Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Getting personal... Lori's Boob Job

I read this today, and it got me thinking. And the thinking it got me, got me writing. And the writing I'm gonna do, is personal.

Everyone warns me that marriage is hard. My mom's favorite joke when I ask her for advice on marriage is, "Don't do it." Everyone warns me about finances. Everyone warns me about communication. I, being currently (though not permanently) unmarried, believe them. And then part of me thanks God that Scott and I have such an honest, communicative, edifying relationship. We rarely fight, and when we do, we resolve the fight quickly. Often times we get grouchy, but one of us kills the grouchiest by calling the other some ridiculous name like "Grumpy-butt" or "dummie-face". Not that I want to be naive and think all problems can be ended by forming an adjective-noun combination. I'm just thankful that we have already developed the kind of communication that we have--it puts us one or two steps ahead of the game.

What I've discovered on my own, however, is less of a hot topic. So I'm going to explore it here, for the benefit of myself and hopefully for the benefit of some others who read this.

Earlier this summer, at a regular check-up, my doctor detected a lump in my breast. I'd actually known about this lump for 5 or so years but really didn't pay much attention to it. I assumed it was probably normal, a lymph node or a mammary gland or something. She also detected two more that I was unaware of. She referred me to a specialist right away.

I told my mom about it, and she guessed it was a cyst. Apparently, she and all her sisters had also had cysts. This didn't worry me in the slightest.

I went to the Breast Specialist and had an ultrasound. (I'm too young for anything else.) The doctor took pictures of all the lumps and measured them. One he decided was nothing--the other two he did not like.

"We're gonna need to take those out. You're awfully young, but I wouldn't leave anything that big inside anyone," he told me.

"What are they?" I asked. "Cysts?"

"No, they are tumors. I'll have to remove them surgically. Can you come in for surgery tomorrow?"

Tomorrow! Suddenly my heart was seized with fear. Surgery?! Tomorrow?! "Um, yes, I can come in tomorrow." The doctor left the room, and I sat in the room alone. My eyes filled with tears, for fear of surgery. Would I feel it? Would they put me all the way under? I'd never had surgery before, I did not like the idea of a knife cutting open any part of my body so close to my head. (For some reason, surgery down in my feet or somewhere seemed so much less terrifying.) The nurse came in to get some information from me. She noticed the tears in my eyes.

"Are you ok?" she asked.

"I--I don't-- I've never had surgery. What does he think is wrong with me? I'm too young to have breast cancer, right?"

The nurse smiled gently. "You're young, yes. But I had breast cancer at the age of 30. It does happen. But know you have age on your side. You know in your heart if you have it. I knew, before they ever had to tell me. You know, too."

Well, this New Agey advice did nothing. What is in my heart? I wondered. Fear. Lots of fear. Cancer? Maybe. In fact, oh my gosh, maybe. I know in my heart? I don't know anything now! I certainly don't know I don't have cancer.

I left the clinic and fell apart in my car. I sobbed. I drove home, praying and sobbing. God! If this is cancer, I know it's for your glory. Somehow! I don't know how but I know you are in control. I've known you long enough to know you aren't going to leave me now. I trust you! But I am so freaking scared! This prayer continued until I got home.

I needed to talk to Scott. But something inside of me didn't want to talk to him at all. He would be so scared! He would feel so helpless! He will want to be here, and he can't be. It hurt me even more to have to share the pain and fear I was feeling. I thought about our wedding vows which we would make at the end of the summer " sickness and in health... til death do us part". I hadn't realized how hard "in sickness" would be. Part of me even thought it would be better for us to break up, rather than have Scott forced to go through this with me, should I have cancer. I called him anyway. I needed him.

Scott was scared. Scott wanted to hop on a plane right then and come to me. He promised he would should the diagnosis be cancer. He was upset. And I hated having put that on him.

We talked about the vows, the "in sickness" part. He knew he could do nothing to change the situation, but he needed to be a part of it. He always says, "You're a part of me now." You can't keep these things to yourself once you're married. Being unmarried and single meant leaning on myself and carrying the burden alone, which is what I wanted. But being betrothed now meant sharing the burden, not carrying it alone. I'm not going to lie--I didn't feel any better after sharing it. I didn't feel like any of the load was taken off me. Instead I felt like I'd just told Scott, too, he might have cancer.

So, as a still unmarried, very naive little girl, my warning isn't about finances or communication, but sharing burdens. As I read the post linked above, I was touched that other people experience the same thing. It seems like such a selfless thing at the time, to protect the person you love from pain. But it isn't so. It's not ground-breaking advice, I suppose it's really not advice at all. I feel silly even bringing it up, except for I know how hard it was. I almost want to delete this whole paragraph... But I think I'm going to leave it.

Even though my point has been made, I ought to finish the story. I was going to need someone to take me to and from the surgical clinic. It just so happened that my dad was in town that week on business. He teaches mechanic training school, and it just so happened that this one particular time he had brought another guy with him to observe him. So my dad arranged for the other guy to teach his class on Friday, and he took me to my surgery. (God wasn't forgetting any details!) I was taken to the back with all the other patients and cried a little as I laid on my cot in nothing but socks and a hospital gown, wishing Scott were there, feeling very cold. I touched my lump a few times wondering what it was. I'd read up on the surgical procedure the day before, after I'd learned what was to happen, so I was moderately prepared, though I kept worrying I might wake up during the surgery. However, this should have been no worry at all, for I took two breaths into the mask and next thing I knew I was in a bed surrounded by recovering patients like myself. I made a joke about nipple hair apparently to one of the nurses and fell asleep again. I woke up again in another room where my dad was waiting. The nurse told me I had been quite funny and that the surgery went well, took only 30 minutes. The doctor assured us that one lump (the big one) was most certainly a fibroadenoma. The other lump was uncertain.

Monday morning I got the call that all was benign.

In my follow up visit, my doctor described the tumors' appearances to me (as I had asked him before the surgery to do). I imagined them green and hairy. Scott imagined them bloody. They were just smooth and kind of yellow-tan. Boring.

I don't have cancer. Not right now anyway. I still have a tiny fear in the back of my mind that something was overlooked, that the third lump should've been taken care of, that I will probably develop cancer in the future. But for now, I am all well. And, uh, to make this a nice functional conclusion, if I do have cancer some day, Scott will share it with me. And if he ever gets sick, you better believe I'm going to share the pain with him.

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