Several days after I checked Layla into the hospital and admitted her into the psychiatric unit of our local hospital (see Then Sings My Soul (No Matter What), the music that is usually rolling around in my head every day suddenly stopped for a moment. You know how in the movies when someone is being told really bad news, he or she is watching as the bearer-of-bad-news lips are moving but they can’t hear a word being said? All is silent, even to the person watching the movie. That’s a real thing.
I think I was getting ready to go see Layla in the hospital. As I got dressed I noticed a suspicious lump. I put the weirdness of it aside and went about my day. I checked again that night and at the insistence of my husband, I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor. Upon my visit with her, she checked, she prayed with me and we set up an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound at a local breast cancer diagnostic center.
I found myself in the lobby of what felt like a luxurious spa and I went upstairs. Everyone spoke so softly and gently, like all the ladies in there might break. I dressed in a white bathrobe with my rain boots and jeans still on. As I sat trying to distract myself with cooking magazines or repeating phrases from a song at church in my head like a mantra “Jesus, Jesus…You make the darkness tremble…” just trying to keep the darkness from closing into my mind as I waited my turn, I couldn’t help but notice that I was by far the youngest woman in there. I almost felt silly, like I don’t belong here…maybe I should come back in 10 or 20 years.
I had my first mammogram and then an ultrasound. After I had finished both, I just waited on the bed in the ultrasound room. Again, I felt so silly “Why are you here?… this is so dumb…” and then “it is well with my soul…” But then a man in a white lab coat walked in with my ultrasound technician. He shook my hand and introduced himself and began talking. He lost me at the words “solid mass….” and I had to work so hard to keep my face composed, I couldn’t hear a word he said after that. I had trained myself to nod my head with my best active listening postures after raising so many children and I used that well-honed skill with all my heart, as if it were the last thing I would ever do. That was when the music stopped and was bursting in silence. Somehow, I got all my clothes on and then another overly kind person came to make a biopsy appointment for the following week.
I went out to my car and I sat down but I couldn’t drive yet, I felt paralyzed in the parking lot. So I called my mom and then my best friend with all my ugly cry voice and face in full swing. Funny how those two gave the exact response to my news: “Oh shit.” It just signifies why they are who they are to me. I pulled myself together and drove to pick up my kids. Everything is going to be FINE.
And then began a harrowing week. And songs from church echoed in my mind as I went through my days. Sometimes the fragments and phrases buoyed me and at other times the tears would just leak from my eyes as I carried my foster son to his new home on Monday…checked Layla out of the local psychiatric unit and took her straight to the airport to visit my parents a few days on Tuesday….as I took a day on Wednesday for myself with coffee and a manicure….as my husband and I went to my biopsy appointment on Thursday and I had to hear the words….”Oooohhh, such a YOUNG girl…” as the doctor walked in. She scrunched up her face when she told me they will have to use double the numbing medication they usually do because there are so many nerve endings in the location of the tumor…and Lord Jesus, she was NOT kidding…and then Friday morning, I caught an early flight to Reno to check my daughter into a long term residential treatment center where she will remain for the next few months….and then I caught a flight home Saturday morning. I came home and I slept and cried and I cried and slept all day long.
And all week long, I kept everything about these tests and appointments close, only telling a few people because I didn’t want to freak anyone out unless I had to. So while people are giving me the biggest, warmest, and most painful hugs of my life for Layla, my biopsy incision and bruises are screaming inside my head “Ow, ow, ow!!!! Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…ow ow ow!!!!” I do yoga, so I know how to look like I am at peace on the outside.
And then the morning of my results appointment arrives. My husband and I grab some coffee, I throw on my brightest shade of red lipstick and all the while that old hymn, just a snippet of it on repeat in my head. I sang it in the bathroom as I brushed little Sue’s hair before sending her off to preschool:
…Whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say “It is well, it is well with my soul….”
It circles as we wait in that luxurious lobby, as I partially disrobe so another stranger can see all my bits and bruises to make sure I am healing ok. And I am. And then as I am putting myself back together she says, “Unfortunately, I have to share some news you don’t want to hear…” and just like that, I have breast cancer. Three weeks ago, I thought I was at the pinnacle of excellent health. Just three months ago, I had an exam and nothing was found. But since I am so young, I don’t think anyone was really looking.
She asks me if I have a good support system. Based on the past 2 weeks, I told her in full confidence “I have an AMAZING support system.” She asks me if I work. To which I quip “I can’t work, I have three kids with special needs.” And then she tells me, “So, you WORK – You are going to have to call in all your troops for this.”
Thankfully, moderate to aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma can be treated, although this will not be an easy road. I have no doubt that with all the prayers and love and support available to me, I can fight like a beast and heal completely. But I falter a little when, as I told my loving uncle I think, “How the hell am I going to do chemo AND keep Sue from eating all her brother’s deodorant??” I realized I was asking him: How do I take care of myself and take care of three kids with medical issues of their own? This is all new territory. I am too young for this. But here I am. And so with my songs and the prayers and all the love pushing me forward, we begin the fight for MY healing.
What choice do I have?