October is not just Canadian Thanksgiving, It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For me they kind of go together.
I cannot believe it’s been a year since I last wrote in my blog. Today. Exactly 1 year. So much has happened in that year. We continued to deliver food hampers until Christmas and then we moved to delivering soup in the back of a van throughout the neighborhood. In April we opened Refuge of Hope to children who come every day for meals, school and love. If you want to know more, check out our Facebook page or website. Lots of stories and photos there! I got so busy caring for these sweet little ones that I forgot to take time to write about it. Honestly, I think I forgot to take time to process it much at all. It was a whirlwind and it was scary and it was so awesome. Single moms. Their broken children. Our desire to keep families together while they found a way to get back on their feet. A pandemic. Fundraising. Hiring staff. It’s been a lot.
And then out of the blue the diagnosis. A blindside. A new journey that I didn’t expect or want and yet I embrace because it’s my new story.
In mid August I went for a regular checkup to a new doctor I had found whose office was right around the corner from my house. It had been years since I had gone for a checkup and I knew my blood pressure was high and that I had a painful lump in my breast. The internet told me not to worry – painful lumps are almost always fibroids, seldom cancer. But it was an irritation that needed to be dealt with and I squeezed the appointment in late one afternoon. Dr Susana did all the good doctor things – sent me for some blood tests and a mammogram. Here in Mexico, there is almost no wait times – I could get a mammogram any day I wanted and I scheduled it for a week later. There is also little wait time for results. By the time the test was finished the technician handed me a giant white envelope with the films and the report – things looked suspicious, a biopsy was recommended. I was not really concerned – there is no cancer in my family and the internet – it said it was a fibroid.
A week later I saw the doctor who would do the biopsy. I expected the jab of a long needle but he told me that the mass needed to come out, so he wanted to do surgery. Do you want it tomorrow or Monday? Well – Monday I need to be at Refuge of Hope, so let’s do it Saturday. Tomorrow.
The surgery went well. Because of the blood thinners I am on, local anesthesia was out of the question, and they used a general which meant I slept like a baby. There were a few small complications – the mass was close to the muscle which made it a bit trickier. My blood pressure didn’t want to come down so Grant had to go home for my meds. But when I woke up Dr. Chacon told me everything looked good, he wasn’t concerned about the mass. The sample would go off to Guadalajara for testing and he would send me the results on Thursday via What’s App. Which is a weird way to get a cancer biopsy result, but Mexico does love What’s App!
On Thursday I heard nothing. On Friday I heard nothing. Late that afternoon I sent the doctor a message “You said I would have the results on Thursday and I have heard nothing. I’m getting nervous…..” Silence. Ghosted by my doctor who always answers right away when I text him. On Sunday afternoon he sent me a message “Sorry I was busy all weekend so I didn’t answer you. See you at your appointment tomorrow”. No thumbs up. No “All’s well”. No smiley face emoji. Nothing about the results. That’s probably not good right?
On Monday afternoon I went to Dr. Chacon’s office. From the start he was struggling to look me in the eye. Stumbling over his words. “Your results….. your results…. Wait let’s look at your incision first. Oh, very good. Ok your results. Oh wait, let’s take out those stitches. Okay the results. Well, I can print the results. Where’s the paper. Oh, the results…..” I felt bad for him. He’s young. He wants his patients to be okay. He wants biopsies to be negative and lumps to be fibroids. So I looked at him “Should I ask my husband to come in?” “Oh yes please”. Relief on his face. A 2 minute reprieve.
We sat at his desk and he looked at us. “It’s bad. Your results are bad. It’s malignant”. Then he started talking cancer stuff, Spanish and English words flowing together. Understanding completely evading me. They would send the tumor for more tests to see what type it was. I would need more surgery – the margins of the first one were not clear. I would need radiation. I would need lymph node biopsies. I would need to meet with the oncologist. It was September 13th and I had breast cancer.
A few days later I met with the oncologist and 3 days after that I received the results of the chemical tests. By What’s App of course. A whole new vocabulary I was just learning. Estrogen negative. Progesterone negative. HER2 positive. Ki-67 30%. Aggressive Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Fast growing. Radiation would not be enough. The recommendation is minimum 6 months chemo, then 16 sessions of radiation.
5 days later I arrived at the hospital for another surgery. More lump removal and the lymph node biopsy to find out if it had spread. If they found it had there would need to be brain and bone and lung scans. By the time I woke up in the operating room the pathologist already had the good news – it had not spread. It was not in the lymph nodes. The surgery had removed the cancer. Unfortunately, because of the aggressive type of cancer and the danger that cells might have been left behind, chemotherapy and radiation are still the recommended treatments.
6 weeks. From a simple checkup to a second surgery to remove cancer. From spending my evenings searching Pinterest for preschool crafts to days researching cancer terminology and clinics and treatments. From mornings being dive bombed by hugs from little ones to having to tell them that Tia is a bit sick and can’t pick them up right now. From planning work trips and Christmas plans to counting the weeks on the calendar to choose the best dates to start treatments.
Honestly this has been hard. The day I was in the hospital recovering from surgery, we found out my father-in-law was dying from Covid. In Canada. My poor sweet husband, having to choose which hospital bed to sit beside.
But also, it has been easy. Because it’s just how life is. We don’t get to choose the path. We are tenderly placed on it and when it hits a hard spot, we gather up all that we are and all that we have in our souls and we walk through it. We gather our people and we ask them to pray because really, we know it’s out of our hands now. We can’t embrace how wonderful life is and how good God is if we don’t acknowledge that there is also brokenness around us and within us and the goodness surrounds that too.
Why am I sharing my story here? Why am I telling strangers about my toughest times? Because I simply don’t want to hide. I don’t want to try and remember who knows and who doesn’t and when people say “How are you?” I don’t want to just say “Fine” and do the fake dance. This is my story today. I am okay showing my weakness and asking for grace. I have lots of decisions to make very soon. I am not committed to the standard treatments being offered. I am also not scared to look at them and analyze them. To weight the percentages and prognosis. To look at alternatives.
So in this October, this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I choose to focus on Thanksgiving, rather than pink ribbons. On turkey and pumpkins and family and gratitude. Because the choice is mine and I am truly thankful!
“For the Lord is always good. He’s so loving that it will amaze you— so kind that it will astound you! And he is famous for his faithfulness toward all. Everyone knows our God can be trusted, for he keeps his promises to every generation!” Psalms 100:5 TPT
Wow. Karen you are an amazing, kind and most of all strong woman! You were in the right place at the right time to get this news and the quick treatment you’ve received. Always in my prayers
So glad it’s out there now Karen. I don’t have to worry if I accidentally say the wrong thing. I, like you got confused on who knew and who didn’t . I hope you are having a great time with your family and time to think and make decisions about next steps. Everyone needs to make the choices that are best for them. Take care and enjoy this time away. We will see you very soon.
Sending loving thoughts and prayers as you continue this tough path ahead. The support of your family and community will be there
I had hoped to finally meet you this fall but Covid has forced me to cancel my trip, but you will be in my prayers