D-Day: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The calm before the storm: Me, two of my best friends Melissa S. and Kristin, and Kristin's little girl, LEW, at the annual Old Town St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, March 7, 2009.


I had no idea that I was about to learn that I had cancer when I went to the doctor on Tuesday, March 10, 2009. I thought the worst news I'd hear from my doctor, Dr. G., was that I had severe endometriosis that was going to make it nearly impossible for me to get pregnant someday. I thought this even after seeing the grave look on my doctor's face in post-op following my D&C procedure the week before, when he said, "I'm now very concerned about your ovaries but we'll talk about it when I see you on Tuesday." He didn't have the pathology back yet on the polyp he'd just removed from my uterus but he had seen what was inside me (and had re-read a radiologist's final ultrasound findings report about my ovaries) and he knew.

I guess I feel lucky that I hadn't thought that cancer was a possibility. I mean, as you can see from the above photo taken at a local St. Paddy's Day parade the weekend before I found out about my cancer, life was pretty stress-free before hearing the "C" word, which I'm grateful for because it sure hasn't been ever since. I'm not a worrier by nature (to the contrary, I'm kind of a "rule breaker" and can be somewhat reckless at times as many of my more well-behaved friends will attest to) and despite nearly a year of weird, whacked out bleeding that I discussed with Dr. G and just about every one of my girlfriends who would listen, the thought never occurred to me that this could be cancer. I think the thought hadn't occurred to me because: 1. I had been on the Pill (and then the Ring) for over 12 years, which should have protected me from this kind of cancer. 2. I am a thin, healthy, gym rat whose (relatively) flat stomach put me at event less risk for this disease. 3. I have no family history of this particular kind of cancer. 4. I am only 32-years old!!! 5. I feel (well, felt anyway) great and had no real pain to speak of...or did I? And the list goes on and on. So, back to March 10...

Hindsight being 20/20, I suppose I should have known that Dr. G was going to give me some bad news that morning as soon as I saw him because, well, he was just too darn nice to me when he walked into the exam room that day. He apologized for being late, next he apologized for my discomfort while he checked to see if I was healing from the D&C, and then he asked me to please get dressed and move to the more comfortable chair next to the exam table before we started talking about next steps. He came back into the room and started in with, "Jennifer, I'm afraid that the situation you're facing is far more grave than we had originally thought..." Or something like that. He told me that the polyp he'd removed from me was cancerous. I remember a heat rising in my throat that quickly covered my face and a slight buzzing sound in my ears. I think I used to get a similar feeling when I was about to get in BIG trouble as a teenager (E.g. When I let my high school boyfriend, Ned, drive my car, which was not allowed, and my dad saw us pull into the McDonald's parking lot with Ned behind the wheel...that was a doozy!). It's like the heat you feel under your skin when you're about to barf but without the nausea. Anyway, he started to pass over a box of tissues, which I told him he could keep. You see, I'm not a big crier and while I have definitely shed more than one tear during the past couple of months, I'm not some wimpy girl who cries at the drop of a hat so he kind of pissed me off with that box of tissues. I remember that the first thing I said to him was something like, "I'm okay. I mean I'm not worried about me but I just don't know how I'm going to tell my parents. This is going to destroy them." I don't remember many more concrete details about our conversation that day other than that his tone was very grave (there's that word again...) and the possible scenarios he presented for my diagnosis were actually both slightly different versions of the worst case scenario that my oncologist, Dr. E (or Johnny, as I like to refer to him), later presented me. Fortunately, I'd later learn that Dr. G was wrong about what might be going on with me. All I knew for sure when I left his office that day is that an INOVA Alexandria Hospital pathologist thought I had a figo grade 1 endometriod adenocarcinoma polyp that had been in my uterus and that there was a bunch of atypical complex endometrial hyperplasia still in my uterus. Oh, and that a radiologist at Ultrasound Associates thought I had some pretty scary looking ovaries, too. Awesome.

