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  • Angela Strong

Pink Like Hope

My grandma died of breast cancer before I was born, so I always suspected this would happen someday. But not yet.

I found the lump a little over a month ago. My gynecologist didn't think the mass was serious because it wasn't firmly attached and could be moved around (which I guess is a good sign), but she referred me for my first mammogram.

I went into the appointment, thinking the mammogram was just a precaution. It led to an ultrasound. Which led to the technician saying she was going to get the doctor to do a second ultrasound.

While I laid there, waiting for the doctor, I started to realize this could be more serious than I'd thought. And as my brain does when faced with the unexpected, it charged toward the worst case scenario as if to defend my emotions from an onslaught.

But I was strangely at peace. Even with the idea of death. Until I remembered how sad my mom was that her mother couldn't be at her wedding. Then I was like, "Dear God, I want to go to my kids' weddings."

The doctor came in, shared her "concerns" and scheduled biopsies. Fear became real for the first time.

I was so thankful to come home to my hubby after that. Not having anyone to come home to would be lonely as well as scary.

Jim kissed me on the top of my head. A lot. To the point it became a joke of, "Aren't you going to kiss me on the top of the head again?" Other people are doing it now too. But only Jim offered to buy me a fur coat. I could have totally taken advantage of his efforts to cheer me up, however I didn't want a cancer coat. Having him was enough.

Then came the debate of, "Who do we tell?" My youngest was at her dad's for that week, but she would return the weekend after my biopsies, and she might get a little suspicious if she saw me sticking ice packs in my bra.

As for my parents, I didn't want to tell Mom. She'd already been through the journey, and I didn't need to give her something to worry about until I knew there was a reason for it.

I had to tell my grandma though. I'd been planning to stay with her that weekend in California when traveling to meet with the producer who optioned my book for film, and I had to cancel. (Would they still make my movie if I died? Kinda cool to think the life of a writer can live on past her years.) Anyway, the news spread back to my parents like I should have known it would. I got the text from Mom: Is there something you're not telling us?

I told them. They were glad to know so they could support me. I actually had so many people offer to go to the biopsies that they wouldn't have all fit in the waiting room.

I only had Jim go. He took the day off from work and kissed me on the head some more.

The doctors and nurses were great. They held my hand, rubbed my arm, and made small talk when they weren't groping me.

Then the hard part began. The waiting. At least I had a phone appointment, so I knew exactly when I'd hear my results.

The morning before my appointment, I got an email that said I had test results in my online hospital account. I logged in, wondering if I'd actually be able to see my results before the nurse called, but it was only test results from the ultrasound. I'm glad I read it though, because I saw the term "blood flow in mass," and did some research. Apparently having blood flow in a lump is a bad sign. This prepared me.

I dropped my youngest off to do her job shadow with a physical therapist and got "the call" on my way home. Carcinoma.

I fought tears and asked questions. What did all this mean? Would my hair fall out in chemo? Would I need a mastectomy? Would I lose a lot of weight? (This last one, I'd be okay with.) No answers yet.

Jim was in the driveway when I pulled into the garage. Since our marriage, he's been the one who's maxed out our insurance deductible with various surgeries. "You're the healthy one now," I said. We laughed and cried, and he kissed my head.

So far, telling people has been the hardest part. But it's also been amazing to feel their love in response.

I told my oldest daughter first. She'd known I would find out at 3:00, the same time she had a counseling appointment. She wanted to know the news, so I told her over the phone while she was in counseling. I'm so glad she was in a safe place for expressing emotions and was in the company of someone with comfort and wisdom to offer.

Afterwards, she came straight over and went with me to pick up Lauren. By that time, Caitlin and I had purchased pink ribbon earrings and were joking about the possibility of wearing wigs like Cher. But Lauren hadn't mourned yet. Caitlin crawled into the backseat to hold her hand while I drove home.

My son was between college classes in another state when I told him. He said the most touching thing: "I'm going to pray as hard as I can, Mom." He went and told his professor he wouldn't be attending the evening class. What I didn't know was that it was so he could hop on a plane.

My parents came over for a pizza and card games that night. We had a great time. I only wished Jordan could have been there. I kept saying, "Let's FaceTime Jordan." Because I don't have an iPhone the way my kids all do, I had to get one of my daughters to do this. "Caitlin, text Jordan. See if he's free."

Of course, my girls knew he was at the airport and couldn't FaceTime if he was going to surprise me. So they kept coming up with excuses. And I kept saying things like, "Maybe he'll come home for Thanksgiving." And, "He doesn't even have to wait that long. Maybe he could come home this weekend."

It was't until I was on break the next day at work that he walked into the restaurant to join me for lunch. What a lunch it was. The kids laughed and joked about how they were handling the news at school.

Caitlin's professor: Did you get your assignment done?

Caitlin (with finger guns and a wink): No, I did NOT.

As for my youngest who attends a medical high school, of course they were studying cancer the following day in class. Cue daughter running out of class and her teacher saying, "Uh...bye?" Ironic, tragic, and exactly the material we needed for a good healing laugh.

I have yet to be alone with this heavy news. My best friend and I went to coffee where she offered to shave her head with me if I have to. (Of course we'd cut it into a mohawk first.) My husband's former brother-in-law and his wife brought me flowers, and Joe told me about his breast cancer experience. (Yes, guys can get it too.) A Hell's Angel biker (of all people) offered to organize a ride to raise money for my hospital bills. And my writer's group prayed over me and gave me these awesome mugs.

My youngest (who has always hated the color pink) told me she would buy a pink car to support my fight against breast cancer. She thinks we should use pink Christmas lights. And she designed pink checkered Vans for our family all to order. You might also soon see pictures of us with pink hair extensions. We are embracing the hue like hope.

As of right now, I have an appointment with a surgeon, pre-admissions testing, and an MRI scheduled. I'll also soon be meeting with an oncologist and geneticist to hear all my options. The only thing Jim's brother-in-law had to do was get the lump removed and go through six weeks of daily radiation, which just made him sleepy. I'm hoping that's all I'll need.

No, I don't know the stage of my cancer, and I won't until further testing, but I do think I caught it early. I feel great, physically and emotionally.

"How are your spirits so high?" my brother asked. I guess people expect me to be depressed. But I'm not. Though I might use this as an excuse to get out of awkward conversations...

Telemarketer: Can I interest you in--?

Me: I just found out I have breast cancer, and I was hoping you were the doctor's office calling to schedule my surgery.

Passenger on my airline: I can't believe you're making me pay for my luggage!

Me: I have breast cancer. Wanna keep complaining to ME about how your life's not fair?

There are obviously more painful things people could go through, and you might be one of those people. In which case, I want to be there for you too. Message me. We can joke about the insanity of this thing called survival.

I'm sure the future holds lots more sad and challenging moments, but right now I'm grateful for the crowd and all the kisses on my head.

Thank you so much for your love and support. It means the world. I'll be sure to keep you posted.


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