The “little c” Chronicles, Week 2: Shit Gets Real.

Hoo-wee, y’all, A LOT has gone down in the week since I shared my news. So let’s start at the very beginning (a very . . . OK, well, not “a very fine place to start”—how about “a semi-shitty place to start”?)

As promised, before I go down a rabbit hole or two, here’s the pertinent news that came out of this week:

  • I will receive both chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.
  • The chemo will be administered weekly, in two rounds totaling 12 weeks each (so yep—24 weeks of this business).
    • For the first round, I’ll be given Cabazitaxel (I think).
    • For the second round, I’ll be given a different drug, but which drug I’m given will depend on the results of an echocardiogram to determine the health of my heart toward the end of the first round.
  • The immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, will be administered once every three weeks, throughout both chemo cycles, and will last 27 weeks total.
  • Surgery will not take place until 30 days after the last chemo treatment.
  • I may, in fact, be a candidate for radiation even if I have a mastectomy, because of the size of the tumor (it measured at 4.3 centimeters; the “possible radiation” zone is 4-5 cm, and the “whoa, Nelly, that’s a big’un—we gotta burn that mutha out” zone begins at 5+ cm). The other factor that makes radiation a possibility even with a mastectomy is whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (the biopsy indicated this was NOT the case, but the MRI will tell us more).

And here’s the timeline of treatment-tastic events that I’ve either completed or have scheduled in the upcoming week:

  • Monday, 8/1: First meeting with the oncologist
  • Tuesday, 8/2: Failed MRI attempt / Creatinine blood test
  • Monday, 8/8: Echocardiogram
  • Tuesday, 8/9: Phone consult with genetic counselor
  • Thursday, 8/11: MRI , second try / Port placement

And here’s where the long-story-made-longer begins . . .

Note: for those of you who've been following along since the last post, I've made some (retroactive) changes; specifically, I've made an attempt to anonymize the professionals on my care team, so as not to put ALLLLLLLLLLLLL of my business out in the wind. SO in an effort to avoid confusion: 

Dr. Get-It-Done = the surgeon I met with initially, who performed my biopsy, gave me my diagnosis, and walked me through it (the stage, etc)—and who will perform my port placement AND my eventual post-chemo surgery.

Peppy McPerks = The nurse navigator assigned to my case, who may in fact be Secret Jesus.

Dr. Cool-and-Calm = The oncologist who's building my treatment regimen.

Monday, 8/1: Onward to the oncologist

I received a call on Monday morning from Peppy McPerks, the nurse navigator assigned to my case. She’d been on a mission trip to Colombia when I first met with Dr. Get-It-Done—a meeting she’d normally have attended—so she was calling to introduce herself and touch base. She asked if I had an MRI scheduled yet (yes), and whether I’d met with an oncologist (no). She said she’d get to work scheduling the oncologist visit and call me back. She asked tentatively if I might be able to meet with the oncologist TODAY (which surprised me, as I thought the oncologist visit wouldn’t happen until there were MRI results), or whether I had something else going on. I told her I didn’t have ANYTHING going on that was more important than THIS, so she should rock on with her bad self (OK, I didn’t actually say that, but I might have said, “do your thang”) and I’d make it work. About 20 minutes later, she called back and said she’d gotten me an appointment with the oncologist, Dr. Cool-and-Calm, for that very afternoon.

My husband and I arrived at my 1 p.m. appointment, and as I sat in the waiting area filling out paperwork, a breathless Peppy McPerks arrived from another floor (where she’d bounced out of a new patient consult with Dr. Get-It-Done) to meet me and accompany me to the meeting with Dr. Cool-and-Calm. Although I liked Dr. Cool-and-Calm, and have been happy overall with the care I’m getting, HOO CHILE. Talk about a ball of confusion (” . . . that’s what the world [was that day] . . . HEY hey . . . “); I was smacked every which way by a TON of information and walked out of that meeting with my head whirling. Luckily, my husband took notes like a bawss (hence my ability to coherently give y’all any useful information in this blog post).

