I. The Diagnosis

I’ll never forget exactly where I was when I had to call my mom and tell her the news. I jumped in a cab on my way home from the doctor’s office in Midtown. At the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush, my mom picked up the phone and I choked out the news: the bump on my shoulder is serious. It’s a rare cancer.

Together we wiped away tears sniffling through what-ifs and game-planning as I walked up to my old roommate’s fourth floor apartment where I had been staying. The sun beamed through the windows as it turned to Golden Hour. On the phone, I sat in near darkness until Jeff got home. My mom tucked away from my younger sisters.

In the office with the doctor, I was nervous, but composed — almost anticipating the diagnosis based on my late night, deep dives and focused research on the internet. Jeff accompanied me and recorded the conversation while I came prepared with a list of questions snug under my leg at the appointment. In this moment with my mom, however, I wasn’t prepared — I didn’t know what to say. Reality set it, it wasn’t impacting just me. I was on the phone listening to my mom’s heart breaking and wishing that it was her. Even now, it’s difficult to think about without a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Calling my family with the news was quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.

In the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, I had cried most of the tears from my own fears and pain in the passing of a few friends and friends of friends — all very young, all from cancer. I watched via Instagram as they and their families coped with providing comfort in their final days and weeks. It had been a tough year with so much loss already. In the days around my own biopsy, I devoured When Breath Becomes Air and confronted so many of the moving questions Paul writes about. It was a primer in facing the realities that soon followed on June 6, or [coincidentally] D-Day: Diagnosis Day.

Over wood-fired pizza and rosé that night, my old roommates and I sat outside under the strung café lights at one of our favorite spots. We were just around the corner from our old place at 487, and it was a beautiful out: one of those early summer nights, no bugs, a slight breeze, no humidity. Exhibit A of why I love summer in the city so much. It was Gabe’s birthday, and I felt terrible that my news had overshadowed the day. Through highs and lows over the last [almost exactly] four years, Jeff, Gabe, and Dennis had been my compatriots at 487 — random Craigslist roommates turned brothers I never had; they welcomed me to the city like Jess on New Girl. In no time we were family. Now off to our own adventures — Dennis in Cambridge for grad school, Jeff now married, and Gabe with a new job. Tonight though [sans Dennis], it was just like old times, we were recapping our days, shooting the breeze, and toasting with hope to new adventures.

We walked home with full bellies and a slight buzz, and in bed, like many nights before, I combed the internet until I drifted off to sleep still in my clothes from the day. The next afternoon, my mom arrived in NYC — her first solo trip to see me — and we started to chip away at the research of what synovial sarcoma entailed — the what/where/when/how we were going to tackle this. The only way: together.

Read II. The PET Scan, III. The Prognosis, and IV. Rosey Outlook of this journey →