My stomach was clenched in six different places. My heart was beating like it does right before it stops. I was wondering if my mind could race any faster. This was how it felt at the end of the eight-hour day of mammograms, ultrasounds and several biopsies.
The breast screening area was filled with at least fifty women. Many of them were quite older than my 34 years. Why was I here? It was probably nothing but a calcification. I tried desperately to console myself as each test went by. I refused to look for hours until I happened to peek during one of my mid morning ultrasounds. There she was. My doctor had her ultrasound wand firmly placed on my right breast with her eyes closed and her mouth moving in what seemed to be a quick prayer to God. I knew things were growing more serious as they explained that they needed to do a biopsy. No one made a sound in the room. They knew. Everyone in the room knew. It was cold and sterile and very lonely back there.
I walked out to the waiting room where my sister, her three kids, and my mom were waiting that Friday. We assumed that I would be free to shop for my sister’s birthday after my “quick” mammogram. My internist had just found a lump five days prior during a routine check up. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t look sick and this had never been in my family. I had just grown my blonde hair to my shoulders. I had worked out every day since I was 18 and I ate all of the right foods. I had no idea how this had happened. After a long weekend of wondering if I had cancer, if I would die from cancer, if I would lose my breast to cancer, if anyone would want me during or after the treatments, the phone call came from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “You have small breast cancer,” someone on the other end of the phone said. I collapsed and began to shake and cry. My mouth uttered these words to my mom, my dad, who went into cardiac arrest, my sister, and my on again, off again boyfriend. Phone calls were made and appointments were desperately sought after. Waiting lists were long. Many women had to wait four months to even get a consultation, but somehow I got in because someone had just cancelled.
They arm you with one hundred pamphlets, and surgical advice, and a litany of tests, which needed to be completed before they can perform any sort of lumpectomy or mastectomy. What the docs can’t give you is information on how to move forward, emotionally. I began sobbing when they told me that I might not be able to have children, that the IVF treatments could spread my cancer, that my hair would fall out, my skin would change colors, and my weight might change. My entire world as I knew it was over, in a matter of one week.
When I got home, I scoured the Internet for everything or anything that might help me understand what was about to happen. I looked up and down for information on chemotherapy, radiation, fertility treatment options, and I wanted to know a lot about my hair. My hair seemed to be the most devastating news, next to having breast cancer, of course. I came up with only negative accounts of chemotherapy treatments, rants about radiation burning holes through skin, and long lasting side effects of medications. Everything was pointing towards doom. My depression was deep. My sadness was palpable. I wore it like a sagging sweater. My eyes were dark and I actually had stress lines on my face that would not go away.
A friend of mine, Jeff Brunstein, having heard of my predicament, had happened to be speaking with a friend at the East Bank Club, when he was told about Imerman Angels. The IA pamphlet, literally, blew into his lap at the rooftop pool and he just laughed! “What crazy luck!” He then dropped it off at my house. We exchanged hugs and I went inside to lie down.
Eventually I made my way to the kitchen table where my “cancer research” was conducted. I went on the Imerman Angel’s site and clicked on the “testimonials.” I happen to click on a woman named, Laura Alexander….
(Jessica’s story will continue September 16th. Check back to hear about her first meeting with Laura and stay tuned for more true stories of CANCER SURVIVORS and PAIR UPS in our series.)