Breasts, Biopsies, and “What Ifs” (Or, Why all Hospitals Ought to Have Bars in Them)
My sister was waiting for biopsy results, this I was aware of. Aware, in the sense that I knew it was happening but didn’t think for a second that her results would indicate cancer.
I am 37 years old. I am in what I like to call “the sweet spot”. I have three healthy, happy children, and two healthy, happy parents. I am both blissfully and painfully aware of this reality. So aware, that I find myself stopping (often), to take it all in.
“Remember this,” I tell myself.
“Take another picture,” I tell myself.
The underlying truth has never escaped me – it won’t be like THIS forever.
I worry about my parents. What if my dad doesn’t make it home from his next hunting trip? What if my mom’s arthritis prevents her from planning another exotic vacation? What if they ARE actually going deaf?
I worry about my children. What if this pregnancy doesn’t go well? What if he rolls onto his stomach during the night? What if the car seat straps aren’t snug enough? What if the car seat straps are too snug? What if he never learns to talk? What if he talks like THIS at school?
Cancer carries with it many questions. And unfortunately ALL of those questions begin with the dreaded, “what if…”
“What if she loses her breasts?”
“What if she keeps her breasts?”
“What if she needs chemo?”
“What if it’s genetic?”
“What if I have it?”
“What if we ALL have it!?”
“What if I don’t know the right things to say?”
“What if her boys are not ok?”
“What if it’s in the lymph nodes?
“What if it spreads?”
“What if she…”
My sister. My sibling. The one who shared her bed with me, and marked her territory in our bedroom with rolls of masking tape. The one who rescued me from ponds of algae, and stole my favorite sweaters. I didn’t have worry about HER because well, she was in the sweet spot with me!
And there we found ourselves, in the middle of the sweet spot, huddled together in a hospital bed waiting for a double mastectomy. I will spare you the details but the day went something like this: strip, poke, inject, wait, transfer, sedate (thank god), surgery, biopsy, more surgery, wait. I don’t spare the details because they are foggy. I spare them because I don’t have the language to describe any of it. What I will say is this: accompanying my sister to that hospital was an honour. It was also the most difficult day of my life – by a landslide. How do you tell a woman who just lost her breasts that the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes? How do you tell her mother?
Tanya handled this news like a tiger. I, on the other hand, encouraged her to sleep so that she wouldn’t see me sobbing at the foot of her bed. ALL I could think was, “what if…”
As Tanya nears the end of her treatment, a lot of my “what ifs…” have been answered:
She lost her breasts (it’s ok, she’ll get new ones).
She survived chemo.
If it’s genetic I’ll lose my breasts (it’s ok, I’ll get new ones).
I have said some right things and some wrong things (but she still seems to think I’m ok).
Her boys are AMAZING.
They removed, poisoned and radiated her lymph nodes so I can’t imagine anything wanting to grow there.
And, a few of my “what ifs…” cannot be answered. Not today anyway. Yet, somehow I have developed this thing called faith. Faith in what? I’m not sure. Some combination of confidence in the care she’s been given, in modern medicine, and in karma just makes these answers feel factual:
It’s just not going to spread.
She will be ok.
Monique (Or, the sister.)