The surgery for an excision of a lump on my right breast was performed on a Monday morning. I’m groggy after my outpatient procedure and stumble around the house trying to act normal; clumsily fixing myself something to eat, tidying up the kitchen, and playing with my dog. After two hours, I tell my boyfriend I’m going upstairs to rest. I don’t remember much after getting into bed except when I opened my eyes again it was four hours later.

The biopsy results will be in tomorrow or the next day. The surgeon asked me to call his office on Wednesday for the pathology report. I went to work the following day feeling confident that my lump was benign and I had no intention of calling the doctor for the results. I knew if the report wasn’t favorable, I’d hear from the surgeon.

I’m working at my desk the next morning when my surgeon dropped by.

“I’m so glad to see you,” I said as he walked in and pulled up a chair next to mine. “I want you to take a look at the incision.”

“Let’s not worry about that now,” he said.

“Are you bringing me bad news?” I asked him knowing the answer by studying his mannerisms; his directness, his somber looking face, and hearing the sternness in his voice.

“I just received your pathology report. The news isn’t good. You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.”

Just like that, I passed through an invisible membrane that separates the healthy from the ill.

“How bad is it?” I asked holding in a cry which I knew was forthcoming sometime in the future but not now. No, not at my office with an open door to patients, their families, the community—the same group of people who would often come here after receiving this type of news. I couldn’t cry at my desk. Not yet.

I placed my right hand on the doctor’s left thigh and said, “I can’t believe the news.” I wondered if my intimate action had breached some type of doctor \ patient relationship. I didn’t really care. I had known him for years, worked with him, and respected him. He was the only one here to comfort me. We had this secret. Thinking back, the simple gesture of touching his thigh with my fingertips was a way for me to feel closeness with another human, a kind of support I needed after hearing the devastating results of the biopsy. It was a silent way to communicate.

The surgeon and I had a long history—he operated on my husband when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He thought he got it all. He thought it might not spread. He was deeply moved when he told us six months later that the cancer had metastasized and he had tears in his eyes a year later when I told him I had just buried my husband.

“I’m hoping we caught it early. This is what you’ll need to do,” he told me as if he had a list prepared in his head.

“Wait one minute,” I said as I opened up Microsoft word on my computer and positioned my fingers on the keyboard. “I’ll need to take notes because I’ll never remember what you’re about to tell me.”
Somehow it helped me to comprehend the news by concentrating on the next steps needed for treatment. It was a way to process the information by categorizing it, organizing the instructions in terms of what to expect, what was to come, the exact order, including time constraints between each treatment.

Small Grade I
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
Within a week \ MRI of both breasts
Second surgery in two weeks (Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy)
Oncotype DX test follows
Brachytherapy radiation versus partial breast radiation

I thanked the surgeon for personally coming into my office to discuss the results. I sat in shock after he left trying to digest what he said, trying to convince myself it wasn’t a dream, it really happened. I have breast cancer.

About TRatner

Terry Ratner is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and writing instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. In June of 2004, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Writing has always served a purpose in her life, but it wasn't until her son died in a motorcycle accident in March, 1999, that she began to publish her works. What's unique about Terry is the way she balances the life of a nurse with the life of a writer. "Nursing allows me to give back to the community and then write about those experiences." Ratner teaches creative writing in a variety of settings from community colleges to a school for homeless children (Thomas J. Pappas) to wellness communities throughout the Valley of the Sun. In 2004, Terry launched an Arts and Healing program for children undergoing dialysis at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. She has published numerous personal essays, cover stories, interviews, and book reviews for a variety of national and regional publications. Her manuscript, a work in progress, features a series of twelve essays, ten of which are introduced with black and white photos, dealing with issues of family and identity.
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2 Responses to WHAMMY

  1. Stephanie Clark says:

    Hi Terry, thank you for sharing your life experiences and heart. Your writing is moving. As I read your words I visualize each moment and emotion. My own mind ponders what news I will receive as I await my own lumpectomy procedure to take place in three weeks. I hope to connect with you soon.

  2. Cassandra DeReese says:

    Thank you for your blog …
    My husband passed away from esophageal cancer on May 9, 2013. His first anniversary is coming up and I really want to just stay in bed and pull the covers over my head but … May 9th is the 4th birthday of two of our grandchildren … His son’s youngest daughter and my son’s oldest child a son. So on his day I drive 150 miles to San Antonio Texas for a part Saturday morning then to Spring Texas for a party later that day then Sunday, Mothers Day I drive to Hico to be with my daughter them a 5 hour drive home in Monday…I am really not looking forward to next week. Please know your blogs have helped me and I look forward to them. I am sad to hear about your cancer but please know you have been added to my daily prayer list. I believe you are in God’s hands and he has control…and this too shall pass.
    Your in my thoughts & prayers

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