Twenty-five-year-old Tonya had experienced her share of transitions. In a little
over a year she had married and was now seven months pregnant. As a nurse in an
obstetrician’s office, she previously had experienced the joy of a new life
coming into the world with countless women. Now at last it was her turn. As she
felt the baby move and kick, her mind raced ahead to the drastic changes her
life would undergo in just two more months when her baby boy made his
appearance. Then one day Tonya brushed across her breast and stopped a moment.
Did she notice something new, a lump? Not a lump, really, Tonya assured herself.
It’s more like a clogged milk duct. At her next appointment with her
obstetrician, she told him about it.
Next thing she knew, she was on her way to see a radiologist for an ultrasound. After imaging the area, the radiologist studied the results for what seemed to Tonya like hours.
Finally he said, “You know, I just don’t believe this is malignant.”
Well, that’s good, Tonya thought. I never dreamed it really might be.
Tonya’s obstetrician wanted her to see a surgeon, who recommended a mammogram followed by a biopsy.
Tonya was from a small town about eighty miles from the large city where her surgery was to be done. Since the biopsy was early in the morning, her parents took a second car so Tonya and her mom could shop for baby items when the procedure was over. Her husband and her dad would head back home. Tonya and her mom would have plenty of time after the procedure to make an event of the trip, so Tonya made a mental list of the stores she didn’t want to miss.
During the biopsy, Tonya joked and talked with her surgeon. Then somebody came into the surgical suite and all conversation ended.
Tonya was puzzled when she was placed in a private alcove in the recovery room. Most patients were in a larger area with just curtains separating the beds. They probably want to check the baby, she surmised. Her family joined her along with her surgeon. She noticed tears in her surgeon’s eyes. And then the unimaginable happened. The surgeon used the words “BREAST CANCER.”
As a physician who has had to say those words to many women, I know that the first time any woman hears them, the world stops for a moment. Nobody is prepared to hear the report, even if a family member or close friend has had cancer, even if you suspected before the biopsy, even if . . . There is a world of difference between thinking I might have cancer and having that fear confirmed.
I’ve found that, most of the
time, patients hear little else of whatever the physician says at that time. You
are numb, shocked, flooded with questions for which you want immediate answers.
These are normal responses. Often women say their first thought is, I’m going to
die. Fortunately, that isn’t true. Most will recover. But the fear of death and
the intrusion of a dreaded enemy eclipse everything else at that
Tonya, now recovered and healthy, says, “I remember little about that time. I recall the room, and my husband, John, holding my hand. My mother held my forehead. I remember thinking, Oh, my God, how is this possible? My surgeon told me, ‘You’re going home today, and I would like to see you back tomorrow. Bring all of your questions, and we’ll talk about what we need to do.’ I thought that was good and bad—bad because I wanted to know right then, but good because it gave me a chance to gain some perspective.”
Have you, too, felt the frightening impact of the words, “You have breast cancer”? Did you feel your life had taken a jarring turn in a dreadful direction?
Cancer is a rude travel companion, bringing with it several suitcases stuffed to overflowing with stress enhancers and expecting you to carry the luggage! It demands to have its own way and has no concern for the itinerary you had created for yourself. It doesn’t care that your family has needs, that you’re trying to hold down a job or advance your career, that its presence strains your relationships with those closest to you. It’s indifferent to the physical, emotional, and spiritual havoc it wreaks. It sets its own schedule and pays no attention to your pleas to stop for a break.
As breast cancer’s unwilling travel companion, do you feel you’ve lost control of all that’s important to you? Do you struggle between focusing on the myriad of questions to which you want answers and concentrating on the flood of emotions you’re experiencing? If so, your response is normal, I assure you.
Many women have journeyed this way before you—you are not alone. In reality you are in the company of hundreds of thousands of resilient women.
As a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer, I have had the privilege of caring for many of these women. Over my nearly twenty years in this role, I have developed tremendous respect for the women who have faced this terrifying disrupter of their lives. They have shown themselves to be women of strength, fortitude, courage, and humor. Not that they didn’t feel afraid, weary, and overwhelmed many times, but my respect came as I saw them move forward through the journey, regardless of what life asked them to face.
The book you hold in your hand is designed with you in mind. Together we will explore your questions, your emotions, and—be sure to catch this next step—your options. Yes, you do have options. I plan to lay out a map for you to follow on your journey so you can look ahead to the upcoming “destinations” and find spiritual turnouts that can provide you with respite. Along the way I’ll explain new terms as well as potential twists and turns. This is a book about how to care for yourself, how to trust God’s care, and how to lean on the care of loved ones as you journey through breast cancer. It is a book about receiving the care you need during this time.