Since retiring I have joined a Creative Writing Group and found joy in putting my thoughts on paper and sharing with the other members of the group. Each week there is an assignment to work on for the next week. The assignment was to write about four intense emotions; when you were Mad, Sad, Scared or Glad. Slowly I began to review the times when any of these emotions were in play.
I remember as a ten-year old girl being ‘mad’ because a careless, fast driver had run down my beloved tabby cat. He left her to die in the road as he drove on. Like any heart-broken ten-year old girl I sobbed to my parents about this loss. My parents were comforting but did not understand how deeply angry I was.
When my grandfather passed away I was in my early twenties and so saddened by his death. He was the fun grandfather who over the years had supplied great stories and treats. A long ago war injury caused years of suffering but he never let it be the focus of his life. I would soon have grandchildren for him to regale with stories but alas he never had that opportunity and they can only learn of him through my memories.
The next emotion to write about was ‘scared’ and at this point I realized that all the emotions cascaded together in one defining moment of my life. I was in my forties, a wife, mother, grandmother with many years of life still to live. A visit to the doctor, asking about a suspicious lump on my right breast put everything in motion.
The doctor said those fateful words we all fear, ‘you have cancer’. My world spun out of control. Scared was the first emotion to grip me. The doctor was so clinical and matter of fact. When I walked out of the office and fell into my husbands arms I was scared beyond believe. The next days passed like a slide show that I was watching from a distance.
I was sent to Belleville Hospital to have an ultrasound and mammogram and the results were sent back to my surgeon. A date was scheduled to remove the lump. There was discussion about how to proceed and what to expect. Now instead of being scared I was mad at the world, why me?
I was saddened to think about what I was going to miss; as I was certain this was a death sentence. I would not see my grandchildren grow up and go out into the world. There was so much that I still wanted to accomplish.
There was a Breast Cancer Awareness Conference in Kingston and all the local newspapers, television reports and radio shows featured stories about advancements in cancer research, survivor stories and heart breaking stories from the families left behind. I could not escape the deluge of information. Even old magazines in the doctor’s office contained stories about breast cancer. From one of these articles I found information on new techniques; at the time, for lump removal. Armed with this information I approached the surgeon and was assured that he would do the least invasive of surgery.
The week-end before the surgery we went out with friends on a boat cruise along the St Lawrence. I witnessed new expensive homes being built along the river; people who were moving forward with their lives; taking risks. To myself; I pledged that if I came through this life experience I would not be afraid to take chances. I had always been a careful person and worried constantly about finances. Life now appeared too short to not be brave.
The scheduled day of the surgery arrived and I awoke with a migraine. I knew that this was the result of the stress I was facing. Vomiting and hardly able to hold up my head; I arrived at the hospital to be told by nurses that I likely had the flu and the doctor would not perform the surgery. Mercifully the doctor took one look at me and said “don’t worry I have something to relieve that pain”.
Later I woke in recovery and told I could go home. A large bandage covered the area on my breast where he had removed the lump to be sent to biopsy. It would be another week before the results were made available to the doctor. Days stretching ahead of me I fretted about the outcome.
The phone call came from the doctor’s receptionist to make the appointment for follow-up. A long time friend she said to me, please don’t worry; the doctor gave me permission to tell you that it was benign.
The relief and gladness washed over me at that moment. I would not be leaving my family to cope without me and I would become dedicated to performing self-breast exams and having mammograms.
During the follow-up appointment the doctor told me he had been mistaken in his early diagnosis of cancer. While I was still glad of this information I found myself circling back to being ‘mad‘. Did he have any idea of how he had turned my life and the life of my loved ones upside down?
All those emotions wrapped up in one defining moment; shaped how I view my life and move forward. I am no longer hesitant to explore new paths and treasure each and every moment. Perhaps I would never have found this new zest for life without the horrors of a breast cancer diagnosis.