LBBC blogger Vallory Jones is a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor living in Austin, Texas. A self-professed Zumba “freak” and fitness “fanatic,” she has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar. She recently celebrated a milestone – her first “cancerversary.” You can read her personal blog at victoriousval.wordpress.com.
I received my diagnosis on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday morning, I was en route to the oncologist. Dr. Patt came highly recommended, and I felt lucky to score such a last minute slot. The receptionist mentioned the doctor would be leaving for the airport immediately after our meeting, and after having gone to the wrong address already, I frantically punched it back into my GPS, racing to beat the clock. My Kia Soul was a black blur as I zipped in and out of Austin traffic. I couldn’t allow this cancerous tumor to stay in my body any longer than I absolutely had to, and the thought of missing my appointment brought on waves of nausea. I tried to will the tears to stop, but they streamed down my face until I was sobbing full force. I pulled into the parking garage and collected myself. “Wow, you’re a mess,” I told myself, but looking back, I was just a cancer newbie. I wasn’t properly equipped to process this turn of events.
Things sure changed in a hurry. One minute I was planning parties and social hours and the next I was sitting in a doctor’s office gearing up to beat breast cancer. I looked around the waiting room. There were other women who had no hair, and I trembled. “We all have cancer,” I realized. It was an unnerving feeling, and though I physically felt fine, I realized for the first time that something inside me was actively trying to kill me. Words can’t describe that realization. It changed me.
The meeting itself was pleasant enough. My doctor entered the room clad in a grey tweed skirt and jacket. I looked down, and my attention settled on her fashionable, black leather boots. Though I wasn’t aware of her credentials yet, her ensemble impressed the heck out of me. Kelsey, one of my friends, took notes, and I was glad she came along because it was amazing how little information I actually retained. Every time Dr. Patt spoke of the cancer, I felt a rush of heat overwhelm me, and it seemed like maybe I should lie down or at least fan myself. A couple of times I swore I was going to vomit, but that never came to pass.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Most likely Stage 1. Fast growing. ER+/PR+. Lots of medical jargon made way into Kelsey’s notes, and at that moment, it was quite clear that there was no mistake. I really did have cancer, and no amount of disbelief could ever change that. Dr. Patt’s demeanor was reassuring, but my anxiety worsened when she uttered acronyms like MRI and CT scan. Then the words “bone scan” tumbled out of her mouth and slapped me hard in the face.
“Bone scan?” I squeaked. “What? This could be in my bones?” She seemed to think that was unlikely, but talk of these tests put me on pins and needles. I remember clearly the one thought I had for weeks, “I hope that I have a chance to fight this. What if it’s spread and I’ve missed the window?” Now, as a more experienced survivor, I realize that even at advanced stages, one can still live and fight cancer, but as someone who’d never even had anyone close to me diagnosed, I feared the worst. Add to my fears the possibility of chemo, which couldn’t be known, of course, until further testing. My head threatened to explode. Part of me was ready to jump off the table and get started while the rest of me wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend this wasn’t real. I knew I couldn’t, though, because every day I waited, I feared my tumor was growing, or even worse, spreading to other places.
There aren’t adequate words to capture how I felt during those first weeks. I waited. I wondered. Would I see another birthday? Would I get another Christmas? My days were filled with tests and alternated between moments of strength and desperation. The poking and prodding made me feel like a science project, and if I never see a hospital gown again, it will be too soon. Like every other survivor will tell you, any modesty I had prior to cancer was certainly lost within the first week of my diagnosis. Getting up each day, putting one foot in front of the other, and making myself go to appointments was harder than anything I’d ever had to face.
I’m sure that’s why 16 months later, I feel invincible and like I should wear a cape every day to work, the grocery store, or the gym. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had role models. Now here I am, my own hero. Quite honestly, that feels pretty good.