I couldn't believe that I still had to pay my insurance co-pay after hearing this news. I feel as though doctors should give you a freebie appointment if they're going to tell you that you have cancer. I mean, for Christ's sake, it's like you get kicked in the teeth twice! The first person I called when I walked out of the office was my friend Melissa S., whom I knew would probably be free to talk because her son would probably already be down for a nap. I can't remember exactly what I said to her but I know at one point I asked her, "How can I tell my parents this? I mean, how do I tell them that I have fuckin' cancer?!?" I can't remember what she said to me during our conversation but somehow I collected myself, took the elevator down, walked out of the building, and got in my car to head over to my parent's house.

My father, who runs his business out of my parent's basement, wasn't home when I got there but my mother, who is "retired," was. She was outside shaking out a rug (or something like that...) and I think she probably knew the news wasn't good as soon as soon I pulled up. My parents had only really learned what was going on with me a little over a week before. I hadn't told my mother about things because, unlike me (or, at least the old me), my mother is a pretty vocal worrier, particularly about medical issues. And she has good reason to be. I lost my "cancerginity" at the ripe old age of seven when my mother was diagnosed with the disease. I was home with her when her doctor called (yes, you read correctly, he CALLED) to tell her that she had Stage II cervical cancer (I know what you're thinking right now, and NO, our cancers are NOT at all related). Believe it or not, I think my mother's diagnosis was more traumatizing for me than learning of my own cancer. I mean, I was seven and thought that my beloved mommy was going to die because that's what you think happens to everyone who gets cancer when you're seven. I remember lying on her bed with her that afternoon, both of us sobbing, as she told me that she needed me to a big girl for her now. It was at that moment that I leapt from age seven to 37 and I've been an old soul ever since.

The rest of my D-Day went something like this: Told Mom. She cried as she hugged me and told me that everything would be alright. I shrugged off the hug after what seemed like an eternity (I'm not a big hugger). We talked a minute about things before I called my new boyfriend, Mike, to tell him the bad news. Agreed to meet him for coffee a little bit later that afternoon. Called Dr. E's office to make an appointment and found out that I should get a CA 125 blood test so I had the results before my appointment with Dr. E the following week. Called Dr. G's office back to get an order for the CA 125 and to let them know I was going to be back that afternoon to take care of it. Dad came home. Told him. He asked questions, balled for a minute, and then asked more questions. Let my boss know that I would not be back online the rest of the day. Left my parent's to head back to Dr. G's for the CA 125 blood test. Called best friends Christy, Kristin, and Jori en route. Finished the blood test and headed over to Melissa S.'s to hang out and write an email to let more girlfriends know the news. On the way to Melissa's, Kristin's husband called. And that's when it happened. Poor Shawn had no idea that he'd be the lucky one with whom I chose to have the big boohoo. And I mean it was ugly -- like almost lose control of the car as you're driving down Braddock Road ugly. In retrospect, I guess I was prepared to deal with the emotion of telling my parents and best friends but I wasn't prepared for one of my friend's husbands, whom I've know for about a decade, to reach out to me directly and so quickly to tell me how sorry he was about things. We both recovered quickly from my outburst and fortunately, I didn't wreck the car. So, back to Melissa's. Sent the email to friends and left to have coffee with Mike. We had a good chat over frappuccinos and decided to cancel the plans we each had made for the evening so that we could have dinner together and catch a movie in the hopes of getting my mind off things. Headed home from the frappuccino date. Did something for a little while. Mike arrived and we dined on my favorite kind of DiGiorno pizza (they're really quite good!). Left for the movie and since there were no funny, uplifting choices, we saw "Rachel Getting Married." I guess the only good thing I can say about seeing that movie that night is that the Anne Hathaway's character's problems made mine seem less serious. Came home when movie finished and went to bed. Ahhh. And despite the bad news I'd received that day, I had no problems falling asleep. No doubt that this news will not shock any of my good friends who know of my ability to fall asleep anywhere and at anytime.
So, that pretty much sums up my D-Day. Long day, huh? As you can imagine, it was the first of many long, emotionally-draining days to come.

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