I was visiting friends in Jacksonville in March of 2007 when my cell phone rang. It was my gynecologist’s office. I had just had biopsies on both breasts and was waiting for the results. I had annual mammograms since I was 23 but due to fibrous breast tissue I would get a letter and no phone call.
This time I got a phone call, “You need to come into the doctor’s office.” I answered, “ Do I have cancer or not?” “Renee, I’m not allowed to tell you that information over the telephone.” “Well, you just did.” It was no surprise. Relatives on both sides of my family had breast cancer: my mother, my paternal grandmother, and my father’s sister. When you have that kind of history, options are limited. Tumors in both breasts meant I was going to be the first double mastectomy in my family.
I thought I was handling my diagnosis well, but in reality I was in shock. My friends Cynita and Nancy made sure I didn’t go to any doctor appointments alone and they took notes. I remember nothing. I have a blank where three months have disappeared from my life. I do remember going into hysterics when I found out one of the tumors was large enough to require chemotherapy, something I was hoping to avoid with stage 0 breast cancer. Sobbing, I made a phone call and within minutes Nancy was sitting with me in the hall outside my oncology surgeon’s office. Out came the expanders and within 10 days of chemo so did my hair. I remember Wednesday, October 9, 2007. After seeing my Oncologist, I went to pick up my new Prius. While sitting in the car at the dealer, I ran my hand through my hair while trying to figure out how the hands free telephone worked. When I removed my hand it was filled with hair. I called my father. “Daddy, I have good news and bad news. I have my new car. And I already have to vacuum it.”
I’m a hermit by nature but about a year before my diagnosis I decided to make a conscious effort to be more sociable. I joined my community’s CERT Team, and the Forest Ridge Women’s Group a.k.a the Divas even though I didn’t live there. My new friends and my old friends accompanied me on my journey of recovery. I had visitors in the hospital to distract me from my pain and loss; I had company when I went for mastectomy bras and forms, when I went for chemotherapy and doctor appointments. Chemotherapy may have caused my missing memory but I will never forget all the emotional support and friendship offered me by friends, coworkers and family. I have other health issues such as diabetes and I had at one time 8 doctors I saw on a regular basis. Primary Care, Endocrinologist, Oncology Surgeon, Oncologist, Plastic Surgeon, Gastroenterologist, Cardiologist, and Optometrist. I had fabulous medical care and it continues as I undergo breast reconstruction. That’s a lot of co-pays and prescriptions. Even with insurance, cancer can be very expensive. I got a wig but it was hot and itchy so I bought lots of hats. I’m a Speech/Language Pathologist at a middle school and I selected hats that were more interesting to my students than my bald head.
No one should go through cancer alone, and I count my blessings for the doctors who saved my life and my friends and family for enriching it.