When the doctor had left the room, Peppy McPerks stayed and went over all the “treatment-adjacent” information, like side effects (we should be able to keep the nausea under control, she said, but I would definitely lose my hair—likely ALLLLL of it (if you know what I mean—I joked that it would be like getting a free Brazilian), and I’d likely suffer more and more fatigue as the treatments progressed), and talking to our kids about it (which we’d already done), before carefully outlining the next steps in the treatment plan:

  1. I’d undergo the MRI I already had scheduled for August 2.
  2. I’d meet with a genetic counselor to find out if I’m the lucky winner of the BRCA gene (which would inform the type of surgery that would be recommended for me post-chemo).
  3. Once the chemo regimen had been approved by my insurance, I’d be set up with an appointment for chemo education.
  4. I’d undergo a port placement procedure.
  5. Let the games begin.

Later that afternoon, Peppy McPerks messaged me that I’d been set up for a port placement procedure at 3 p.m. on Thursday, August 11—the hope being that I can begin chemo treatments the week of August 15.

Tuesday, 8/2: Insurance irritation

On Tuesday morning, I walked into the hospital for my MRI appointment, only to learn—at check-in—that my insurance had denied the procedure. The nice lady who delivered the news handed me a sheet of paper with all the pertinent info (physician, procedure codes, etc.) and advised me to get in touch with Dr. Get-It-Done’s office to see if I could get more information about why the claim was denied, and then call the insurance company. After a twirly few minutes looking for my car on the wrong level of the hospital parking garage, I made it back home, and called Dr. Get-It-Done’s office.

The nice lady THERE told me that my particular insurance agency was notorious for taking awhile to approve procedures. She encouraged me to “call us back in a few days” to see if the procedure had been approved, and said she’d work with me at that point to re-schedule the MRI.

When I hung up, I called trusty Nurse Navigator Peppy, to explain the situation and ask how a delay in getting the MRI would affect the treatment plan she’d laid out for us the day before. She said it wouldn’t affect most of the steps, EXCEPT, of course, for the most important one—the chemo—because they needed the MRI before the start of chemo, to get a baseline assessment from which they’d later be able to determine if the chemo was actually WORKING.

She also said that my insurance agency often declined MRI procedures scheduled at hospitals (as mine was), preferring instead that they be done at independent facilities. The trouble with THAT, she said, was that independent facilities were often booked up for weeks or months, and cancer patients didn’t have the luxury of that kinda time to wait.

BUT! She told me (and here came the glory) I was NOT going to deal with this myself; she was taking over from here. She’d call around to independent imaging facilities and see if she could get me in soon—and if not, we’d file an appeal with the insurance agency and get this business done. I should try not to worry, she said, and she’d get to work and call me back within a day or two with news.

She did not lie. Within half an hour, I received a text from an imaging facility, saying, “Thank you for scheduling an appointment!” I texted Peppy to thank her, and she texted back that she hadn’t had a chance to call me yet, but confirmed that yes, I was set up for an appointment on August 11 for an MRI at an independent joint.

I’ve never had occasion to know this before—FORTUNATELY—but I now understand that nurse navigators are pure magic.

By early afternoon, when that was all over, my stress (and concomitant urge to sleep—y’all know how I do) was elevated, so I went upstairs to crash for a little bit. My nap was cut short, however, by a call from a nice lady at Dr. Cool-and-Calm’s office, who said my insurance company was refusing to approve my chemo regimen until the doctor sent them results from a creatinine blood test. Typically, she said, they’d do this test later in the process, but since my insurance required it in order to approve the treatment, she wondered if I’d be available to come in THAT AFTERNOON to have a blood draw.

So off I went to take care of that. The only interesting thing about that was that it gave me a little taste of the chemo experience. I was led from Dr. Cool-and-Calm’s waiting area to a recliner at one end of a semicircle of recliners, in which were seated a handful of bald women, reading, knitting, and chatting amongst themselves. And even though I still had my hair, and was getting something sucked out of me rather than pumped in, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of My Future People.

