View from the 10th Floor

Aerial view of Baltimore
This was my view from the exam room during my oncology appointment today. Looking from this perspective I can see things that I never noticed before. Who knew the city is so green? From here, I can see Baltimore very differently compared to my view on the streets. Looking back to what brought me here, I see the events from the last few months differently from how I did when I was going through them. Some things that felt so horrible at the time just might be saving my life now.
I left today’s oncology appointment with more questions than answers honestly. We have to send my tumor out for an oncotype test, which will give us more information about how to proceed. What I learned is that I have a “smart” cancer (the doctor’s words). It learned how to cross membranes and spread while it stayed small and undetectable. The tumor in my breast was .7 cm. The tumor in my lymph node was .032 cm. These are tiny tumors that would usually stay under the radar, but for a few heartbreaking events.
I felt a lump in November. I periodically did self-checks, but not regularly. I’d skipped the mammograms that I was supposed to get the last two years. But last fall, I became more vigilant, because I watched a very close family friend decline over the summer and then pass away from cancer in September. Her illness seemed to come from nowhere, and the loss struck so deep because our families have been so close for so long. She was literally the emergency contact for my kids’ school. So maybe my eyes were now watching for it, open to the unlikely possibility that I could develop cancer seemingly out of nowhere.
I decided not to skip my annual mammogram this year, so I went in on Friday, December 13. They called back on Monday, but wanted me to get an ultrasound on the right side, not the left. I mentioned that I felt a lump on the left, but they said, “Nope, that side is all clear.” I went in for the ultrasound; they found nothing on the right side and started to send me home. I asked them to please do an ultrasound on the left. At first, they said there was no need because the mammogram had been clear. Then it was that they needed to get a script for it. I said, “But I can feel something that I didn’t feel before.” They relented and got a script while I waited in the exam room (I wasn’t leaving). As soon as they did the ultrasound, the doctor and technicians could see the tumor plain as day. Their voices were notably quieter as they told me to see the biopsy coordinator.
When I met with the biopsy coordinator, I broke down and cried. During the ultrasound, I watched the screen and saw what they saw. I realized what news might come from the biopsy. A month later when the results confirmed invasive cancer, I felt sick to my stomach and my head hurt from crying and thinking worst-case scenarios.
But now I see I pretty much had a best-case scenario for detection. We found a tumor that even the mammogram didn’t see. I thank God for our family friend who was an amazing woman who spoke her mind. She helped me to see something I might not have seen and say something I might not have said. I still have to wait two weeks for the next round of test results to see if we move forward with radiation or chemotherapy, but I have treatment options and I’m healthy, living in a loving and secure home. I realize now why the cancer doctors sound so upbeat when they meet with me. I can see their eyes curl even though their smiles are hidden behind the masks we all have to wear now. For them, this is probably some of the best news they get to give. With a new appreciation from this view, I’ll take it.