Cancer is a Roller Coaster… But We Have a Plan
Brad and I walked into Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on Tuesday at 11:30am, excited to meet the medical team and learn absolutely everything we could about what I have and how we’re going to kill it. We walked out 6 hours later with a plan (and the extra added bonus of having my breasts touched by more people in that short span of time than in all my years in college).
We met with a resident oncologist, the surgeon, the medical oncologist, the radiology oncologist, a couple of different RN’s and the education nurse — all of whom wanted to do their own version of an exam. The funniest part (for me) was when the curtain was pulled between me and Brad for “privacy”. Privacy from who? Oh, my husband?…The guy who just so happens to know these boobs better than all y’all? But, um, ok.
Despite these funny and awkward moments, every doctor and nurse we met was kind, wicked smart, and clearly knew what they were doing. This was not their first rodeo.
We left with not only a clear plan, but also great confidence in the medical team.
We even managed to squeeze in a lunch date. We’ve taken to calling all these trips downtown our “cancer dates”.
So, here’s the plan…
On November 23rd I will have a double mastectomy. The surgery is done in partnership with the oncology surgeon and the reconstruction surgeon (who is also amazing — we met him yesterday). They will remove all my breast tissue, and place tissue expanders to set me up for reconstruction a few months down the road once chemo is complete.
I will walk out of surgery with a chemo port in my chest and two drains coming out either side of my body. It sounds super sexy.
Roughly one month after surgery I will begin receiving chemo & antibody treatments on a weekly basis for 12 weeks, along with 9 additional months of antibody treatments to go after the aggressive HER2+ cells. The surgeon will remove some lymph nodes on both sides during surgery and send them to the lab. We are hoping and praying for NO NODE INVOLVEMENT (hold that for us).
If the nodes are positive, treatment intensifies, and radiation is inevitable.
A couple years ago, when we were travelling from Nepal to India, we got stopped at a border crossing because we had the wrong visa. Despite our attempts to persuade the border agent, they weren’t having it. We had a visa that allowed us to get into India byway of six different airports, but not by land. We were hundreds of miles away from an airport in Nepal that could get us to one of those six airports in India. Oops. It was stressful for about 5 minutes until we realized that we had absolutely no choice but to figure it out. There was a calm that came over us. We rallied. There was no finger pointing, fighting, hemming & hawing, or blaming each other for having the wrong visa (although it was really tempting since it was technically Brad’s fault — hahahah). We hired a car, took 400-mile detour, cancelled one flight, and booked two others. It was an expensive mistake, but we rolled with it. We ate Pringles and Oreos for dinner (the two foods available at EVERY airport in the world it seems) and made a couple new friends along the way. It was a long day, but we ended up in Dehli just 7 hours after we had originally planned, unscathed, and in good spirits.
No matter how or why I got cancer, one thing is for sure, now we just have to deal with it. Like the calm that came over us when we were forced to pivot in India, we walked into the elevator at SCCA at the end of the day, a little bit numb, full to our eyeballs with cancer knowledge, and quietly succumbed to the fact that it is what it is. Can’t go around it. Can’t go over it. Gotta go through it. Cancer is only a detour, not an end to our trip. We hugged each other tight and then snapped into logistics mode almost immediately.
Within an hour I had already texted my assistant to let her know my surgery date. By the following morning, I had managed to rearrange just about everything in my life to accommodate the most important thing, my health. I generally sleep like a baby but by 4:30 am the next morning I was wide awake with cancer logistics on my mind.
That same day, Brad was in hardcore logistics mode too. He bought a gigantic wall calendar for the kitchen so we could see all my upcoming appointments, doctors, chemo schedule, medications, etc. He also made a digital document with names and pictures of all my doctors, along with audio clips of the most important things they shared with us the day prior. Like that day in Nepal, we snapped into autopilot. I like planning and moving fast. So does Brad. We credit our early days in the service industry, with our ability to get shit done at lightning speed.
Act now, feel later.
I think I was operating under this unconscious mantra until about 7am on Wednesday, but then came the feelings and I turned into a faucet. For a “feeler” Cancer is a buffet of deliciousness.
I walked into Brads office around 7am to see him ordering me a zip-up hoodie (I can only wear zips and buttons for a while since I can’t move my arms higher than my shoulders). His kindness & assuming the role of project manager of my cancer, got me crying. I made Ben’s PB&J sandwich while crying. I greeted Gilly while crying and then cried even harder when she licked the tears off my face. I guess you could say it was all beginning to sink in.
Then, just when I thought I had cried all the tears I needed to cry — our dear friend Ken Smith showed up to drop off his son Ruben. Several of the kids in the neighborhood gather in our front yard each morning to walk to school together. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day…these adorable teens and pre-teens being their adorable selves. Ken is one of our closest & dearest friends and he must have sensed that I needed a hug. The minute he hugged me I felt a whole new batch of tears well up from the tips of my toes. Before I knew it, I was a puddle. Hugs can sometimes do that. Ken hugged me tightly and reminded me to take things one day at a time. I think he could read my thoughts.