After the blood test, I drove to CVS to keep my previously scheduled appointment for my second COVID booster—I was overdue for it, but this situation lit a fire to get it done before I started feeling like crap on a cracker.

As I sat surrounded by displays of fluorescently lit canes, reading glasses, and socks, filling out the intake form, I was stopped cold: for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to quickly and blithely check NO on the extensive list of health issues listed on medical intake forms . . . but as I quickly moved down the list, doing my usual thing (nope! nope! nope! what even is that? nope!), I realized that I now had one big fat YES to check:

Welp. Shit.

Other than that, though, the process went quickly and smoothly, and look at me, needle-phobe extraordinaire, surviving a two-needle afternoon!

Thursday, 8/4: Echocardiogram, Ahoy / Insurance Intrigue

After all the twirliness that occurred on Monday and Tuesday of this past week, it was nice to get a little reprieve for the rest of the week. The only health-related things that happened after Tuesday were two Thursday phone calls: one to inform me I’d been scheduled for an ECG on Monday, August 8, and the other from a lady at my insurance company (I must confess that when I heard who was calling, I thought, “What these mufuggaz about to deny NOW?”), to inform me of my eligibility for a special program offered by the company, whereby my oncologist would have the opportunity to consult 1:1 with oncologists from national cancer centers. She whizzed, in typical salesperson-y fast talk, through a bunch of details I missed—because I was simultaneously trying to log onto a Zoom call for work, and once I realized I wasn’t going to have to jump from my chair and dive through another hoop to get approval on a medical procedure, I tuned out a little—and then she asked, “Does that sound good to you?”

“I . . . uh . . . I’m not sure,” I responded haltingly. I told her I hadn’t been able to catch all the details, and asked if she had information she could email me. She said she did, and would send it immediately. Then, while I futzed with the Zoom settings on the work call to make sure I was muted before speaking with her further (which, OK, is only a click of an icon, but ever since the day I took a meeting lying supine in bed with my laptop on my chest, and accidentally TURNED ON MY CAMERA in an attempt to unmute and say hello—revealing a visage slightly reminiscent of a bullfrog, encircled as it was by about half a dozen each of both pillows and chins—I focus HARD on making sure I’m clicking the right icon), she said something about how when I received the email, I was going to have to click “Accept” to view the information, but would not be signed up for anything until I signed it and clicked “Submit.”

At the time, that little tidbit went in one ear and out the other, but when I received the email in the form of a DocuSign document, it started to make more sense—and make me less comfortable with the whole thing. I mean, by the time I saw the email, I was already feeling skeptical about this “opportunity.” First of all, an insurance company’s primary concern is its own bottom line, right? So would signing up for this insurance-sponsored service mean these physician “consultants” were basically there to convince MY oncologist to go with procedures that would cost the insurance company less money? (And I mean, y’all know me—I love a good discount—but in this case, a clearance sale ain’t what I’m lookin’ fer.) Plus, I wondered, would my oncologist be annoyed by my shoving more cooks into his kitchen (potentially tying his hands or resulting in slower approval of the procedures he recommended, if the “consultant” disagreed) and just be like, “Eff this bitch—let her ass die”?

(OK, that last bit is a little extreme, but again, I make no apologies for being this much of a weirdo.)

So the email still sits unopened in my inbox. I do plan to talk to my care team about it next week, but at this point, I’m not feeling inclined to sign on the dotted line.

And in non-medical (well, medically-adjacent, but not specifically involving doctors) news . . .

