This story begins in late August. With a lump. And then what I thought was a brief tour in cancerland, a world in which I considered myself an imposter, a world I didn’t belong in. From August until Halloween, there were doctor appointments and biopsies and ultrasounds and mammograms. And each time, at every turn in the road the doctors, the nurses, even Dr. Google and also Dr. GoogleScholar assured me that I didn’t have cancer.
I had something called an atypical papillary lesion, which is precancerous. They always remove them because a biopsy is not very reliable for these lumps. What stuck out most was that in one article I read about these things, it said they mostly happen to “women in their 8th decade.” Well, I did this 5 decades early. I was the precocious barer of a breast with an atypical papillary lesion.
Dr. D., my very matter-of-fact and so-sciencey surgeon would remove it in the beginning of October. I had a big giant bandage and I ate a lot of ice cream. My BFF Megs came to visit. I even started to like the thin, braid-like scar.
Fast-forward 3 weeks to Halloween.
The UBC doc- the one from student health services who I saw initially called in the morning. “You need to come in for the results,” she began. I sat on the living room floor, balancing little Piolin, a 3-week old bottle feeding kitten I’m fostering for VOKRA on my knee, and said to her in a firm voice, “I don’t have time. I’m in the middle of my dissertation. Please tell me over the phone.” She stuttered. “Well, it’s positive result…” She couldn’t really say it, so I said, “So, I have cancer.” And she said, “Well, yes I’m afraid it’s positive…” She’d give me the path report if I came in. We finished feeding Piolin, and Sammy and I headed to UBC Student Health. There was lots of tears en route. To her credit, the doc saw us immediately, no appointment necessary. Not so much to her credit, she didn’t know what the abbreviations meant, and she actually pulled up Google when I asked what the significance of “Grade 3” was. OMG.
Since she clearly didn’t have much more info, we headed out. Sammy had to work, so I dropped him off at Mozart, and I went right to the only person I know who’s had breast cancer. That’d be my totally formidable dissertation supervisor, M. At least she knew what Grade 3 was- it’s how WILD it is. There’s many ways to measure a tumor, like literally by size, and how advanced it is in the body, and also, there’s the grade, being how WILD it is. Mine is wild. The most wild. It seems kind of fitting. I’ve never liked tame things much.
My surgeon Dr. D. was suprised. Surgeons are different here in Canada. Less glamorous. There’s no secretary behind a sliding glass window or anything like that, just a receptionist with a partition hiding her partially from the waiting room. The surgeon who did my ankle surgery back in NYC was fancy and American. This one is distinctly Canadian. And you can tell from the office. It’s a nice office, but it’s just any old office. It’s not, in my American opinion, very surgeon-y.
This morning I had an MRI. I am so grateful it was this morning, and that Dr. D., who is a total bad-ass surgeon, convinced the radiologist to let me have it. Dr. H, the radiologist, wanted to wait THREE MORE WEEKS since I so recently had the other surgery. But Dr. D over there doesn’t back down, and convinced her to do the MRI anyway. I was even more delighted to have this Canadian surgeon with the Canadian offices when I asked when I’d get the MRI results. The nurse said maybe 2 weeks, I said that wouldn’t work very well for me, could they be rushed? (This has worked for me in the past…) The nurse asked who the surgeon was, and when I said it was Dr. D., she said, “Oh, she’ll get them. Dr. D is very aggressive.” At which point I wanted to jump up and down. I like aggressive. It’s normally a word that people use to tell me to calm down –ie., you’re being too aggressive, or don’t be so aggressive– but I’ve always taken it to be a buzz word for “awesome feminist is doing something awesome and patriarchy is trying to prevent it by saying she’s aggressive.” I’ve always kind of loved aggressive. It has for so long, felt so right, being aggressive. My cancer’s aggressive, so I need an aggressive surgeon. The MRI will help us know what kind of aggressive surgery I need from the aggressive surgeon for the aggressive cancer. Cancerland is aggressive.
Aggressive cancerland kind of feels like being underwater and not knowing which way is up, except that the water isn’t silky and smooth and cool, it feels like rough sandpaper. I don’t know where this journey will take us, but it’s certainly taken us right to a place of not-knowing-which-way-is-up. It’s taken us to WholeFoods where our all-organic grocery bill rapidly expanded, because we certainly don’t need anymore toxins round this house. It’s taken us to consider adopting this little bottle feeding kitten, because he’s a survivor. It’s taken us to long nights reading everything we can find in English and in Spanish, and to long phone calls and high phone bills. I don’t know where it will take us next, but it will be documented, on this blog.
And one more thing for all those Americans doubting socialized health care? It is the most incredible thing. Ever.