July 24, 2015

Biggest Scare in 40 Years

I felt the lump in my breast on May 31. It was 1:00 in the morning. My initial reaction was 'Oh no! It can't be..' Denial, right? So, I shrugged it off and hoped that it would go away. 

Well, it didn't.

That night, I felt for it again. Uh-oh! still there! I realized then that I had to take this... thing seriously. But still, I hoped it would go away. The following night, IT WAS STILL THERE.

I began to feel scared. What if it's cancer? What if I'm dying pretty soon? What if... Oh my God! Oh my God! 

The truth is I'm open to the idea of dying. I know that anybody can die anytime of the day or night. Now, PAIN.. that's another story. To say I don't like pain is an understatement. I hate pain. My tolerance for pain is very low. What is painful to other people is very very painful to me.

So, as I lay on my bed contemplating the idea, I started to cry. Really cry. Not my usual eyes-watering or tears-slowly-rolling-down-my cheeks cry. I wept. But not because of the idea of pain or of dying, but because of the idea that I may be leaving my children sooner than I would want to. It tore my heart apart to think that my kids might witness my pain and suffering. 

I love my kids dearly. I would do everything to spare them of such agony. I wouldn't want to break their hearts from seeing me suffer and, ultimately, die, if I would, indeed, die anytime soon. 

That's when I decided that if I go down, it wont be without a fight. If there is any way I could survive this ordeal, in case there will be an ordeal, I'll do it.  

But the thing is.. I'm not a fighter. I never want to fight anyone or anything. I don't think I have it in me. Submitting has always been an easier option for me than arguing or pushing or nagging. I'm not a warrior. I'm just an ordinary woman who laughs, cries, pees, poos, farts and watches tv series. But for the sake of my kids, I will do the first and basic of steps, I WILL HAVE THIS LUMP CHECKED. 

After procrastinating for a few hours, I finally packed the courage to go to the doctor's clinic. The doctor is actually a pediatrician who has checked on my children through the years that we became personal acquaintances and though we are not, technically, friends, we are friendly. So, when she asked why I was there, I said  'I have.. ahhh.. I think.. I felt a lump in my left breast' in my most casual tone. 

The doctor asked me to unstrap my bra and felt for the lump herself. The grim expression on my doctor's usually friendly and smiling face after a series of presses all over my left and right breasts confirmed my fear. She felt it too. 

She told me to sit down and said she felt a lump and that she would write a referral for me to her colleague, a surgeon, in East Avenue Medical Center. She asked me if I have any relative who has or had cancer. I nearly denied that my father died of cancer 11 years ago, and that two of his sisters died of cancer, too. But I was perfectly aware that it wouldn't do me any good, so I told her the truth. She handed me the referral and said not to waste time which  for me meant.. the odds were against me.

When the doctor finally called for me in his clinic the following day, I was already what they call.. a bag of nerves. I gave him the referral and he went to work right away. He felt for the lump my doctor-friend mentioned in the referral and asked me to sit down. He confirmed that a lump was indeed there and that the next thing to be done was to have it biopsied to find out whether it was benign or malignant. He explained that I could choose between needle biopsy and excision biopsy. The former means inserting a needle into the lump and get a sample while the latter means cutting a small opening on my left breast to remove the lump to be taken to a pathologist. After learning the advantages and disadvantages of both, I chose excision biopsy and since I already had some money with me, I asked the doctor if I can have the surgery right then and he was okay with that. Then, as an afterthought, I asked him what is next if my lump turns out to be malignant. He said I could choose between removal of a quarter of my left breast and removal of my entire left breast. Pros and cons? Leaving three quarters of my left breast means there is still a chance that a new lump might grow. Okay. The entire left breast then, if in case.  

The moment I felt the first slash of the scalpel on my skin I suddenly remembered that I forgot to mention to the doctor one important thing, I am hypertensive. So, I struggled so hard to keep myself calm because the moment I panic my blood pressure would surely shoot up and I might die of stroke without finding out whether I have cancer or not. I started to sing in my head, then thought of my newest crochet project, a green and gold bed sheet for my eldest daughter, then I started to think of another project, an amigurumi of Baymax, then a bolero for my other daughter, a hooded jacket for myself. When the surgery was finished, I already had about a dozen crochet projects lined up.   

The doctor showed me my lump which is the size (and the color) of a grape. A big one. The big oval one with big bitter seed. Then he also asked me if I have a relative who has or had cancer, so I told him about all three of them. Then he asked me how they are now. I answered him in my most hopeless tone that they are all dead. And yes, of cancer.

Probably trying to make me feel better and hopeful, he said that I'm still young and that I look strong enough and that I will definitely respond well to treatment... JUST in case my lump is malignant. Then he wrote on the endorsement letter to be attached to the jar, where my lump was put, a note that says 't/c breast CA' which I interpreted as 'to be considered for breast cancer'. Nice.

I gave my jar to the Pathology Department and was told that the result will be available after 7-10 days. Then I walked out of the hospital.

I cried all the way home. And the entire night. And the next three days. On the fourth day I started to feel better. The fifth day I began to feel brave and bold and considered some cancer treatments (just in case). The sixth day I felt like my normal self, happy and loud. The seventh day I was back to day one, jittery and nervous. I called the Pathology Department first to find out if my result was already available. It was.

I went back to the hospital with my eldest daughter (to catch me in case I get to faint). I reached for the envelope with trembling hands. I made sure I was comfortable on the chair when I opened it. There were so many words on it which described my lump. I read them all for the sake of reading and finally came to the part that says 'There is no evidence of malignancy seen in the specimen evaluated'.

I felt my chest expand. I was happy. No, I was more than happy. I was blissful.   

I waited for my doctor and gave him my result. He congratulated me but said he was not comfortable with the result. He said it was up to me but it would make him feel better if I get a second opinion. Well, it seems like he was so convinced that my lump would turn out malignant and he was having a hard time accepting that it wasn't. 

So, my bubble was burst and I went home with a seed of doubt in my heart. I reread my result but instead of happiness and assurance, I felt fear.. AGAIN.

I went back to the hospital and did what my doctor told me to do. I waited for another week and got the result 'No malignancy is evident'. That night after thanking the Lord for the hundredth time, I finally slept soundly.  

*For two weeks, the longest two weeks of my life so far, I pray to the Lord every single day and night. This was what I asked of him: 'Please, don't let me die yet. And if I really will die pretty soon, give me the courage to face it and accept it. Take care of my kids and help them deal with it' I would never know whether the Lord answered my prayer or it simply went the way it should be. One thing I'm sure of, though, is that GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME.