was The Incredible Hulk Coaster! ( I was in the front row the last time I rode!)
That night while lying in bed, I needed to keep a foot on the floor to help decrease the amount of room spin I felt with my inner ear all wonky from rides earlier in the day.
Emotions associated with cancer are like roller coaster rides, but rides that are not by choice and without the safety harness in place…it is hard to find your emotional footing to stay upright and grounded during this dizzying diagnosis.
Our recent presidential election journey has also felt like an unsafe roller coaster ride for the majority of our country (and I do mean the majority). The November elections have been intimately linked with my cancer journey when I first discovered the lump on Election Tuesday 2020! (Hell, this entire election journey has felt like the nation had a malignant cancer infecting democracy trying to kill our freedom with fascism!)
I learned my cancer was confirmed through biopsy same time all votes needed to be wrapped up and counted. All states had to finalize results by the time I had my first breast cancer surgical consultation. The tandem timeline of my Cancer/Election journey continued in 2021 when my surgical post-operative follow-up occurred two days after Congress affirmed the electoral college votes…the day of the attempted coup when the Insurrectionist in Chief stoked the crowd of white supremacist’s to storm The Capitol.
The lead up to Insurrection Wednesday on January 6th was a roller coaster climb…all of November and December felt like a long, slow steep climb that kept going and going up all the while you know the big drop is coming…do you keep your hands on the railing or fling them up in the air? Do you scream or hide your eyes as you crest the top only to feel the intense forceful drop of the downward rush of forceful air that keeps you partially immobilized?
That coup attempt was a roller coaster ride into hell! It was a surprise to learn it was happening while at the same time not a surprise given the transparent hate-filled incompetency of 45 these past four years. There was profound gratefulness that the crowds calling to lynch Democratic Members of Congress and the Republican Vice President were unsuccessful in breaching rooms where they were secluded and protected by too few Capital Police.
It’s like that emotional roller coaster of finally learning that the tumor is all out with clean margins and the lymph nodes are all negative…a gratefulness that the odds of beating this cancer have swung far into the favorable ranking and when you say to yourself after wondering if you were going to die, “I think I might live” with both feet solidly planted on the ground slowing down the spin of disbelief…this was my January 8th post-op follow-up.
This past week was another roller coaster of emotions with the renewed hope of Democracy and the hell of Cancer beginning with Inauguration Wednesday. I felt a collective sign of relief in this country with everyone else who has held their breath & lost their breath these past four years…now, able to breathe again saying we have a President and Vice President who are capable, competent and who care for all Americans!
I was on a telehealth session with a client who wanted to watch the swearing in of our new President and Vice-President. I agreed to keep a pop up open of the live coverage; and when we hit the 45 min mark of session, I shared “they are getting ready to swear in President Elect Biden. My client was like, “Okay. See ya! I gotta watch this…and cry with joy!”
I clicked on the volume and listened; and wept. The LGBTQ+ community has suffered greatly under the Turd in Chief and his hateful leadership team. And obviously, People of Color have suffered greatly, too! The four primary points of focus for this new Administration is inspiring and hope-filled…there is so much work to be done beginning with an actual national COVID plan to save lives while bringing back the economy derailed by the Incompetent and Chief. Finally, once again a President who has a commitment to address the historical racial inequity; and a belief in science to the needs of addressing climate change!
During my lunch break I listened to a poet, performers, and a new President who all renewed my hope in our nation; and soon after the Inauguration Ceremony ended, I got an email from the genetic counselor that my test results arrived two weeks early. She asked me in the email if I wanted to move up the appointment to which I sent an immediate “YES!” reply. It was moved up to Friday at 3 pm. By Friday, I was still feeling in pretty good space having enjoyed 48 hours of Bernie memes!
I had also scheduled on Friday a dermatology appointment as follow up to the “suspicious spot” on my skin reported on the same Breast MRI conducted in early December. The Breast Cancer Surgeon told me it was probably the petechiae she saw in the same location as the “suspicious” spot in the films.
