The Good Fight -Part 3
February 10. February 11. February 12. Monday, February 13! The wait was agonizing. I did everything I could not to think of what I went through on the procedure table. I listened to the Tye Tribbette channel on Pandora all weekend as I did my housewife and mummy duties. The high energy from the music helped calm the anxiety. I was angry and still scared.
How did I get here? Wide spread calcifications, enlarged lymph nodes, two tumors in the duct. How? I am 35! Technically I am not eligible for a mammogram. I had just received a clean bill of health from my Ob-gyn 5 months before. She did the breast exam too. My pap smear came back negative. How……This image played like a never-ending horror movie score throughout the weekend.
Monday, February 13, I call Dr. M immediately to find out if the test results had arrived. We played phone tag for a good chunk of the day. Finally, he called me and the test results had not arrived yet. The snow storm did delay things. Valentine’s day is here. I am hoping Cupid will shoot me an arrow of good news. I call my ob-gyn’s office at 8.01 am sharp. I gave them a minute to open operations. She is not available and the results had still not arrived. I left my name with the front desk receptionist hoping I will hear back.
I could not focus at work. I tried to be calm. The tension in the air was so thick. I was choking myself with anxiety. I had stepped away for a brief meeting with work colleagues when my ob-gyn called. She left the usual voicemail message to call her back. The test results had arrived. After another round of phone tag, we spoke.
“Hello Toyin, I am so sorry to inform you the results showed an invasive breast cancer”…..
“NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed.
The phone dropped, I slumped. I curled up under my desk. My senior colleague (Donna) was there when the news was broken. Thank God for her. She picked the phone, introduced herself to my ob-gyn while I was still saying my Nos. It was no longer a dream. It was not benign. It was not a bad boil; an invasive breast cancer! I was a mess. I was disillusioned. The oxygen in the room had changed. My ob-gyn needed to see me right away. I could not drive. Donna volunteered to take me.
Donna was the perfect instrument in the hands of God to see me through the first hour of the news. She moved me to a private area in the manager’s office. Our managers had gone to a meeting. As she tried to calm me down, I dialed my husband and she broke the news to him. I cried. I called Uju, I broke the news to her. We cried again.
This was a very busy and intense time at the office. South Shore Hospital was about to transition to a new EMR system; Epic. The team had been assembled Jan of 2016. Everybody was working hard and working long. I was the Instructional Designer for the Pharmacy module (Willow). Donna was the senior analyst. We were less than 6 months to system go live and then cancer!! Donna stood with me. Whatever she had on her schedule at that point did not matter. Only God can reward her.
The wait at the ob-gyn’s office was the longest 10 minutes. I was hoping she would come in and tell me, she read the wrong result. A girl can only wish. I was exhausted. I had cried my eyes out.
Dr. N walked in with a sorry face and handed me the pathology report. I was stone cold from that point on. I glanced through the first page to see the diagnosis and I saw what seemed like three different cancer diagnosis; Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer. I can’t remember the third. My name was on the report. This was not a dream anymore. How did I get here?
“I am so sorry Toyin…. not what we hoped for…. I am so sorry” said Dr N.
I did not need sorry anymore. A part of me wanted to curse her out. How could she give me a clean bill of health 5 months earlier? How come she could not tell something was brewing? A part of me could not blame her too. I was a new patient to her. She was seeing me for the first time 5 months earlier. The person I should have been yelling at was my former ob-gyn who did a nonsense job with my reproductive health.
I say nonsense because she was not the listening type. Two years earlier, I went to her and complained about symptoms concerning my health. She would brush it off and dismiss it. Her arrogant dismissals did not sit well with me. I fired her and switched doctors quick. When I met Dr. N, her approach was more patient centered. She was willing to listen. She wanted to know me more. That scored her points. Like most ob-gyns I had visited, her approach to SBEs was quick; a tap here, a feel there, let’s be done. I remember telling her to slow down the next time she saw me to run the tip of her fingers around my areola. I will come back to that later.
It was official. Cupid shot me the cancer arrow. Valentine’s day will NEVER be the same. At least for now.
“What are my options?”, I asked.
Dr. N began the painstaking process of explaining what happens from initial diagnosis, referrals to medical and surgical oncology, scans, tests… The process felt like an insurmountable maze. I was starting to shut down in my sub-conscious. Not too long after, my husband walks in. I see him and the tears start to pour like a waterfall. Bankole holds me tight. He thanks Donna for her support and we release her so she can head back to work.
Dr N starts the explanation process all over again to my husband. Her first task was to stop anything that will feed the cancer cells estrogen or progesterone. My birth control tool was a hormonal IUD. I made sure she removed it before we left. She also jumpstarted the referral to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The journey was about to begin.
My husband and I left the doctor’s office to go pick my car. I could not bring myself to tell my mum the news. I called her cousin, Aunty Janet to tell her. They are super close. They went to Nursing School together. They bore each other’s burdens. They both have houses not far from each other in Leicester. My husband did the honors of telling my mum. My mother felt this was something my dad had to know. She broke the news to my dad. I was afraid for my mum but it turned out my father will be more devastated. He cried. He withdrew to himself for a few days. He questioned God all the way.
I told my siblings. They cried. My husband told his siblings and his mum. Some cried. Some braced it by faith. Our daughter was waiting to hear the news.
“Mummy how was the biopsy result?” she asked.
I was silent.
“It’s cancer?” She asked again
I was silent.
“Mummy no…….No!!!” tears rolling down her eyes.
I held my daughter tight and cried. Bolu came to my room, saw us and knew immediately. He broke down and cried. We held each other and cried. I asked the Lord to hear my children’s cry. That was the only prayer I could mutter. I did all the encouraging I could.
Cancer was here. It was time to deal with it.