Life goes on even if you have been waiting four days for biopsy results. People go to work, bad television continues to air, car batteries decide to die. In fact, I was in line a Pepboy’s Auto supply buying a new car battery when my phone rang with the news. I recognized Dr. K’s number immediately. I didn’t even have time to register that the woman was asking for my credit card to pay for the battery when I heard his voice. It was his voice that told me everything I needed to know. Two words, “Hello, Janine,” changed my world.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of bad news from a physician, you’ll know they have a certain tone. Normally, a doctor blows into a room with a bunch of med speak in a bit of a monotone. This is supposed to make you feel at ease: he’s confident, his tone makes you neither excited nor afraid and you feel as if you’re receiving good care. When a physician has something positive to say, much like any human their tone rises. It might still appear a little flat to the casual observer, but their tone really does change. It becomes more excited, a bit quicker paced and you’ll notice that they usually drop a lot of the med speak so they can convey that the loved one is going home.
You aren’t quite so lucky when it is bad news, especially coming from a medical profession that is also a family friend. Dr. K did his best to remain medically distant, but in just his greeting I heard the concern, the sadness and the bad news. He almost didn’t need to tell me anything more.
“The pathologist just called me with your results,” he said –this also tells you a lot. Dr. K must have been calling often to request those results for a hospital pathologist to call back with them. “You have an adenocarcinoma…”
In a movie, I would have burst into tears as my blood ran cold. Dramatic music would have played; it would have been raining. The perfect cliché to learning a diagnosis such as mine. Real life is not so much that way.
I didn’t hear anything after that. I vaguely reply saying, “Oh,” as I swiped my credit card for the battery. I fought tears; I wasn’t going to cry in line at an auto store. My hands were trembling, so I was thankful that someone offered to carry the battery out to the car. I heard the doctor say something about calling an oncologist for me and getting back to me soon. I don’t even think I replied as he hung up. The next thing I clearly recall is collapsing into Milo’s arms and sobbing so hard my entire body shook. When he asked what was wrong, I sobbed harder.
“I have cancer.”
It was like a mantra and once I uttered the words out loud I couldn’t stop. I repeated the words so many times, trying valiantly to wrap my mind around it. How did I have cancer? How did I go from stomach issues to a cancerous tumor in my liver?
I didn’t waste any time. I attempted to run all the stages of grief at once. I denied the diagnosis; it had to be wrong. I was angry: why me? I might not be the thinnest person in the world but I didn’t smoke, do drugs or drink. Why did *I* have a tumor? What did I do to deserve it? How did people who abused their bodies live to be 100 and I was 30 with a disease that could kill me?
I definitely was in shock. My mind refused to comprehend the diagnosis, even if I could understand the concept of cancer. I was angry; it took a lot of effort not to just start throwing things and hitting things. I vaguely recall asking Milo if we could take a sledge hammer to a car that was illegally parked in a red zone. This situation wasn’t fair, as much of life is. Milo and I had plans; we were going to start a family and had promised each other fifty years. It couldn’t end like this. It just couldn’t.
When Dr. K called back to tell me he had me set up with an oncologist, I only asked one questions. “How bad is it?” I know no cancer is good, but some have better survival and treatment rates than others. I wanted to know what I was facing.
“I just wish it was lymphoma,” he told me in reply. “You’d survive that no problem.”
I don’t really remember much else. I know my friend Tawnya came over to keep me company when Milo went back to work. She took me grocery shopping and tried to keep my spirits up. I was just too numb. My mind just kept saying I have cancer, I have cancer. I couldn’t see past the diagnosis. I couldn’t think of chemo and survival rates. I had been diagnosed with a major, potentially fatal, disease. I felt like I was someone else now.
I was a girl with cancer.