Now that things are getting hella real, this has been the week of “do it now, while I can.” This isn’t the morbid “I should have had more Jamocha shakes” moment I experienced the day of the diagnosis; it’s just that since I’m not sure how I’m going to feel once the chemo starts—I only know that I’m gonna be feeling that way for an awfully long time—I’m trying to do ALL THE THINGS NOW. I mean, not like bungee jumping or feasting on monkey brains, but I’m pretty much trying to spend a little more quality time with my people. To that end, I’ve accepted more invitations this week than I’d normally be inclined to, from both my friends and my (literal) homies. For example, during my second night out to dinner and drinks with friends THIS WEEK (I know, I am OFF THE CHAIN, yo), I got an adorable text from my husband, inviting me out on a milkshake date when I got back home. Although I was already stuffed chock full of wings, queso, beans, rice, and fish tacos (oh, did I mention I’m also trying to EAT all the things now, before nothing tastes good anymore?), plus perhaps one margarita too many, I happily accepted and steeled myself, as my sweet friend (who’d generously sprung for my gluttony) drove me home, to make a way out of no way and FIT THAT GODDAMN SHAKE IN MAH BELLEH.

Luckily, when I walked in the door to my house, girded to dump some ice cream on top of my food baby, my husband saw the look of overconsumption-spawned misery on my face (or maybe just the protrusion of the food baby), and kindly suggested we take a raincheck. So we watched a movie until I slipped peacefully into a food-and-booze-induced coma on the couch. The next day, he took me out to lunch at a place we learned about last weekend—an unassuming but delicious Thai/BBQ fusion joint called Buck Tui (10/10 would recommend, but if you decide to check it out, beware of the dead pig on the website)—and then suggested we walk to get shakes, as a family, later that evening.

Which, again, we didn’t do, because at 8 p.m., it was still 91 degrees, with a heat index of 102. And the closest shake place is Sonic, which doesn’t even have malts. If I’m going to walk 5 miles round trip in a heatwave, I deserve a little malt powder, dammit.

So hopefully, we can make time in the coming (cooler) week to take that walk.

And finally, today (Sunday, August 7) was the long-awaited celebration of my little one’s half-birthday.

We’ve been planning to do something to honor the day for months, because his actual birthday is in February (so any celebration thereof basically necessitates an indoor cootie fest of some sort), and COVID has robbed him of two birthdays’ worth of celebrations. So this particular event was not fueled by the cancer diagnosis, per se . . . but the fact that what I initially conceived as a handful of kids coming to the house for a couple of hours of sprinkler-and-sidewalk-chalk fun turned into me renting out an entire movie theater and paying out the ass for the kids to have bare-minimum snacks (the movie theater strictly forbids bringing one’s own food, and my purse isn’t big enough to smuggle goodies for ten kids)? Oh, and letting the half-birthday boy talk me into goody bags (each of which contained gifts he’d handpicked: a Hot Wheels car, a self-inking zoo animal stamp, a set of markers, a blank book to use them on, and ten colored dice)?

Yyyyyeah. That may have had a LITTLE to do with the diagnosis.

At any rate, it worked out OK, and the little dude seemed happy (and he got to spend one last bit of quality time with his next-door bestie, who is literally moving out of town TODAY, and yet took the time to show up for him and a mediocre animated film). Now onward to the start of school for both boys this week, and the start of a new normal for me the week after that.

To help me along that road, however, I’m discovering I have the most amazing friends a soon-to-be bald gal could ask for. Although NONE of it is necessary (because I also have a pretty amazing husband), the little tangible treats-o-love have already started rolling in:

An out-of-state coworker sent THEEEEEE most amazing pastries I’ve ever tasted, all the way from Wolferman’s Bakery (it took serious self control to NOT eat the whole box; instead, I ate 50% of it and offered some up to my older son . . . then harbored secret resentment when he gobbled down the other 50%. But I’m past that now.

A sweet longtime friend, who has been on this train with me since I found the lump (because again, I was SO sure it would be nothing that I told her about it one day over lunch—and then she was dogged in her pursuit of updates, so she was among the first to know the worst) sent me three tubs of Queasy Drops, which are still sitting on my desk as a daily reminder to send her a note of thanks. So one thing that doesn’t look like it’s going to change is my failure to send thank-you notes.

Another kick-ass friend, whom I’ve known since Kindergarten, has already started the “giant earrings” train rollin’, by sending me two pairs of pearl-studded, bracelet-sized hoops (again with no bleepin’ thanks).

