So today is the big day; the one year anniversary of my diagnosis. Usually anniversaries are celebrated as happy milestones in a person's life. I don't feel much like celebrating though. My mood today is a bit more reflective. I close my eyes and think about July 19, 2011. By now everyone in my life knows about my diagnosis, but very few people know the exact events of that day. It plays in my mind like a movie.
8:00 AM- Joe and I drive into the city and park the car in a lot. I was told not to eat anything but I couldn't eat now even if I tried. My doctor has scheduled me for a CT Scan to confirm what he found during yesterday's colonoscopy; a mass in my transverse colon. The technician is all jokes and smiles as I go in, telling me to relax and how I'm too young to have to worry about this. He isn't laughing as I get up from the table; this should have been my first clue that something was terribly wrong.
10:00 AM- We are walking out of the diagnostic center when I get a call from my doctor's assistant. He wants to go over the results so we need to go to his office now. Joe and I grab a cab and are there in no time. The assistant directs us not to the examining room but to his personal office. It is gorgeous, like a Ralph Lauren ad; all earth tones and dark wood. We are seated in the 2 brown leather wing chairs across from his desk when he walks in and closes the door. He looks like he's been crying. He sits down and says, "This isn't good." My body begins to get very hot. He says, "The scan shows a 7cm tumor in your colon and several lesions on your liver." I stare at him for a moment, unable to process what he is telling me. "Tumor? Do I have cancer...are you telling me I have cancer?" I ask. He says yes and follows it up with words I can't comprehend because everything goes blank...I can't hear, I can't move. All I feel is this heat radiating throughout my body and then I go numb. I look over at Joe who by now has slid halfway down that beautiful wing chair. His face is chalk white. I put my hand on his arm and say, "You cannot fall apart on me. I need you to stay strong." He shakes his head but remains silent. The doctor tells me he knows the top oncologist at Beth Israel and has already scheduled an appointment for me to meet with him at 1:00.
11:00 AM- It's a gorgeous summer day so, with time to kill, Joe and I walk around Union Square. I am somehow stunned to see life going on all around me. People are laughing and chatting and going about their day like nothing has happened, like my world wasn't crumbling before their eyes. We sit on a park bench and hold onto each other for what seems like an eternity. Joe is thirsty so we walk into a store where he grabs a Diet Coke. He asks me if I want one. I tell him no, that shit gives you cancer. I can tell by his face he is not amused. "Too soon?" I ask.
I start making my calls. First to my parents. My mother picks up; I know she has been waiting by the phone all morning. I can barely get the words out before I start sobbing. "Kathleen, you need to calm down and tell me what's going on" she says. I tell her as much info as I can and wait for her response. She starts to say something and then her voice cracks..."Oh Jesus...Oh God" is all she can get out between her cries. I ask to speak to my dad and she hands him the phone. As strong as I've tried to be all day, once I hear his voice I am 6 years old again and desperately need for him to make this all better. "Daddy can you come, can you come to my house tomorrow?" I beg him. "I'm coming today" he states. I tell him no, that I need time to pull myself together. He says, "I love you, Katie. You're going to be ok" over and over like a mantra as he cries. I tell him that I love him too, and I do...so very much.
My next call is to my sister. She is the level head in the family; the sensible one. Nothing rocks her. I tell her that she needs to listen to me. In the middle of the street I begin sobbing and beg her, "If anything happens to me, if I don't make it through this, promise me you will take care of Sean." She is crying and telling me to not talk like that. "You are not going to die" she keeps repeating. I'm hoarse with emotion, almost screaming at her to promise me. She does and it quiets my mind for the time being.
I call my Aunt Linda, who 3 years earlier lost her husband, my beloved Uncle Tom, to cancer. I hate to do this to her; she has already been through so much. Aunt Linda is my great defender, my most trusted confidante and my fiercely loyal protector. She lets out a cry so filled with anguish that my heart breaks for her. I hang up and begin to slide down the wall I was leaning against. I sit on the pavement with my head on my knees as people walk by.
I need to call work and tell them what's going on. I let them know I won't be coming in today or probably any other day. I was leaving anyway but didn't plan on leaving like this. Within minutes I receive a text from my boss telling me not to worry about anything else but taking care of myself and he's here if I need anything. I'm touched and reply with a simple thank you. I don't know what else to say. I call my 2 closest friends. No one can believe it. I'm having a hard time believing it myself.
1:00 PM- Beth Israel is enormous and we need to be directed to the proper elevators by a security guard. Joe is leading the way and I follow in a daze. We get off and walk down the hall. There is a large plaque that reads Cancer Center with an arrow pointing to the right. My mind goes blank. In the waiting area are a handful of emaciated men and women with headscarves. I start to go numb again and Joe helps to steady me. We meet with the oncologist who tells me that today is the worst day, that it gets better after this. He goes over the medical aspect; in 2 weeks I'll have a port placed in my chest which will deliver the chemo without having to hit up the veins in my arms. I'll have 6 rounds of chemo and then be re-scanned. "Any questions?" he asked. I had just one..."Am I going to survive?" "We are going to do everything we can" is his reply. He leaves the room and the emotional baggage part is handed to his nurse. She is so kind but everything that is coming out of her mouth is white noise. I rest my head in my hands and rub my eyes.
We go back into the waiting area to schedule my chemo appointments when I look down at the pamphlets on the table. There is one with a mother and son titled, 'How To Tell Your Child About Your Diagnosis'. I finally crumble. Sean. My sweet boy. Oh God, how am I going to tell him? I become hysterical. Loud, guttural moans erupt from my now shaking body. Both Joe and the nurse try to calm me down. She hands me a pill and some water and tells me she is going to give me a prescription for a sedative. Joe gets the car and I cry the entire way home.
7:00 PM- We are sitting in the living room, acting out our nightly ritual of tea and Law and Order like everything is normal. I try to remain calm when I tell Sean that we got the results from the test. "They found a tumor" I say to him. I can tell he is rattled. He seems so confused. He looks at me and asks, "Do you have cancer, mom?" I tell him yes but that I'm a fighter and I need him to remain positive. I smile at him and he nods his head. The conversation doesn't go any further but he sits a little closer to me while we watch the next episode.
That night I can't sleep. Every 20 minutes or so I wake up and think "I have cancer." It's on loop in my brain. I begin to pace the floors of the house. I go into Sean's room. He wakes up as I get into his bed. "Can I sleep here tonight?" I ask. He says sure and even allows me to hold him. I cradle my baby as he falls back asleep. Taking in his every breath, smelling his hair and kissing his head, I finally sleep.
So here I am a year later. Cancer has changed me in ways I could not even fathom on July 19, 2011. I once told someone cancer was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I dont know if I would use the word 'greatest' anymore but I stand by the sentiment. Cancer forced me to stand still and look at my life, really take a hard look at myself. Springsteen once wrote, ''It's a sad man my friend who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company'. I'm now working on shedding that skin and finding out who I am. Do I wish I could have gained the knowledge without the horror of cancer? Absolutely. But I didn't get to choose how I learned life's lessons. What I did learn is that I am strong, that I can endure and that my life is worth fighting for.
Happy Anniversary....here's to many more