I'm not sure where would be the best place to hear the news that you have breast cancer, but I can promise you it isn't in the checkout line at a sporting goods store, especially mid-transaction. I had just run my debit card through the machine when I got the call. I walked away from the checkout, leaving my 13 year old daughter there to complete the volleyball shoe purchase on her own. Luckily, the little snoop already knew my PIN number. I pressed the phone to my ear, holding the other ear with my finger, trying desperately to hear what the doctor was saying, because all I was hearing was the "wah wah wah wah wah" voice of Charlie Brown's teacher on a Peanuts special. I walked into the entryway, thinking it would be quieter there. Crash! An employee brought carts in from the parking lot. I kept apologizing to the doctor because I couldn't hear him, although I think it was probably more of a comprehension issue. Because this was incomprehensible to me.
My daughter had joined me by this time, so I told the doctor I would go to my car, where it would be quieter. Except I couldn't find the car. My daughter pointed out the car, pushing me towards it, but I said, "That's not my car! That's my license plate, but that's not my car!" (Whadya know? It WAS my car....) The poor doctor was so very patient with me. I'm going to guess that my reaction was mild compared to what he might get from other patients doing what must be the suckiest part of his job. I sat in the car, listening to his "wah wah wah" and not absorbing any of it, other than that it was small, slow-growing, and caught early. There was other stuff about it being estrogen receptive and chemotherapy may or may not be necessary that I just couldn't absorb. He told me his office would contact the plastic surgeon and get back to me with a surgery date. I hung up, started the car, and headed for home in a daze.
It was strangely quiet in the back seat. My nonstop talker only asked if it were bad, and I told her I wanted to wait until I got home to talk about it, because I only wanted to say it one time. Once home, I called my husband and son back from playing tennis, sat everyone down in the living room, and told them. I was unbelievably upbeat about it, promising the kids that their activities would continue as planned. They would still have tennis and volleyball and dance class and prom and mission trips. We would figure out the logistics somehow.
I didn't cry, and to their credit, neither did anyone else in the family. We were all walking on eggshells, afraid to upset each other. Pretty soon, the kids disappeared upstairs and my husband and I talked. I was still being obnoxiously positive about it all, because I so badly wanted to believe that it WAS going to turn out to be all right. My husband and I stood in the kitchen for a long time, hugging each other and reassuring each other that it was going to fine. Neither of us voiced anything negative. I was determined everything was going to be just fine. DETERMINED. I've always preached to my kids about the power of positive thinking and self-fulfilling prophecy. This was my chance to practice it.
And you know what? I think it worked! Because I never once thought I had just received a death sentence. Yes, I worried that I might lose my hair to chemotherapy (which, I'm happy to report, didn't happen, as I didn't have to have infusion chemo treatments). And that this was now my daughter's legacy. But that was it. That's all I was allowing cancer to do to me.
I won't say that I never cried. Because I did. Because this kind of thing was supposed to happen to other people and not me.
But it DID happen to me. And I could sit around and cry and feel sorry for myself, or I could snap out of it and be the obnoxiously positive Pollyanna that I usually was. I'd much, MUCH rather laugh than cry. Besides, I look hideous when I cry.
I laugh. But I never forget.