the beginning of this after
or the day I learned that I could hold glory and grief in equal parts.
“You don’t have cancer,” said my Dad.
I was on the couch mindlessly watching TV to distract myself from worry as we waited for the biopsy results to come in. It was either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day because those were the only two days in between the biopsy and getting the results.
He said it so confidently too. “You don’t have cancer.” I can still hear the bravado in his voice, the surety. “You don’t have cancer.”
I said I wasn’t so sure. Said the results would tell us. Said, “I hope so.”
I don’t remember what else we talked about. His confidence might have convinced me though. I’m sure we probably rattled off a list of reasons why I didn’t have cancer—a list to make us both feel better. I’d been pretty healthy my whole life so far. I had dense breasts, like my mom, so it was probably just a clogged duct, but nothing malignant. I, to our knowledge, hadn’t been exposed to any environmental factors that contribute to cancer. I don’t remember our other reasons, but I am sure the list went on.
Lots of magical thinking. Lots of praying by the three of us. Father, Mother, Daughter, our own holy trinity. I still had my faith then, so I was praying too.
”You don’t have cancer,” said my Dad.
Maybe he believed it. Maybe it was a prayer. Maybe it was his way of coping with the sheer possibility of what I would have to go through if he was wrong and my unspoken little feeling was right.
Three days later, on my best friend in the entire world’s birthday, we all found out, he was wrong. I did have cancer.
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I knew before I found out. The nurse navigator called me while I was at Boston Logan on a layover from DTW to JFK. She asked if it was a good time to talk and I told her no, I was about to board a plane. She asked what time I landed and told me to call her back then.
Maybe it was something in her voice, maybe it was that unspoken feeling I had, but I knew then what the results would be and cried in anticipation of the official news the whole hour and twenty-five minutes it took us to get to New York.
When I landed my best friend was there to pick me up and I told her we had to call the nurse back. So, she turned the music in her Honda Civic down and I called, on speaker of course. The nurse navigator didn’t answer. Maybe she was busy ruining someone else’s life. Maybe she was on a snack break. Maybe she was entering some data in the hospitals systems. I’ll never know why she didn’t answer, but waiting for her to call me back was a unique form of torture.
”Why would she tell me to call her at this time if she wasn’t going to answer?” I was furious. Didn’t she know she held the fate of my world in her hands. I tried again. Voicemail. I tried again. Voicemail. I gave up. If she wanted to tell me the worse news I’d ever hear, she would have to call me and do it herself.
My best friend and I made our way down the Van Wyck Expressway, sort of in silence but sort of talking about her birthday and the party the next day and what we’d do together while I was there, how I was supposed to be spending a week in New York, celebrating another friends birthday and then going down to DC for yet another friends birthday before I went back to Spain to continue teaching English. (None of which happened by the way).
We were still on the Van Wyck when the Nurse Navigator called back. Maggie, her name was Maggie. I told her I had to patch my Mom in before she could tell me the news. “My Mom wants to hear this, let me just call her,” I said. When she picked up, I let her and Maggie do most of the talking.
I did have breast cancer Maggie told all three of us. Based on the biopsy, they believed it was Stage 1. Here was an appointment with the surgeon who would become and still is my breast surgeon for January 7th, 2020 so we could get the treatment ball rolling.
I think I left my body until I heard my Mom’s voice toward the end of the call after she’d asked all of her questions and gotten some of her answers, “Are you okay sweetie?”
”Sure,” I answered. We both knew it wasn’t true. Both were trying to be strong for each other over telephone lines since I was in New York and she was in Michigan meaning she couldn’t hold me and I couldn’t hold her, so we couldn’t weep together.
We hung up the phone and by that time I think we were close to or at my best friends house, one of my many second homes. We walked in after taking off my shoes and coat, I went straight to my best friend’s room. I think she told her Mom, one of my many mothers for me.
She like Moms do found me in her daughter's room and just gave me a hug. All three of us stood in the doorway hugging, until I was ready to let go. She didn’t ask too many questions. They both let me be with my disbelief, with my feelings, with all of the adminstrative stuff I now had to do like telling other friends in New York and DC that I would miss their birthdays because I had breast cancer. Like figuring out how to cancel my flight back to Spain. Like figuring out how I’d get from New York to Michigan to be back in time for some shock therapy with my parents, my family, but also to meet the surgeon who would become and still is my breast surgeon on January 7th.
I do remember that her mom, one of my many Mom’s decided that day would be the day I went vegan. She gave me some green juice and all weekend while I was there made sure I ate the healthiest food she had available. My best friend and I went to Trader Joes to stock the fridge, to show me what good eats they had, to buy some stuff that I could try so I’d have a starting base when I got home, so I could try on my new lifestyle in a place I felt safe.
I think I spent most of December 26th, 2019, the day I got my diagnosis, my best friends 25th birthday, in her bed vacillating between shock, tears, anger, and feeling absolutely nothing at all.
That was the beginning of this after. The day the news became definite. The day I learned that I could hold glory and grief in equal parts.
I’ve always said and will maintain that if I couldn’t have gotten the news at home with my parents, I am and will forever be grateful I got the news at my best friends house with her and one of my many mothers. I was held and safe with family—and I thank them for holding me still.
More context around the photo: I am standing outside of the venue that my best friend had her 25th birthday at. I found out I had breast cancer the day before, on her actual birthday. Have you ever had to appear happy while knowing some part of you, on the inside was dying?
It feels dystopian to write this after that, but I want to thank you for being in this space with me this year (even if you just recently made your way here). You will probably see some version of this writing again. I am working on a memoir after all. I look forward to continuing to be in process in this space and with you in the new year.
I’ll see you in 2024, Lord willing. Be well until we speak again.