I have had an intense day, and night also. I barely slept. Not that I was beating myself up with my breast cancer diagnosis, I just repeatedly woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. In the morning, my heart woke up a tiny bit sorrowful. But there is little that a shower can’t fix. I got up, showered, got dressed, and started working.
In theory, I shouldn’t have eaten or drank anything. But, I had some ginger tea. The box says that every 200 ml. of tea provides two kilocalories, so it couldn’t be that bad. I needed to fool my stomach and nerves. I think I am one of those people who tends to eat when they feel nervous. I feel hungry constantly. I go to bed thinking of breakfast. My friend Dylan told me that I had to go to the hospital on an empty stomach, so they could perform all of the tests. I cheated a bit with the ginger tea.
Work brought back my joy. I forgot for an hour what I’m living. Samirah took Otto out for a walk and, I got on with my work duties. One of the things that worries me the most is not being able to work. Because of our finances, yes, but also because work gives me purpose. As weird as it may sound, I enjoy working and my job. I am a marketing and sales manager at a software company. I am not going to explain right now what I do because it’s too complicated. It doesn’t matter. All you should know is that I don’t want to stop working.
Samirah and I have been together for three years. Almost four and in two days, we will have our first wedding anniversary. At first, she didn’t understand my obsession with work. Later she understood that it is simply something very ingrained within me and just accepted me like that, the workaholic I am. Make no mistake, I too had to change for her. I had to cut some work hours and set limits. At a certain point each day, my life belongs to her. Before that point, my life revolves around work, my projects, courses, and all the things that I obsess over.
My breast cancer diagnosis has prevented us from having the wedding anniversary we were hoping for. But we are living times beyond anyone’s imagination. The world is upside down, and my life a little more.
Probably, so far it sounds like I haven’t had a good day. Luckily, things got better.
At nine o’clock we left for the hospital. My poor aunt was already there waiting for us. She works at the hospital and had night shift the previous night. The gynecologist will see me between 10.00 and 10.30. We climbed into our van. Samirah in front of the wheel and I seated in the back. According to the current Covid rules, only two people can be in a car, one in the front and one in the back. I prefer Samirah to drive. She is a better driver. I was in a car accident in 2008 and, let’s just say, I’m not the most skilled driver. I took advantage of the trip to have a brief call with a work colleague and make sure things were on track. Cristy, my colleague and friend, already had taken care of everything but I am the kind of person that needs to have everything under control.
It took us twenty minutes to get to the hospital. Driving during lockdown is nice because there are no traffic jams, no people, and less assholes on the road. We parked and walked to meet my aunt. The poor thing was waiting for us outside the hospital, after a whole night of work. No-one would have said that Auntie had been working all night. She certainly looked fresher than me. She is very pretty, petite. She wears white Converse and a blouse of the same color. The blouse fits her silhouette in a carefree way. She looks ten years younger than she is. We do not hug or kiss, as we once would. It’s just not possible during Corona times.
Samirah, my aunt and I went up to the third floor. We use the stairs to avoid touching things. We are not aware of all the things we touch every day but nowadays we have to, with this Coronavirus. When we got to the third floor, we sat in the waiting room. Samirah a little further, and my aunt and I with an empty chair in between us. I took the opportunity to catch up a bit with my aunt.
About ten in the morning we saw the doctor pass. From his expression, I could see that he recognized me from the last time. It’s good to know that someone who has groped my tit remembers my face, even if I’m wearing a mask. After a while Dylan arrived. With double mask and pants marked vertically with the word OPERATING ROOM. He asked for the doctor and, shortly after, we went to see him. His name is Carlo. He is originally from Argentina. Short like Dylan, which gives me confidence and good vibes. Short men are very smart people. God gives them in intelligence what He did not give them in height.
I had to take off my top and bra. I’m surprised that now I deal better with being naked. I didn’t feel bad or embarrassed because Dylan was going to see my breasts. This is clearly an effect of Samirah, who has made me feel comfortable with showing my body. The Dutch are more relaxed about these things. I’m not going to say I was loving it but I felt okay. Dylan has known me for many, many years. Since 2006 to be precise, which is fourteen years, but he has obviously never seen me with so little clothing. Only Dylan accompanied me into the doctor´s office. Yesterday he asked me if I wanted him to accompany me and I said yes. He being there with me makes me feel calmer.