And a third beautiful soul is gifting me with yummeh satin PJ pants I chose myself (in a size larger than I need, because my size was sold out—but hey, this allows me to keep eating all the things with impunity if I so choose).

ETA: And OMG, y’all, the hits keep coming: literally two minutes after I finished and published this blog post, my doorbell rang with the delivery of a soft, fuzzy throw from two former coworkers (from two different employers), who happen to be married to each other!

Add to that an avalanche of calls, texts, good vibes and offers of help in all varieties—not to mention the most delicious chocolate chip cookies brought to the theater for me today by my cousin (do my people know me, or what?)—and I am full-on overwhelmed in the best possible way by all the love oozing my way. And although I have pretty much always had it this good (not to brag, but my people are FUCKING AMAZING), I am humbled and fortified by this outpouring.

Lezz do this shit.

Big C, Little C — What Begins With C?

So in an effort to avoid what my journalist friends call ‘burying the lede,’ I’ll come out with it:

I have breast cancer.

Invasive ductal carcinoma. Triple negative. Stage 2a.

This is literally about all I know right now, except for a few other things:

  1. I will undergo chemo, surgery, and possibly (depending on what type of surgery I choose) radiation.
  2. In a couple of days, I’ll have an MRI to help determine if there are “spots” anywhere other than the lump I found, which will help determine the course of treatment.
  3. At the moment, however, it appears the cancer is localized to my left breast.
  4. Assuming the MRI confirms #3, I’ll have the option (after the chemo) to go with a lumpectomy (removal of the lump and surrounding tissues), or a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast).
  5. If I end up going the lumpectomy route, I will also have radiation (see item #1), and I may or may not choose reconstruction.
  6. If I end up going the mastectomy route, I will likely choose reconstruction (via the DIEP flap method, which mines one’s own fat (I mean, how awesome is that?) to reconstruct the breast, rather than using an implant).
  7. However, if I go bald from the chemo, I will likely NOT choose to wear a wig. Asymmetry makes my eyeball twitch (so walking around with one boob is likely to cause me a world of grief), but baldness doesn’t bother me—I grew up Black in the 70s, baby, and thanks to Isaac Hayes and The Ohio Players, the Pat Evans aesthetic runs deep in my soul:

Mind you, I am not in any way under the delusion that I will look NEARLY this bad-ass with no hair; but knowing it’s possible somehow alleviates most of the fears I have about hair loss (which is kind of huge for a Black woman—but that’s a discussion for another day), leaving only a couple of small concerns about whether I’m going to discover a weird dent in my head, and what I’m going to do about the giant mole that’s currently buried in my hair, about three inches above my right temple. But dammit, if there were ever a time to lean into giant earrings and hope for the best, it’s now.

But I digress.

The point is that big changes are afoot for me, and I hope to use this space to tell you about them, in a kinda-CaringBridge, kinda-stream-of-consciousness rambling way. But tell you what: since we all know my rambling can get a little out of control, I’ll make an effort to begin each blog post with the most recent medical news I have, so you won’t have to pick through a 6,000-word babble-fest to find out what’s going on with me health-wise (i.e., dig up the lede). Then you can decide for yourself if you want to stay for the rambling.

To that end, this is the point in THIS blog post where THAT part (which will also likely include some TMI) begins.


How It Started

At some point in early- to mid-June, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, putting on deodorant, when I paused in wonder: why the heck did I have a DENT in my left breast? I reached my right hand over to touch it, and felt a rather large, oblong lump beneath the surface.

I wasn’t INCREDIBLY worried; in my early 30s, I’d undergone a series of imaging procedures on my breasts, because the new gynecologist I’d started seeing had some concerns about lumps she felt while palpating them during a routine exam. In the end, there turned out to be no cause for alarm (my boobs were just fibrous), so I skipped on my merry way. Cut to 20 years later, and I’m assuming this lump is just a matter of my girls being who they are, and perhaps partying a little harder in this, The Age of Perimenopause.