I know I’m supposed to stay in the moment and not think days and weeks and years into the future, but Jesus Christ that’s hard — on a regular day — but especially hard the day after you learn that you are going to have a year of cancer surgeries and treatments.
I could not stop my thoughts…
What about skiing with Ben on Wednesdays? I don’t want to miss that.
When will I be able to use my passport again? First Covid. Now Cancer.
I don’t want to miss Thanksgiving or my niece's sweet 16.
What about Brad's parents’ 50th anniversary trip to Hawaii in February?
What about swimming? When can I swim again?
What if I cannot take a bath with a chemo port?
What about the fun projects I have going on at work?
What if I lose my hair? Are people going to look at me funny?
But the thought causing me the most sadness was this one…
I don’t want Adi and Ben to have a mom who has cancer. I don’t want Brad to have a wife who has cancer. That is not supposed to be their story or mine.
Thoughts create feelings, so, I had a lot of disappointment and sadness coursing through my body. I’m learning that no feeling is permanent. Nothing reinforces this truth better than cancer (and toddlers).
Two different friends have recommended I read “The Power of Now; a guide to spiritual enlightenment” by Ekhart Tolle. One of them even bought it for me. Those fuckers. I know they are right, but do you think I’ve read a single word of that book yet? Another friend suggested that I not call it Cancer. I like the idea of that but so far that technique has been wildly unsuccessful.
People keep asking (and I too would be asking the exact same questions by the way), How are the kids doing?
Adi and Ben were my biggest worry when I first heard the news, I had breast cancer. How will I tell them? I didn’t want them to be sad, scared, distracted, unable to function in school, etc etc. But of course, it’s inevitable that they have feelings.
The good news…they are doing great. Truly. For those of you who know them well, please check in with them, love them up, and don’t be afraid to ask them yourselves how they are doing. Sure, they have had a few sad moments and lots of questions, but if you walked into our house you would not feel like it is a somber place. We are the same that we’ve always been and so are the kids. In fact, if anything, I think we are more joyful & loving than before. Perhaps this is the honeymoon phase of cancer, and we will all bring some bouts of nastiness into the mix later? That is entirely possible. But I think we have a bond in our family that mostly has us leaning in during the most stressful times in life. Our year away solidified that closeness and the humor, curiosity, humility, and irreverence that frames the way we see the world. But all in all, they go to school, have fun with their friends, do their homework, laugh heartily, and overall feel confident that I will live — because Brad and I feel confident that I will live. And so do the doctors.
There have been some particularly funny moments, that we have taken to calling “Cancer perks”
The other night I was making tacos & I yelled to the kids that I needed someone to grate the cheese. Normally this would have resulted in a 2–5 minute debate about whose turn it was. Ben, I did it last time. Adi, I unloaded the dishwasher. Ben, you didn’t clean up the poop and I picked it up when it wasn’t my day. Adi, I grated the cheese last time, not you. But instead, something miraculous happened. Adi beat Ben into the kitchen, and there was no complaints or debates. I looked at Adi sideways with suspicion, as she picked up the block of cheese. She had a smirk on her face as she said, “well mom, this is one of the perks of cancer, slightly more agreeable kids.” That gave us both a good laugh. But… I did feel the need to remind her that part of her job as a teenager is to be an asshole sometimes and that she can still be an asshole even though I have cancer.
Thursday, I got a jury duty notice. I walked into Brad's office, flashed the postcard in front of him, with a look on my face that said are you kidding me….jury duty? Without any other words spoken between us, he simply looked up and said sorry bitches! I laughed so hard and added “excusal from jury duty” to my long list of cancer-perks.
I swear humor is what’s going to get us through.
Of course, the biggest cancer-perk of all continues to be the love. Never in my entire life have I felt so loved and supported. Everyone on this planet deserves to experience this kind of love. Well, maybe not Trump (sorry trump lovers — I just could not resist)
Friends and family — THANK YOU. Your messages, your prayers, your cards and gifts, soup, muffins, hugs, text check-ins, offers of support, offers to walk Gillie (I will need a lot of this after surgery — I can walk but I cannot hold her leash), to grocery shop, to organize a food train, to come to keep me company, to sit with me during chemo, to travel from Santa Cruz, Colorado, Reno, and SF to take me to appointments…and so much more. If I have not yet taken you up on your offers of support, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to — I DO. I’m only trying to figure out how & when — how to organize, how to show the deep appreciation that I feel, and how to get it through to my heart that I am worthy of all of this. It’s overwhelming in the very best of ways.
The border incident in Nepal/India is one of our favorite and most dramatic stories from our year of travel. I have come to realize — as I’m sure most of you have — that it tends to be the most disruptive & unexpected things in life that are most memorable, humorous, and stand to teach us the most. I can already see the writing on the wall that cancer will be epic. A different kind of epic adventure than the one I may have chosen for us, but an adventure nonetheless.
I will continue to keep you all posted.