"Who did you bring with you today sweetie?"
Before I could even divulge the news to my family, friends and coworkers, a meeting was going to have to take place with my breast surgeon. Now although, I'm a self described zany girl, full of enthusiasm, who easily cracks a smile, all I really wanted to do was hop on a plane, slide to someplace warm and wrap my hands around a good stiff drink, but that was not an option. At least not a realistic one.
Now, let me set up the scenario for you. I'd just been given a cancer diagnosis a couple days prior, and had not properly ingested, digested, or dealt with any of the information given. I was totally cruising in "This is not happening to me" mode and squarely parked securely in the foggy zone. I'm talking grade A Fog. The type of fog that has you totally disconnected to your current status. The type of fog that has everyone sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher "Wah, wahhh." I'm telling you, medicinal help was not needed, I had it covered. No amount of 150% proof rum or anxiety pill, could match my brains natural ability to switch onto auto pilot and move quickly into the foggy zone.
So I'm sitting in my breast surgeon's waiting area, trying to figure out, whose really about to walk into the examining room? Will it be confident Karen - the one that struts up Lenox Ave at 1:00 am? Or will it be zany Karen, trying to nervously bring some comedic gesture into a life altering moment? Tell me Karen - whose gonna show up? As my eyes scan the waiting area I look for signs, any sign that will give me the strength I need to walk into the examining room. Sinking lower into the soft cushiony chair, I realized this was going to be a solo ride, and no amount of acknowledgement from fellow patients in the waiting area was going to help me out. "Can't we all just pool our resources, rent a van and head south to Mexico" I thought, looking around for a hint of patient rebellion! Before I could hatch a plan and start polling the waiting area for recruits, my name was called and I walked slowly towards the examining room. Someone told me weeks later that my behavior in the early days of diagnosis, was like somebody at their own going away party the night before the were to report to jail! Really?! I know - some fools just don't know what to say. I'll cover that point in a later post.
To describe my breast surgeon, who is one of the best in New York City, if not one of the best in the country is really easy. One word: Alpha. You know the kind - straight forward, always ultra ready to argue a point, and blunt, very blunt. Armed with the knowledge that an excellent education affords, and years of experience, my breast surgeon oozed confidence to the point of being overbearing. Whether conducting a television interview, writing a book or chairing a cancer seminar, my breast surgeon was and is a dragon slayer. Did I mention blunt? So, I was kind of caught off guard when I sat down on the examining table and my breast surgeon gently cupped my hands, and wanted to know - "Who did you bring with you today sweetie?" I watched as warm, talented hands slowly patted mines. Mmmmm. The demeanor was vaguely familiar, but something I had never experienced from my breast surgeon. As tilted my head slowly upward, my breast surgeon eyed me, waiting for a response. "Nobody," I didn't bring anybody with me today" I replied. Hell, I barely made it to the office myself. I had no idea this should have been a "group" outing. My breast surgeon paused slightly, took a deep breath and went on to inquire as to my sixteen month absence. You see, we were not strangers, as I had been diagnosed with a benign breast issue in 2014. As far as I was concerned there was no need to build upon the relationship unless medically necessary. Well, this time it was.
Suddenly I began blurting out questions, the words spewing rapidly from my mouth. I needed answers and I needed them now. My breast surgeon continued to pat my hands and quiet me, like one soothes a colicky baby, trying to get sleep. "Sweetie, let's just wait for all of the tests to come back" my breast surgeon replied, but I pushed on in protest. My breast surgeon continued to proceed with the exam and then handed me a thin stack of papers, which turned out to be a copy of my pathology report. The pathology report showed that I was ER (estrogen) Negative and PR (progesterone) Negative. A HER2 (specialized protein) test was being being run again. I still had no idea what any of this meant and the fog lingered heavily. My brain tried to tackle my new world, handling the bombshell news I'd just been given. "There were subsets in breast cancer?" - I thought, my brain straining mightily to comprehend, but I couldn't quite grasp the concept. My breast surgeon could tell that I was zoning out and reeled me back in, like a graceful fly fisherman on a sunny day. The conversation switched gears and my breast surgeon went on to explain some choices in treatment (using the pathology report as a guide. This personalized medical report indicated my cancer tumor was very small) and possible treatment options included a a lumpectomy, radiation, mastectomy and the recommendations for a medical oncologist. My surgeon went on to explain that the preliminary game plan looked like a lumpectomy with radiation to follow. I do remember my breast surgeon, at the very end of the meeting, providing one last bit of cautionary information. "If you choose to have a mastectomy and we go in and find something else, a mastectomy will not prevent you from having to do chemo." I watched as my breast surgeons looked firmly into my eyes as the words "chemo" were delivered, floating in air. What was it that my breast surgeon was trying to prepare me for? Why did my breast surgeon's demeanor seem so subdued, as if she was saddened for me?
Weeks later, I would get that answer.
Up next: Confirming my Triple Negative Diagnosis