Plus, based on a few Google searches, this didn’t seem to have the characteristics of a cancerous lump: it didn’t “feel like a frozen pea” (it was much bigger and softer), it didn’t seem to be immobile, and it did, occasionally, feel slightly tender (which, I’d read, malignant tumors generally don’t). Still, in an effort to err on the side of caution, I booked a June 13 appointment with (again) a new gynecologist, mainly in order to get a referral for a mammogram and put this whole thing to bed.

(The gyno visit turned out to be a whole ‘nother thing; based on questions I answered about my periods during intake, I ended up feet-up and cooch-out, deep breathing and clenching my toes while the doctor plucked out some of my uterine lining (OUUUUUUCH!) for a biopsy of that tissue. And y’all know me and my love for a good story (and good irony), so I was already crafting a tome in my head about how I went in because of a lump in my breast, but ended up discovering cancer in my uterus. (I make no apologies for being this much of a weirdo.) The endometrial biopsy showed no malignancy, however, so I put my (figurative) pen down, cooled my (also figurative) jets, and followed the gynecologist’s referral to follow up on the breast lump.)

On June 27, I walked into the appointment the gynecologist had set up for me at a place called Midwest Breast Care, thinking I was there to have a mammogram. Instead, the visit was short and sweet; a nice nurse practitioner named Kelli felt me up for like three minutes, and then set me up with an appointment at Diagnostic Imaging Center for a mammogram and ultrasound. Because of the 4th of July holiday and a planned trip to Texas to visit some family people with my offspring, THAT appointment didn’t take place until July 15—but things started moving pretty quickly at that point, because before the end of that day, I’d been given the first piece of concerning news: the lump they’d examined via mammogram and ultrasound had earned a rating of BI-RADS 5—which indicated a 95% chance of malignancy. I was going to have to have a biopsy.

That’s when the “Oh, shit” began.

The biopsy took place at a different place—The Women’s Imaging Center (where the doctor from Midwest Breast Care could perform the procedure herself)—on July 19; it, too, was relatively short and sweet. The worst parts were:

  1. The injection of local anesthesia to numb the area
  2. The play-by-play details the doctor was kindly sharing with me as she worked (I know some people are probably comforted by knowing EXACTLY what’s happening when they can’t feel or see what’s going on, but me, I prefer ignorant bliss), and
  3. The fact that my husband, who’d accompanied me on this appointment, wasn’t allowed to come into the procedure room with me and hold my hand, so instead I clutched the edge of the mattress where I lay, took deep breaths, and tried to pretend the doctor was reading me a book, because I never pay attention when people read shit aloud to me.

I walked out of the biopsy a little shaky from nerves, but fine—and then began the wait for results, which I’d been told would take 2-3 days.

Two days later, on Thursday, July 21, as I wrapped up a Zoom meeting at work, the phone rang.

The woman on the other end introduced herself as a nurse with Midwest Breast Care, and after the initial pleasantries (“Fine, thanks, how are YOU?”), said she was calling to share my biopsy results with me. I said, “OK” . . .

. . . and then she paused. Paused for a full, deep breath. That pause told me everything I needed to know.

And, of course, a couple of seconds later, she confirmed the worst. Aside from telling me the mass was malignant, however, she was unable to share any more information. I would, she said, learn more when I met with Dr. Get-It-Done (who’d performed the biopsy) in nearly a week, on July 27.

How It Went After That

In the moments following the news, I felt mainly numbness and sudden exhaustion (I joke that whereas sudden stress triggers a “fight or flight” response in other people, it triggers a “fall asleep” response in me). I immediately called my husband at work, and he said he’d come home right away—which I tried feebly to discourage, because I didn’t feel so much like I needed a good cry in someone else’s chest, but rather a good nap. But he came home anyway, and after we talked for a little while, I went upstairs and crashed.

After I woke up, he drove me on a couple of errands (I was due to pick up groceries for, and deliver them to, my mom, and then pick up our younger kid from day camp, so we did both of those things, and then made a run to Costco), and as we drove around town, my inner Maudlin Maude came ALL the way out to play.

