Of course I can't speak for anyone else, but I can reveal what it was like for me when I received my Breast Cancer diagnosis. Back in January 2015 it was brisk and cold in NYC. Dirty snow had overtaken the normally bustling sidewalks and turned my usual fast paced strut into a clumsy, pseudo mountain climbing, expedition creep. Crawling out of my mid sized SUV, and over a dangerous combination of ice covered, trash ridden snow, was an art in itself. Navigating a NYC winter was not for the faint of heart, as you most certainly could bust your ass, and end up face down, on the freezing sidewalk in an instant.
It's early evening and I'm just leaving one of my clients home in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan dominated by immigrants who'd relocated from the Dominican Republic. My senses were overcome with the smell of warm spicy food wafting out of the restaurants, causing my belly to rumble, a simple reminder of my foolish decision to skip lunch. The sounds of music, laden with heavy bass, popping from passing gypsy cabs filled the air and I scanned the street for my SUV. It was dark now and I pulled my coat tight. Making a beeline for my car, I'd almost made it, when I felt my right coat pocket vibrate.
Snatching off my glove and slipping a cold hand into the pocket, my eyes scanned the screen and immediately I recognized the number. Whoever it was, was calling from the hospital. "Hello" I crowed into the phone, my tone sounding shaky, trying to readjust to the freezing winter weather. "Karen?" The voice sounded familiar, I slowed my footsteps. " It's the doctor who performed your breast biopsy." The results came back and indicated the discovery of cancer". "You should contact your breast surgeon immediately to determine the next course of action". Suddenly it didn't feel so cold, and I unfastened the heavy shearling coat covering my frame and adjusted the phone. "What!" I breathed, shock resonating into the speaker. "Well what size is it?" "What stage is it?" "Are you sure?" The questions popped out of my mouth and I could see the words evaporating rapidly in the freezing night air. "Karen, you will have to refer these questions to your breast surgeon, I'm sorry". Yeah bitch, I'm sorry too" I thought as a hung up the phone.
I stood there for a second or two, which now looking it back on it felt like an eternity. Alone on the cold sidewalk with people buzzing all around, I didn't feel, say or do anything. I just stood, motionless. Almost four decades after my maternal grandmother had succumbed ( after putting up a valiant fight) now, I too had been diagnosed with breast cancer. "This is some bullshit" I hissed to no one in particular and climbed into my car. I sat there trying to ingest the horrifying news that had just been delivered. Gripping the cold steering wheel, I started the car, and headed south, towards the Harlem River/FDR Drive. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, as I kept my eyes focused ahead in the darkness. What felt like a slow burn began snaking steadily up my back, and I winced, pushing down hard on the accelerator. I soon found myself doing 80 in a narrow two lane 40 mile an hour speed zone. "Too hell with this shit, it can't be possible", I thought, as vague sense of disappointment began to trickle in. "Hang on Karen', "Just make it home", the words slipping meekly thru my lips, as the sadness crept up, like a bad stench, all around me. That simple declaration, and the thought of my son Nigel, were the anchors that kept me from driving off the road. Eventually, a quiet calm took over, and somehow I made it to my front door in one piece. Funny, that's all remember from that night. I try to jog my memory, but it's nothing but a big, dark and steady blank. It's like my mind stopped recording right at that point, and a sort of survival "black out mode" kicked in, sparring me the details of what it was like to walk into my home, for the first time, knowing that my world had changed forever.
*Next up.....Building a squad!