Welcome to the Club.
You all know what news I’m talking about. The return call from the doctor who says, “I really didn’t want to tell you over the phone, but…” The call from the nurse navigator who says, “Where are you right now? Are you alone?” The follow-up office visit that begins with, “I have the pathology report here…it’s positive.”
However you hear the news, whatever words are used to express it, the moment will forever be imprinted in your memory, your psyche, your solar plexus. Forever after, every mammogram, every lab test, every scan, every check-up brings it back in some measure, and in equal measure, you hope it’s not déjà vu all over again. For me, just driving past a certain exit on the highway brings it back.
Today brought me another déjà vu moment. A dear, darling friend, one of the kindest people on the earth, told me this morning that she’d just gotten The News. My first impulse was to hug her, but I had to hug her gently because her biopsy site was still sore. This particular DDF was one of the people who helped me find a doctor after my diagnostic mamm, but before my biopsy. She was one of the first people I told after I got The News. She was one of the people who helped me keep my sanity during treatment, who took long, late lunch hours on the spur of the moment so she could help me decompress after yet another doctor visit. She took me for walks through vineyards, for shopping trips to buy French linens and hand-painted espresso cups, for visits to museum openings and dinners at fancy restaurants, anything to help remind me that I was still a person and not just a cancer patient. It was bad enough that we ever had to be on either side of that equation, but I’d much rather go through it all again the same way with her, in our same roles, than to go through it again now with our roles reversed.
I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all, not one little bit.
New Sistah, Old Sistah
When I finished work today, I drove to her office to catch her before she went home. She has another appointment in the morning, to start talking about The Options. We’re meeting for coffee afterward so that I can provide translation services. She doesn’t have a copy of her pathology report yet. I suggested she get a copy of it. “Get a copy of everything,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll call you as soon as I’m done tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I said. “Call me anytime, any time. Three a.m. Whenever. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. Shopping, Chihuly exhibits, cussing, espresso. Candor, The Plan, dog-walking, groceries. Lattés and lunches. Ice packs and aquaphor. Flowers and zofran. Music, silly cards, camisoles. Listening. Hugging. Crying. Anything. Whatever it takes.
After I left her office, I ran into another DDF at the grocery store. Another sistah, another woman who went through this a year after I did. “Guess who just got The News?” I said to her. “I know,” she said, “she called me.” We hugged, teared up, asked each other how we were faring. We talked about aromatase inhibitors and side effects and joint pain and recurrence risk.
I asked her if she remembered the story she told me years ago about taking her then-three-year-old nephew to the emergency room. He’d fallen down while visiting her one weekend, cut himself badly, and needed stitches. She’d told me how brave he’d been at the ER, how horrible she’d felt, how he’d sat, motionless, while the doctor stitched him up, trying hard to be good, not to cry, but telling her over and over, with feeling, “I’m. Not. Happy.”
“Oh, gawd!” she said, laughing, hugging me again. “Bless you for remembering that! You know, he’s over six feet tall now!”
We looked at each other silently for a moment. Then I screwed up my face, in my best imitation of a toddler pout, and said, with feeling, “I’m. Not. Happy.” She nodded. We hugged again, smiled, tried not to tear up.
“We’re meeting for coffee tomorrow,” I told her. “I’m going to tell her that story.”
“Perfect story,” she said. Pause. “We’ll take good care of her, Kath’.”
“Yes. We will,” I said.
“We’re okay,” she said.
“Sitting upright, taking nourishment,” I said.
She laughed. “Yes, we are.”
“Yes, we are,” I said.
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