The whole world became more vivid: the grass so verdant it practically hummed, the sky suddenly Simpsons-intro perfect. Looking out the window from the passenger seat of the car, I suddenly felt, deep in my bones, the inherent magic in all the things: Trees! Why had I never taken the time to appreciate the miracle of trees? Their different shapes, textures, colors? And how had I ignored the simple fact that the clouds not only bathed us in rain, but actually engaged with us by occasionally arranging themselves into shapes we recognized—dinosaurs, penises, Winnie the Pooh—to keep us entertained? And OMG, Arby’s! I was going to miss Arby’s so much . . . how many more Jamocha shakes would I be able to experience in my life? I should have had more Jamocha shakes!

Every song we heard in the car during our three-hour tour spawned a This-Is-Your-Life-type mental vignette of some small moment from my past—and, it’s worth noting, we keep our Sirius XM firmly planted on the 70s on 7, 80s on 8, and Yacht Rock stations, so there was no shortage of nostalgic mind movies.

Every person at whom I glanced at a stop light, in line at a cash register, or out the window of the car as they stopped to pick up their dog’s poop became a fascinating and complex creature whose stories, stresses, and triumphs I suddenly wished I could know.

It got DRAMATIC, y’all.

For the six days between the initial diagnosis and the follow-up discussion with Dr. Get-It-Done at Midwest Breast Care, I wavered between sadness, numbness, exhaustion, and that first-day maudlin-yet-stoner-like fascination with the world and everything in it.

But the kicker was that I couldn’t tell anyone. I mean, come on—y’all know I like to fling my business ALL UP INTO THE WIND. But this time, I had to slow the blow.

I mean, of course my husband knew, and he was amazing support. In fact, the day we found out, the speed and unequivocality with which he said YES to my every request made for a little silver lining:

“Hey, can we have pizza for din-“
“YES.”

“Would you please put the little one to bed toni-“
“YES.”

Shoulda gone big and asked him for an Airstream.

But I digress again. The point is that without ANY more information than “I have cancer,” there was NO WAY I could share the news with the other people closest to me: my older kid (who was away at camp when we got the news, anyway), my mom, my sister. And I have this weird hang up about Order of Operations with big news like this (good OR bad): ya gotta tell your inner circle first; you can’t let your sister find out on Facebook!

So I kept mum.

The day after we got the news, we shoved our littler dude in the car and drove up to Minnesota to fetch the bigger dude from camp. Our little dude is only 6, and although he’s more perceptive than I’m ready for sometimes, we were able to process the news a little bit—speaking in quiet, parentally-coded sentences—during the 8 hours on the road.

Once we picked up the 14-year-old, however, we had to mum ourselves back up—which proved unfortunate when, sometime in the middle of our drive back home, I received an email with my official lab results from the biopsy. From that report, I learned that in addition to the BI-RADS 5 rating it had earned from the mammogram/ultrasound, my little overachiever of a lump had also been categorized as “high grade.” So I silently Googled THAT as we tooled down the highway, and . . . it wasn’t good. But I couldn’t SAY anything about it with both kids in the car, so I texted my husband, who was in the driver’s seat right in front of me (my 14-year-old is taller than I am, so I graciously offered him the roomier front seat for the ride home, and sat in back with the little dude, play-acting arguments between his two identical Thor figurines about which one of them was more handsome).

My husband read my text (and the report) during a bathroom stop, and then once we got back into the car, we had to turn off Dan Fogelberg (damn that deep-feelings-melody man) for fear he’d make us both start bawling—which would likely make the kids more than a little suspicious. But at that point, I really started to feel like I was in for some REALLY bad news once I was able to talk to the doctor.

Once we arrived back home, I had to deep breathe and fake chill my way through a regularly-scheduled weekly visit with my mom (which also included my children), and peppily vague my way through a couple of check-in texts from friends who wondered whatever became of that issue with my breast (back when I was SUUUUUUUUUUURE the lump was going to turn out to be just an angry, atrophied milk duct or something—and that the worst possible news I’d get would be that even though it was benign, I was going to have to have it removed anyway—I’d told a couple of friends about it, mostly to complain about the pitfalls of middle age).

