by Lempi Koivisto
I stared at the message left on my desk after I returned from lunch. "Dr. _______ office requests you call today to schedule an appointment."
I didn't even realize I was crying until a big tear plopped on the yellow sticky note -- blurring the number. I realized I'd been holding my breath and let it go -- I knew at that moment I had cancer. My whole being sank.
I know you're advised to take a family member with you to your appointment. I even heard that request when I scheduled it, but everything within me screamed, "No!"
I knew how completely devastated my husband, siblings, and parents would be with the news. I'm usually my family's "rock," holding everyone together during a crisis. Initially, I needed some time to process through the news and figure out how to let everyone know.
I was chastised later by my loved ones, but it's not a decision that I regret. I opted for a dear family friend to go with me instead to the doctor. She didn't try to give me advice or consolation. She listened and agreed, no questions asked. I came to the easy conclusion that cancer sucks.
The words ran together so fast it was like staccato music flying through the air. Stage IIIA breast cancer. Options for treatment. Laundry list of side effects for each. Survival rates.
"Cancer Survivor." Really? There wasn't going to be a survival of the "me" that existed before I walked into that office. She died with that sticky note.
That person was one who didn't have to wonder what she would look like, feel like afterwards. She was concerned about vacation plans, budgeting for a new home, preschool woes, and insuring homework was done…and trying to conceive baby number three and hopefully number four later on.
Who I was before had dreams for the future -- of raising her family together with her spouse, of growing old and playing with grandkids.
The "future" of the new me was getting to another birthday in two months.
As devastating as the news was for me to receive, the greater pain came from telling my family. My husband is also my best friend, my champion who can fix anything, but couldn't fix this. My already elderly parents struggled to maintain and give me their strength.
My precious children, age three and seven, didn't understand anything more than, "I want my mama." Neighbors, coworkers, friends and church members all rallied to support. At times, their need to "be there for me" seemed much more about them. I found the kindness smothering. I just wanted to be alone or with my immediate family.
Due to complications, the surgery, treatment, and "recovery" process took the better part of a year. Looking back, the time is a blur.
I lost my job although not due to my cancer, of course. I missed out on countless holidays and family events and endured battling guilt as one of my parents experienced a life-altering stroke that was partially attributed to stress.
During one of my counseling sessions, I was told that relationships were either strengthened or shattered by cancer. I went into my battle certain that we would be an example of the former. We had a steel-like bond that could undergo whatever came our way.
I can share that there were days… weeks…even months where that was in question. We hung on because we had to.
BC (before cancer), my partner and I enjoyed a fantastic sex life. We loved exploring one another, finding new ways to please and excite each other. Touch, massage and endless caresses were one way that he had of melting me each and every time.
AD (after diagnosis), things changed. Before the surgery we were so conscious of how my body was about to change. After surgery, both of us were so wary of the physical changes. I found my body ugly. I was mortified by how my once full breasts that had nurtured our children and sexually aroused my husband looked now. My libido was next to nil as well.