The Roles We Play


My mother’s sister, Linda, has arrived from Australia for her annual visit. We’ve got a trip to Roatan booked in a few weeks, but no one believes we’ll actually be going. Sad, because if ever I needed a vacation, now was the time. Linda is great to have around. She worked in the social work/medical field for 30 years so has experience with hospitals and meetings with medical staff. She’s let me know that there are different roles for each of us to play at the hospital meeting in the morning. I’m the patient, so my role is to hand over my health card, nod when asked a question and blink at regular intervals. My mom will be the crier, my dad will go silent, and she will take notes and ask the questions we wrote down before the meeting.

As we drive to the hospital in the morning, the car is uncomfortably silent. I turn down the radio and ask, “So, we all know they’re going to say I have cancer, right?” My family answers: “Yep”, the music goes back up, and we continue on to the hospital.

Once again, the waiting room clears out before my name is called. I tried to tell my mom that I wanted to find out on my own, and then call them in. She’s having none of it. So we all file into the room, and sit around the table. There aren’t enough chairs for us and the whole medical team, so my surgeon puts his clipboard down and goes to get more. I sneak a look at the top page. ”Immediate Chemo” is what I read. In a strange way, I did find out by myself, even in a room full of people.

True to form, we have all assumed our roles as we listen to the doctors. My father leans back, arms folded and eyes closed. My mom looks on the verge of tears, my aunt is taking notes and asking all the right questions. I have dug in my purse, and found mini boxes of raisins. By the end of the appointment I’ve eaten 7 boxes of raisins, and tasted none of them.

I meet my oncologist at this appointment. She’s lovely -- 5 foot nothing, you can see the determination in her. She’s also not much older than I am. We discuss the treatment plan, which will start with chemotherapy. She explains that this is not the traditional order of treatment, but the tumour is 5cm so she wants to shrink it as much as possible before we move on to surgery. I’m on board. I honestly have no idea about chemo, the drugs, and their side effects. She wants me to start the next day. I go and visit the chemo area, see the loungers, the IV stands, and it becomes very real. Questions start to run through my brain. Which chair will I sit in? Will people talk as we sit together for hours on end? Are there really only two washrooms for this many people? Very important things.

We discuss the side effects of chemotherapy, and that I may go into menopause. The idea of freezing my eggs comes up, something I never thought about. I decide that I should look into the possibility of harvesting some eggs, and my oncologist gives me two weeks to do it and get started with chemo.

The Tests Begin
It’s January 9, 2013. Today’s the day I go to the Breast Health Center, meet the doctors there and have the mysterious day of tests. My father is instantly uncomfortable -- put the word ‘breast’ together with the word ‘daughter’ and see how any man deals with it. He’s trying to lighten the mood in the waiting room by making jokes….again, another family trait! My mother is playing it cool, just watching what’s going on. We meet with the surgeon and he explains the tests I’ll be doing. An ultrasound-guided biopsy is first.

The test starts out as any ultrasound does, with a whole lot of goop and not many clothes. I like this technician better than Joanne, from a few posts ago. She laughs when I try my “It’s a boy!” joke again, and we bond instantly. She tells me about her dog and makes me contort my body in strange ways to get the angle just right. Another white coat comes in and freezes (Read: shoves a big needle in my breast) the area for the biopsy. I close my eyes as I see the biopsy tool come close. There’s pressure, and a sound like a toy gun. He does this a few times and then lets the technician clean me up and bandage the incision spot.

I’d like to say that the tests are one after the other, but they’re actually hours apart. Anyone who’s been in a similar experience will relate. I spent a good portion of this day dressed normally from the waist down and wearing only a hospital gown on the top. I’m still conscious of my jiggly boobs at this point, so I put my down vest over the gown as cover. This day began our study in the art of waiting rooms…I should have my Masters by now!

The mammogram is up next. I’m 33 so have obviously never had one. Interesting experience. In retrospect, being numb from the biopsy was a blessing. “Put your arm here, shoulder back, head angled like so and make sure your hair is out of the way,” says the technician. “Is this tight enough?” Crank. “Now hold your breath.” Then repeat for the other side. No two ways about it, a mammogram -- essentially, putting your breast in a vice -- hurts. I return to my parents and commiserate with my mom about the “boob squish” as we call it. Dad is instantly fascinated with the waiting room wallpaper.

We meet again with the surgeon, he does a physical exam and lets us know that we can expect the results in 10 days. Another 10 days to think, to get stuck in our heads and worry….sigh.

It took about three hours for the freezing to wear off, then oh mama did it ache. I went to work the next morning cursing all bra manufacturers, and keeping a protective arm over my chest in a karate chop motion. I must have looked very strange on the subway, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

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