All the while, faced with what I believed was my imminent doom, I began to see/feel signs that confirmed as much: a slight back ache from scrubbing down the shower became certainty that the cancer had spread to my spine. Each moment of forgetfulness or ding-dong decision-making (both of which, we all know, are regular occurrences for me) became irrefutable proof that it had spread to my brain. Gastrointestinal distress brought on by questionable Mexican food . . . ? Well. You get the picture.

But finally . . . FINALLY . . . the follow-up consultation came.

The appointment was at 1:30 in the afternoon, and for the whole morning, I was so freaked out, I felt vaguely nauseated and couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING. When I arrived for the appointment, and was undergoing the initial vitals check, the nurse who took my blood pressure didn’t TELL me what it was, but instead said, “You need to STOP STRESSING.”

Easy for YOU to say, lady! You’re not the one about to find out your chances of having another Christmas with your kids!

At last, we were ushered into a conference room, where Dr. Get-It-Done sat with us, went over the pathology results in detail, and answered all of our questions.

And while it wasn’t ALL good news (the triple-negative nature of the cancer means a slightly less desirable prognosis, and more limited treatment options), let me tell you what: when you’re sitting there, prepared to hear that your cancer is at Stage 4 (and that shit, forget Christmas, you may not make it to Halloween)—and then you hear “Stage 2,” which means the cancer hasn’t spread—the urge to kiss EVERYONE within a three-mile radius takes over your entire soul.

How It’s Going

So since then, things have been . . . dare I say GOOD? I know that sounds jacked up, but between learning that I’m at Stage 2, AND being able to share the news (and thus the emotional load) more widely, I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my psyche.

(Well. The one chunk of weight that still remains is telling a childhood friend whose husband is battling colon cancer. When she first shared that news with me, I signed on to be one of the people she could call in the middle of the night if she needed to vent, to be a friend who’d haul ass onto a plane at a moment’s notice. In short, I signed on to do what I could to help her feel BETTER.

So since the first “Oh, shit” moment, I’ve struggled with how on earth to tell her this news—and when. I mean, if I told her before I knew anything for sure, and then it turned out I was fine, I’d get her all freaked out for nothing (when she already has enough to freak out about). On the other hand, if I WASN’T fine, and then suddenly sprung this on her, she might do the math and be like, “Wait—I just talked to you six days ago, and you didn’t say ANYTHING about this!”

Ultimately, I took the gamble that it would all turn out to be nothing, and she’d never even need to know any of it had happened.

I lost that bet.

So there’s a hurdle I have yet to jump (therefore I’ve excluded her and her husband from the Facebook post linking to this blog post until I make that leap)—but compared to the period of time when I couldn’t tell ANYONE, I’m still psychologically lighter.)

Hard days ahead, yes—LAWD, yes—and of course things won’t be the same, but my closest people now know (and are taking the news better than I expected), and at this point, in the lull between diagnosis and treatment, things feel . . . normal.

The surprising thing, so far (other than—for real—the Stage 2 status, because I was already writing my obituary in my head) has been the fact that I always assumed a diagnosis like this would, for me, bring great clarity and perspective, a take-no-prisoners, tolerate-no-bullshit certainty about how I wanted my life to be . . . and that didn’t really happen, not like I thought. Mostly things still feel the same. I still take a little bit of bullshit (mostly from my kids), and I still care way too much about things like dusting and vacuuming and making sure my bathrooms get cleaned once a week. Is this who I really am? Not sure.

But the one thing I AM sure about is who—per the title of this blog post—gets to be the “Big C” and what punk-ass interloper gets relegated to “Little C.”

I am OWNING this capitalization. Chandra. THAT’s what begins with (capital) C.

Take THAT, cancer. Ya lowercase motherfucker.