By Michelle Curtis
I was 26 the first time I heard the words. Now, at 34, I find my self again sitting in the cold embrace of a surgeon’s examining room. The love of my life, Cory, sits anxiously. Our future depends on what this man will say when he enters the room.
A quiet knock, and a very quiet “Hello Ms. Curtis.” Blood drains from my face; thoughts race through my mind. I pull on every bit of strength in my being to act normally and politely reacted with, “Hello, how are you?” As in a normal conversation, he replies with how he is, but this isn’t a normal conversation. This conversation is one that will change our lives.
He asks me if I have received my results of the fine needle biopsy yet. I quickly reply with. “No.” He asks, “Would you like me to go over them with you right now?” Can I say no? Can I just pretend that there was no biopsy done and return to my normal life? Instead, I answer , “Yes, I would like you to discuss the results with me.”
That’s the moment my life changed. The young, red-headed surgeon lowers his eyes and gathers the strength to say, “It isn’t good; unfortunately, the biopsy shows there are cancer cells present.”
Breathe. I can’t forget to breath.
Stage IV breast cancer. The silence is deafening, the look on Cory’s face is pure fear, and the surgeon is upset. Ok, I have to be strong. I breathe one more time.
“I understand, and I anticipated this result.” Both look at me, waiting to see an emotional reaction. No one speaks. The surgeon said, “We will act aggressively and have you seen by your oncologist right away. This is advanced disease and treatment cannot be delayed.”
The words “metastatic cancer” take my breath away.
Cory and I stand up to go to reception to pick up a requisition for blood work. I step into the reception room; four people are sitting there, and I can’t hold it in any longer. The fear has crept up and is ready to explode. Tears fill my eyes. I tell Cory to wait for the paperwork. I stand in the dark hallway and try to breath.
I can’t — I don’t want to — I cry. I text my friend who is awaiting results and the words seem surreal: “It’s not good, my cancer is back.”
Cory comes out and holds me as I cry into his arms. He didn’t sign up for this; it isn’t fair. He keeps holding me, assuring me he is there. He goes back into the office, grabs the requisition, and we leave the office and head to the car.
After a few minutes of us sitting in the parked car in horror, I panic and tell Cory I have to go see my GP immediately. I need a doctor’s note excusing me from work. Cory — questioning my sanity — agrees, and we walk across the parking lot to my doctor’s office. This is the same office I have been going to for 12 years, the office where I had my pre-natal appointments when I was pregnant with my daughter, where we shared so many laughs together, and where I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer eight years before.
The waiting room is full. I walk straight to the receptionist and try to muster the right words through my tears. “I just got rediagnosed with cancer, and I really need Dr. D. I need him to write me a note for work.” She looks at me, bewildered, and rushes me to Dr D.’s personal office.
She gets me a chair and offers me a tissue. She asks me again to try and tell her what is wrong. I find the strength to stop the tears enough to explain the situation. She interrupts my doctor’s current appointment and directs him to me in his office. He stands in the door way with tears in his eyes and says, “I am so sorry, kiddo. I am sorry it came back, and I am sorry you found out from someone other then me.” And I continue to cry.
He kneels down to hug me, and reminds me to breathe.
Breathe. You can’t stop breathing. Yes, breathe. Breathing reminds me I am still alive. I can do this. I will keep breathing.