I got in the examination chair. One of those peculiar ones that you only find in a gynecologist´s office. Thank god this time I didn’t have put my legs on the leg holders. Carlo touched my breasts. He had a kind of ruler with which he tried to measure my neoplasms. Unfortunately, the inflammation did not allow him to. The biopsy wounds with their bruising and swelling prevented him from feeling accurately. He asked me to get dressed and we went to his office.
There was another man there. Probably he’s also a doctor, but I am not sure. What happened in that office, I cannot tell exactly. I don’t think I have yet finished registering it. I heard the word “positive” many times, but for the first time in my life, I don’t know if positive is good or bad. Carlo told me many things about my breast cancer diagnosis that now, at 10:30 at night, I can barely remember. The tumors are bad, they will probably treat me with chemo, they have to do more tests, etc. Dylan next to me, was struggling with the masks that were cutting off the circulation of his ears. The doctors discussed who would take care of which test. The other man in the room asked me if I want to keep my eggs. Then they talked about a Gamma test and a genetic study.
As I understood rather little, I took the opportunity to ask the few things that really matter to me.
–Doctor, how do I know that I don’t have this in other parts of my body? –Although the question is directed at Carlo who sits opposite me, Dylan, next to me, answers –.
–That’s what the tests we’re going to send you are for.
–And, doctor, how disabling is chemotherapy? Can I keep working?
Carlo didn’t give me a straight answer or I didn’t quite get his answer. As a summary I think he meant that if my work is not physical, I might be able to continue working. That is good.
The appointment ended. I thanked Carlo and Dylan and I left. I asked Dylan to explain in understandable language everything that just happened. Dylan told me to wait until we were with my aunt again, so he didn’t have to explain it twice.
What I am going to say now might not be 100% correct. The terms are probably wrong. It’s what I understood, but I am not a doctor.
Apparently, my tumors have many receptors that make them treatable with known treatments. Those are the “positives” that I picked up on from the conversation with the doctor and thank God in this case these are good positives. The doctors are probably going to treat me with chemo and other medications. An oncology committee must decide about the treatment. They will also run some tests to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread. The Gamma test will help us find out if I have it in my bones, as there is a connection between breast cancer and bone cancer. Dylan recommended me not to work during at least the first two chemo cycles so that I can take care of myself and see how my body reacts.
Again: what I’ve just said might not be accurate. It is what I understood. I hope I got it right.
After explaining all these things to me, Dylan told me to go downstairs to have a blood test and to get an IV inserted. Then I had to go to the X-rays unit, to get a scan done. The IV could be necessary in case the radiologist needed to improve visibility and to administer contrast agents.
In X-rays, they took care of me quickly. I went into a large room, a stretcher resting in the middle of the room, in front of a large white ring. At the top of the ring, you can see the word Philips. The television in my living room is also Philips, I don’t think this machine is reliable because our TV isn’t. I mentioned it to my wife. It’s a joke that only the two of us can understand. Philips is a Dutch company located in Eindhoven, a city a little further north from where Samirah was born.
I put on a hospital robe and took off the top part of my clothes. I could keep my pants on. Then I laid onto the stretcher and they made me raise my arms above my head. I had to keep my body within the limits of the stretcher as I was moving towards the ring. Something inside the scanner was spinning, making noise. I felt heat on my face. It is not an unpleasant test like a biopsy. A woman with a dreary voice told me through a speaker to breathe in and out. She also said I need to stay still. Soon the test ended.
The way home was beautiful. The road that connects the hospital with my town is right next to the sea. On the day of the biopsy, I saw dolphins on the way home. At least having to go to the hospital allows me to see the Mediterranean sea. Today it was angry, the waves were churning one after another and, the sky seemed upset too. We are living gray days, but it is still the sea, and it is still beautiful, when it gets angry, when it changes color, when it is gray, when it roars more than necessary. It is still one of the most beautiful things in this world.
When we got home, I started working. It takes away all of the bad things. I talked to a colleague who is worried about me and then I resumed my tasks. My day went on, almost normal.
Just before lunch, Dylan called me. We already have the scan results. I do not have cancer in other parts of my body. I’m not dying, nor am I hopeless. I have cancer, but it’s not that bad. Small victories. Samirah and I hugged each other and cried a little bit, but we are happy. As happy as a family with cancer can be. I shared the news with the rest of the family and we all celebrated, the first good day of many that will come.