Driving to the appointment was no biggie. Going into the office and checking in at reception was also no biggie. I was fifteen minutes early so I stood there with my double mask on and waited. As the minutes ticked by I began to feel in my chest a growing pressure and building of a familiar anxiety…like going up that long climb questioning if you are buckled in securely only to discover you are not!
There are five of us socially distanced in the waiting room and one by one are called back to their scheduled appointment, By the time I am called I am the last one in the waiting room when the RN arrives to call out my first name, see me and approach me to check my temperature. My heart begins to pound and I see trailing the RN is an intern…I am usually super cool having interns in the room because how else are they to learn?
We begin the walk back the hall and I feel like I am about to crest the steep first hill on the coaster getting ready to take the rapid dive into emotional anxiety hell…WTF!? “Where is this coming from?” I ask myself. In the room, the RN asks me if there have been any changes in my medical care since last appointment June 2020. I take a breath cut short by a tightness in my chest as I look at her then look at the intern then look back at her and say, “I am normally okay with interns, but today I am getting some test results after this appointment; and much to my surprise am beginning to feel some pretty intense anxiety. I don’t have it in me to have any extra person in the room today.” All the while I find myself fighting back tears and shakes.
When the NP & RN return a few minutes later after I had time to change, I was no longer shaking and had shed a few tears to uncork the emotional rush that comes after reaching the bottom of that first steep fall only to begin the next bend and turn of the coaster…a momentary reprieve before the next rush…
Their empathy and compassion upon entering the room was immediate and assuring becoming like an emotional harness to get me safely through the rest of this ride. I explain to them the new diagnosis while handing over a copy of my Breast MRI. We make jokes about the Bernie Meme, talk about the COVID vaccine (NP was getting her 2nd on Saturday when I was scheduled to get my first), and we shared collective relief that the coup failed and no one died. My skin is deemed “clear” by end of session and I head home in time for my genetic test results.
During the drive home my emotions are contained; and as I enter the house with 30 minutes to spare before the genetic zoom appointment in which I get the results to let me know if I am a candidate for a double mastectomy or not, I look at my wife, she looks at me and said, “How’d it go?”
I try to speak…it’s safe again to feel…cresting another rapid emotional down hill run I begin to cry…the tears I couldn’t unleash among medical strangers at a skin check. She gets up to take only a couple of steps to me to hold me while I cry finally able to say, “I didn’t expect the emotions today.”
Holding me still while I continue to shed tears, we talk about how even though the risk is low that I am in the unlucky small percentage of “no family history yet BRCA positive” the stress is still very real…the fear is very real…and is enough to cause this unwanted coaster ride.
By now we are ready for the zoom appointment and quickly learn the good news! No BRCA. No genetic concerns in 33 genes. Breathe again before the next climb next week!
There is one more pathology test result to go…ONCO. This test result should also be in my favor based on percentages, yet there remains the unknown risk of chemo. Yet another hill to climb on what will be for me this never ending roller coaster cancer ride for the rest of my life.
In my conversations with others living with cancer, there never seems to leave that fear of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” whenever there is another outstanding lab or radiology report. The fear goes dormant between the tests and medical check ins, but if there is a change in symptoms or its time for the (semi-) annual check in the fear returns as one begins the next steep climb of waiting, wondering, worrying if the news will be favorable…or not.
Next week I shall be ready to not be emotionally okay; and I am okay with that.
Next Friday in the am is the radiation planning session, which will suck!
Next Friday in the pm will finally be my first medical oncology consultation and the revealing of my ONCO results along with beginning to discuss what my hormone therapy may look like post-radiation.
When I frame out this cancer coaster ride from early detection Election Tuesday to now with the puzzle pieces of my cancer diagnosis and treatment plan almost finally all in place, I have been very fortunate. I do celebrate that.
I also must acknowledge and embrace that the thrill of riding real coasters has been replaced by the Cancer Coaster. I have come to realize that I need to figure out how to bring humor and hope with me on this ride…it will be what keep me grounded and centered fighting back the dizzying ups and downs of living with this disease.