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"I have breast cancer."
That was the hardest sentence I've ever had to say.
Maybe it was because I had to say it to my parents over the phone, long distance, alone in the hot dingy garage of a hospital parking lot.
Until that point, save for the five minutes following that initial diagnosis, I had held it together.
One month ago today, my husband and I got the news that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
I'm 38 with no family history of breast cancer, so this news was not expected. I can't imagine it's ever expected.
I had been through the process once before. Last year, during October, Breast Cancer Awareness month no less, I found a lump. We had it biopsied and I was scheduled to find out the results on a Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.
A nurse called that morning to say there was no need to come in for the appointment. It was benign.
This time, I found a lump, had it biopsied and was scheduled to find out the results on a Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.
This time, there was no call.
I convinced myself it was an oversight, or because I was a "repeat customer," they needed to discuss things in person.
Clearly, that wasn't the case.
So there we were, my husband and me, in a tiny room with as many boxes of tissues as people, learning that everything was about to change.
I'm not what you would call an emotional person, but I defy anyone not to break down when you're told you have cancer.
From there, I launched into reporter mode, peppering the nurse navigator with questions. How early did we catch it? What do we do next? What is the survival rate? When can we have surgery? How big is it? Will I have chemo?
They handed me what would be considered a goody bag in a happier situation. It included books and resources, a pillow for my seat belt, note pads and pens and a bunch of pink stuff I never thought I'd ever have to use.
I couldn't help but think as I left the office that my bright green tote bag and bright red eyes were the equivalent of a cancer scarlet A. An outward sign to everyone I passed of what was happening inside my body.
That's when my husband and I went to our respective cars and started making phone calls. He to his parents, me to mine. And that's when my brave face faded once again into a teary, blubbery mess. Strangely, I kept thinking how happy I was that I accidentally bought waterproof mascara.
In a matter of minutes, my life went from worrying about when our deck will get painted, and -- well, why I bought waterproof mascara, to literally life and death.
After that conversation with my parents, I called my sister, who had her feet in a pedicure bath at the time. I learned that this is not the time to tell your only sibling that you have cancer. I hope I do not have to use this bit of information again.
In the weeks since that day, I'm amazed by how one's perspective can change.
Day 1: Oh crap. I have cancer! What does this mean?
Day 7: It's just Stage 1! Whee! That means just a lumpectomy and removing a couple of lymph nodes.
Day 14: Oh yeah. I have cancer. Pass the potatoes.
It becomes a part of your daily life. You go from the initial shock of getting chills every time you say the word to forgetting about it until you reach for that glass on the high shelf and your post-surgery pain reminds you.
The day after surgery, my elder daughter came up to me and asked a great question.
"Do you still have cancer?"
It hadn't dawned on me yet, and I didn't have the official results for several more days, but the answer was exhilarating.
"No, I guess I don't."
She said, "I can tell. You're not in your pajamas anymore."
For her, it was as simple as a change of clothes. For me, it's a bit more complex than that.
And part of that complexity is sharing this story.
I'm not sharing it for publicity or for attention. And I'm certainly not expecting anyone to feel sorry for me. I'm sharing it because I know that I'm not alone. One in eight women reading this will develop breast cancer at some point in her life. I found this lump myself, and with the help of my nurses and doctors, had it removed.
There are more treatments and years of medication to come, but the fact that we caught this early and took care of it means that I'll be around for many more birthdays, dance recitals and Good Morning Tri-States.
I implore you (or the women and even men you love) to do breast self-exams and get annual mammograms. They are our best ways of preventing this story from becoming anyone else's.
So if "I have breast cancer" was the most difficult sentence I've ever had to say, then this one has to be the most rewarding:
"I had breast cancer."
And I hope I can say it for a long, long time.
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