Below is another excerpt from my book in progress, Feng Shui Animal House: Raking Sand in the Midst of the Chaos. It follows having the radiologist tell me that she was concerned about my follow-up mammogram results (click here to read about that).
In my family, I am the person who supports others when things get tough. Although my childhood years were difficult at times, my adult life had been relatively crisis free. I had spent years waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now it had. “It’s my turn to have something crappy happen,” I told my sister matter-of-factly.
My greater concern was how everybody else would take it. It was more than just telling people I was having a biopsy–I felt like the radiologist had told me as directly as she could that I probably had breast cancer.
Telling my mother, who had just lost her husband and had suffered a series of other tragedies in her life, was my biggest concern. I feared she would disintegrate with the news. I decided to wait until after I had the biopsy results to burden her with it. [Just for the record, my mother proved me wrong, amazing me with her strength and support once I did tell her.]
I knew it was better to seek the comfort of friends, but I could initially only muster the courage to share the information with a small circle of out-of-towners, whom I wouldn’t have to face immediately.
When my friend Susan in Pennsylvania emailed and suggested Friday, March 13th, to meet for a hike, I replied, “Sorry, getting a biopsy that day!” I told my sister Lisa in Seattle in an email entitled “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” (she had just had a medical scare of her own a couple of weeks before). I told my friend Marcia in New York (again in the safety of an email), worried how she would take it since she had lost her mother to breast cancer.
Finally, while hiding behind the locked door of the bathroom so my kids wouldn’t hear, I called my close-in-every-respect, including geographically, friend Alice, who was loading her kids into the car to get them to soccer practice. I choked out the news, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Troy, 13 at the time, knocked on the door to tell me he was going to a friend’s house. Max, then 10, erupted into a panic because he couldn’t find his athletic cup before his first lacrosse practice. Alice was fully focused, supportive, and said all the right things, despite the chaos I could hear in the background as her kids were climbing into the car with muddy feet.
The athletic cup emergency finally cut the conversation short. I drove my cup-less son to lacrosse practice, met the new coach, offered to help as a team parent even though I had never seen a lacrosse game in my life, and explored carpool options with another mom. Then I rushed to the sporting goods store, where I stood in front of a hundred athletic cups and asked the poor guy helping me, “How does somebody lose an athletic cup?” What I really wanted to ask him was, “Do I look like someone with breast cancer?”
I bought the one-size-fits all cup and raced back to the field like an ambulance driver, all the while thinking to myself “one in eight women globally get breast cancer. If I can do this favor to my mother and sisters and girlfriends to statistically reduce their chances of getting it, I can handle it.”
Have you had to give family and friends bad medical news, or have you been on the receiving end? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!