I have always believed in intuition and never more than on Jan. 19, 2021. A day I will remember forever. Suddenly awake, covered with sweat, tears running down my cheeks, it was 2 a.m. I had dreamed that I had breast cancer and I was going to die. It was as if I was standing outside myself scared to death watching what was unfolding around me. That morning, I said nothing to my husband, sitting quietly with a cup of coffee, my mind racing 100 miles per hour.
When I had my dream, my moment of terror, how could I share that? I did not want to worry my husband needlessly unless I was tested and there was something really there. I called my doctor to get a script for a mammogram the next week.
None of us looks forward to a mammogram. It had been almost four years since my last exam, so it just made sense to catch up, right? I watched the technician carefully as my breasts were squished into submission as pictures were taken. Could I tell by her expression there was some sort of issue? Nope, she was the consummate professional.
Two days later, I received the call. You know the call you never want to receive. Something had shown up on my mammogram. In I went for the doubleheader, more squishing, and an ultrasound. After dressing, I was ushered to a private room with a very large box of tissues sitting on the table. Not a good sign, I thought, taking a deep breath as I sat down. There was a quiet knock on the door and in walked an adorable young doctor who presented the findings of the ultrasound, “There it is,” he said, pointing to a spot darker than the surrounding tissue. “The good news is it is small, and it looks like we caught it early.” He reached over to pat my hand in sympathy. “Next step, we schedule a biopsy and go from there,” he said, watching me carefully for a reaction. The person who had the dream that just turned into reality nodded her head.
A week later, I was in for the biopsy. The young doctor inserted a microchip so the surgeon would not have to mutilate my breast during surgery, very commendable as well as thoughtful, in my opinion. The bad news, I could not see my surgeon for over a month. Being the OCD Army Sergeant my husband often describes me to be, I was not sure how I could endure the waiting. Anxiety set in.
On the way home, I decided to sit down and tell my husband what was happening. I told myself I was doing the right thing not telling him anything until I knew there was something for sure to tell. In reality, coming home with a big Band-Aid and hole in my swollen and bruised breast was pretty much a dead giveaway. It was time to fess up.
My thought was he would see that I had taken the high road to protect him from worry, but that ship sailed as soon as the cat was out of the bag, so to speak. I went through everything, while he just sat there, his eyes like ice as he listened. He got up and went to the window, looking out at the hazy orange Arizona sunset, hands in his pockets, saying nothing. I was startled as he suddenly turned facing me, “Did you have a dream about this?” he asked. I nodded, because I knew what was coming. “And you just decided now was the time to tell me you have been going through this for almost two months on your own?” What added to the impact of the information I was sharing was that 10 years ago, I dreamed my husband had colon cancer, which he did, and he nearly died. So, my news set the harsh tone for this unsettling conversation.
For everyone out there who has a spouse or significant other, breaking such news is a pivotal moment. On one hand, we feel justified sparing their feelings. Of course, they, on the other hand, feel slighted, excluded, and emotionally hurt. I took the stance that I had actually saved him two months of worry as this dragged on through all the COVID protocols. At this point in time, I did not have the answers that he wanted to hear. What stage is it? What is the prognosis? I would not know for sure until I met with my surgeon and after the surgery which was still a month away. He was angry, and I was defensive. Not a good place for either of us to be at 78 dealing with cancer.
Meeting with my highly-recommended surgeon was another one of those pivotal moments. In the waiting room were two women who recently had surgery. One was taking radiation, the other enduring her second month of chemo treatments. They gave glowing compliments about our surgeon who they assured me was one of the most compassionate women doctors they had ever met. Relaxing a bit, I was called into the exam room, and they were right. She was energetic, focused, no nonsense, and direct. I appreciated her candor and what she proposed, which was a lumpectomy. This was a second recurrence for me, as I had breast cancer when I was 40 and a lumpectomy in the same breast. My new diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma, and she did not think a mastectomy was needed. Good news to say the least.
It has been a process since the surgery and, of course, dealing with the diagnoses. I just finished radiation treatments and will be meeting with my oncologist at the end of the month for next steps. As I sat in the room waiting to be called for my last radiation treatment, the woman next to me asked where I was and at what stage of treatment. We chatted back and forth as if we had known each other forever, and she indicated she was on her last week as well.
Just as I started to get up, she stood and hugged me. I stepped back in surprise. She smiled and handed me an elastic bracelet of sparkling pink beads. “I bought these in the cancer center gift shop. They just caught my eye, and I got several to share because we have joined the club,” she said, her eyes misting over. “Think about it; we are now in a group of women all connected by a common bond, just like the beads.” Tears were running down her cheeks. I pulled her tightly into my arms at a complete loss for words, struggling for composure. “Thank you, my friend. No matter what happens, I will think of you forever,” I said, slipping the bracelet over my wrist and turning to go through the door for my treatment. We waved at each other as the door closed behind me.
As I changed into my gown for the radiation treatment, I looked down at the bracelet and smiled. “What a wonderful gift,” I thought, as I walked into the treatment room. The technician looked down at my arm as I was settled on the table for the radiation to begin. “Oh, you met Sandy,” she said, gently touching my arm. I began to smile and tell her how wonderful I thought this was, but I stopped in mid-sentence as she went on. “It is just so sad; Sandy has stage IV breast cancer that has spread and only a few months to live, but takes time to give every new patient she meets one of her bracelets. She is one special lady,” she said, stepping out of the room.
Sobbing quietly, I lay on the table taking my deep breaths, as required, watching the radiation machine swing back and forth over my breast. We did join the club, Sandy and I. Our club is one of dignity, grace, unbending strength, and love as all of us with breast cancer fight independently and collectively, connected together forever by a string of sparkling, pink beads.