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My Boobs Are Trying To Kill Me

Well, really just the left one. I’m not one of those people who names their boobs (more power to you if you are, though), but if I were to name my left boob now, I’d give it one of those names I really hate. Maybe, for instance, “Donald.”

This fall Donald decided to grow an enormous lump that I noticed one evening while lying in bed. Numerous doctors and nurses would later ask me if I detected Donald’s misdeeds while doing a breast self-exam, but I didn’t. I do them, or try to, but Donald was so obvious about it that no poking or prodding was necessary. That would come later.

So I went to my primary care doctor and told on Donald, which led to ultrasounds, and then a biopsy, and then a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma. I have breast cancer. I’m 26 years old. Guys, I’m really, really fucking pissed at Donald right now.

My other boob (which will remain unnamed, because I refuse to take this joke to its logical conclusion) is an innocent bystander in all this. But while my genetic test results are still pending, I’m honestly thinking that after I’m through with chemo, I’ll probably go ahead and get rid of that one too. Just to be safe. Sorry, unnamed right boob, but I’m not going through this bullshit twice. Donald ruined it for all of us. As Donalds are wont to do.

Now that I’ve been living with this reality for all of two and a half weeks, I’m more or less used to it and joke about it a lot. (Finding out after a week of waiting that the cancer hadn’t spread and was stage 2 also helped.) But the first week was hell. I cried a lot and said absolutely ridiculous things like “I wish they’d just let me die in peace” and “I am definitely going to die of cancer because the odds of me getting it in the first place were so small that it doesn’t matter if there’s a ’90% survival rate’” and “Now I don’t even get to go to Montreal for Thanksgiving” (actually, according to my doctor, there’s no reason not to go and I may still go if I feel well enough, since it aligns well with my chemo schedule).

But when I wasn’t crying and screaming about how I’m going to die, I had moments of totally ethereal placidity. I keep telling the story of how I found out because I think it says a lot about me. It was noonish on Monday, October 30, and I was walking from my office to the nearby Chipotle to pick up my lunch order. As I entered the restaurant, my phone rang and I saw it was the hospital. I ran back outside into the cold and took the call. “Yes, this is she.” “Yes, I can talk right now.” “…oh.”

When I finished with the call, I calmly put my phone back in my coat pocket, turned around, and walked back into the restaurant. I went to the pickup counter. The guy who works there is used to seeing me every day, so as usual he said some version of, “Here you go, have a great day!” And I smiled as I took it and said, “You too!”

Obviously, I never ate that burrito bowl. As much as I wish this were a story about my undying love for Chipotle, even immediately post-cancer diagnosis, that’s not why I went back for it. That bowl ended up sitting on my desk at work while I sobbed in my boss’s office, cooling politely in my roommate’s backseat when she came to take me home from work, and then congealing rather awkwardly on my kitchen table while I sat with my parents in the living room, strategizing and crying some more. Eventually it ended up in the trash along with all of my hopes of having anything like a normal life ever again.

Which brings me back to why I picked up the burrito bowl in the first place. I may not be the best at remembering how statistics work when I’ve just been told that my fucking boob (of all things) is killing me, but I’m very good at organizing and compartmentalizing. Picking up the fucking Chipotle order was the last act of a life that was ending. A new life, a scarier and more painful but also more vulnerable and intuitive life, was knocking on my door, ready to take its place. I had to finish what I could of the old life before I could open the door. Picking up a burrito bowl was the only thing I got to finish, so it would have to do.

Another example: I got rid of (most) of my hair before the chemo could. WHAT NOW.

Being 26 and having cancer — especially breast cancer — is weird*. Most of the other people in the waiting room are twice my age or more. Most have spouses with them. I have my parents, and although there’s absolutely nobody else in the world I’d rather have in those waiting rooms with me, it does make me feel weirdly hypervisible. During one of the early days, I was sobbing in a waiting room next to my parents and an older woman walked past us and said, “God bless you. God bless all of you.”

But my atheist ass was actually very touched by this. After hearing over and over from both doctors and non-doctors that “at least you’re still young so you’ll handle chemo better,” I felt like that woman actually saw us in our collective grief at that moment and acknowledged it.

My family, friends, partners, coworkers, and assorted medical professionals have all come through amazingly and I’ve experienced an outpouring of support that I couldn’t have even imagined as a possibility. So much so that I’m keeping a little notebook where I record everything nice anyone does for me during this time so that I can thank them properly and in detail later, even after chemo has ravaged my focus and short-term memory and all that.

Yet sometimes it still feels like Donald and I are battling it out on our own. Fucking Donald. There were so many ways to be.

My oncologist said: “Just so you know, even when chemo is effective, the tumor won’t shrink until a few weeks into treatment. Some people wake up the day after chemo like it’s Christmas morning, trying to feel and see if it’s gotten smaller — “

I feel personally attacked by this relatable content.

And also by my boobs. Specifically, Donald.

During the first week after my diagnosis, I kept wondering how the fuck I’m supposed to even interact with people, like what to say when people innocently ask “How are you?”. What do I say? “Cancerous, and yourself”?

But now I can usually answer that question honestly with, “I’m okay.” That answer may change next week as all those chemo side effects start setting in, and within a month or two I may turn into a crotchety fatigued asshole, but probably not.

I will probably also survive, because I simply don’t know what else there is to do.

* I’ve been fortunate to find some awesome resources for young people with cancer: Stupid Cancer and Young Survival Coalition. Fellow “What? Cancer? But you’re so young!”-ers, you’re not alone!

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