I spent the weekend explaining to my boys what was happening and what the plan of attack was. Neither of them seemed to really respond except to say “At least this is the kind we can beat. That is the good news.” Positive mind over matter! I was ok with their answer. I did not push either of them to discuss this further though I have asked, from time to time, if they have any questions. So far, they are both “ok” with things and don’t have questions for me. I think they are dealing with this by not dealing with it…they are definitely My children!
When the time came to explain this to my father, I knew this would be the most difficult obstacle we would ever face together. When he came into the house, I gave him a big hug and kiss, asked if I could get him anything. As is our normal routine, we sat down at the kitchen table…or rather I sat down and he paced the kitchen. “Dad, I need to talk to you about something so please sit down.”
“No, I am good standing.”
“Dad, please come sit down. I need to tell you something important.”
He slowly approached the table and sat down. He knew it was going to be a little rough. Being that he still sees me as this itty bitty little thing, it was going to be very difficult.
“Dad, you know that I’ve been having tests done lately on the lumps in my breast. I got the results. I have breast cancer.” I waited…he shifted in his chair. “So…what I have decided is to have the left breast removed and not to have reconstructive surgery. It is what is the best for me and my lifestyle. I can’t be down for a long time and this is the safest option for me right now.” He lit his cigar, leaned back, tapped his boot on the floor and said “Whatever you need or whatever I can do, let me know. ” It was exactly what I needed for an answer. My father was terrified, I could see it on his face…like looking at my own reflection in a mirror, the same stricken expression buried beneath the calm demeanor and voice.
I had only my mother left to discuss this issue with and she was getting ready to leave for a three week vacation to Scotland and Ireland. Being a good daughter, I weighed the pros and cons of how much I should disclose. Until she returned from her vacation, I decided no information was the best option. I did not want her carrying this heavy news with her as she toured Ireland and visited with friends in Scotland. When she came home however, I had to let her know what was going on. I could live with that decision.
Two and a half weeks passed when I got the text that they had just come back across the pond and landed in JFK. I welcomed my mother home, told her I missed her and that I loved her and my stepdad Dean. I also asked, though it was late at night, to call me when they were more rested. They had been on the plane for hours and still needed to catch the tram which would bring them to a train, then from one station another train before they arrived in Trenton for pickup. I hoped for the call that evening, stayed up until 11pm which is an hour over my 10pm weeknight curfew, but the phone did not ring.
The next morning, Mom was texting up a storm, asking when she could call. I told her that my sister and I would call her at 1pm, our lunchtime and put her on speaker…two phone calls in one! At 1pm, I called my mother and as promised put her on speaker so that me and Jen could both speak to her at once. She regaled us with stories from her trip…concerts, food, cafes, pubs, the people they met, the friends they made, how fun it was traveling around with their favorite band, the sites they visited, and then how wonderful it was to spend time with their friends in Scotland. It was a once in a lifetime trip and we drank in every second of every story. The topic changed to my niece and my oldest son…how are they, how are their jobs going, etc. All good, all good. My sister looked at me and pointed to the clock. Lunch was almost over.
I took the opportunity to fill my mother in. ” Are you sitting down Mom? I have some news for you.”
“Youre pregnant!” She laughed because I had a partial hysterectomy 4 years ago.
“Umm no, but I do have breast cancer and will be having a double mastectomy.”
Insert crickets….chirp chirp chirp…followed immediately by my mother saying “You DO NOT KATHYLYNN. You are not Kathylynn. What are you even talking about?”
“Yes Mom, I do have breast cancer. Remember I was having testing before you left? I knew the results within a few days, but you were going on your trip and I couldn’t let you carry that with you. I’m ok though, please don’t worry. I’ve given all this a lot of thought, and if it buys me a future with my boys and my family, it’s all worth it in the end.”
She paused. “Oh Kath, I’m so sorry. Geesh, I can’t believe you’re telling me this. When is your surgery? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this sooner! You’re just like Grandma, she always kept bad news from me. You’re so young Kath…it should be me and not you. Wow, I’m just speechless.”
Lunch had come to a close but having worked over the night before, I decided to stay out and finish the conversation with my mother. I told her about the entire process from start to finish, told her I had met with various members of the hospital staff and departments, that I had biopsies done and that after the results of the genetic testing had come back, we would be getting ready for surgery, preferably in mid-November based on my own plan of attack. I let it all sink in for her, answered questions for her, and remained calm and cool to avoid shaking her up anymore than the news already had. Like everyone I had talked to, my mother said “You seem so calm and logical about all this Kath, like you’ve really thought it all through. And if you’re this confident, then you’re making the right decision.” She was nervous, I knew it then like I know it now. I’ve always been the rock in our family, and my calm demeanor and even keel are comforts my mother counts on from me. If I am not shaken, everyone else can be…if I am calm, they follow.
Having wrapped up the phone call with my mother with the promise to call her later, I went back inside to the office. When I got back inside, I did text my stepdad and tell him that although I know they have commitments when they get home, I selfishly wanted my mother to come home for my recovery period if possible. He said, my mother was saying the same thing…she was coming home and going to be here with me. It was like someone wrapping a warm blanket around my shoulders, like the perfect cup of hot chocolate…I was immensely relieved knowing she would be here with me.
Before I move forward, I must clarify that when I spoke to my father, I had just recently discovered the cancer diagnosis and felt that whatever I could do to prevent being out of work long term was the best answer for me. Yes, I’m one of those people that put and always have put work above my own needs, and for that, I definitely have some regrets. However, at the time I spoke with my father, I felt that a quick single breast mastectomy with no reconstruction would mean the quickest recovery time without any follow up surgeries or potential complications.
The more I read about and learned about breast cancer, I became more and more concerned about the “what ifs” of this illness. What if the cancer came back or spread to the right breast? What if I have to have chemo and/or radiation anyway? What if regardless of my simple decision I was out of work longer than anticipated? What if this surgery was not enough and affected my life in a greater capacity than I was planning for? And why not, if the option is there, reconstruct the girls? My friends kept saying “if it were me, I would take both of the girls off and get new perkier cha chas!” I couldn’t help but laugh but gave it some serious consideration. And when I learned from my mother that our family had suffered a breast cancer death, I knew the choice to remove both breasts and reconstruct later was my only option. I have since cleared up my plan with my father.
The remaining people in my life, my nieces and friends each had the reaction I expect people to have. Both nieces were immensely concerned, hearing only “cancer” and instantly panicking. My sister told them that based on the surgery plan and long term treatment plan, I wasn’t going anywhere, that I would still be around to see them grow up. Both girls know that they can ask me questions any time, and that if I do not have the answers, I will get the answers for them.
As for remaining friends, I am disclosing this information a bit at a time. Some of my friends are people I can count on to remain calm and logical with me, and those are the friends I have told first. The others are more emotional than I am, and truly internalize the illness as something they are suffering, making it about them rather than about me. I understand that everyone handles it differently, that each person will take the information and process it in his/her own way; I am fine with that, but selfishly, I do not have the energy to console those making it about themselves because it is about me, just this once, just this one time.