Monday, August 13, 2012

Finding Hope

It's 4:15AM and I'm wide awake.  The love of my life is asleep beside me, and I'm trying to control the nervous shivers in my hands and knees.  As I rest my wrists on my cold laptop, I settle down.  Today is a big day.  Today we meet the breast surgeon and the medical oncologist at Dana Farber to start to devise our plan of attack.  Today we start to add medical experts to our already formidable team of people ready to kill off this cancer.

The first step of any real plan is to isolate the enemy and learn their game.  I believe that the biopsy will be able to tell us some of what sustains the intruder -- what types of proteins, hormones, or some other chemicals it reacts to, likes, powers off of.  I'm no doctor, but I'd guess they're trying to figure out how to cut off its food supply.

Of the little I know about cancer, I do know that it feeds off itself, which means we'll need to hunt the enemy down -- find out where its gone and how long it's been there.  This is by far the scariest part of the battle for me, at least so far.  Since the pre-diagnosis by the radiologist (that I wrote about earlier), and the confirmatory biopsy results (a dark day that I have not yet had the will to document), I have felt cancer everywhere - in my neck, my head, my arms, my back, my knee.  It's silly really -- I mean, could a knee ache really be cancer?  Perhaps my back hurts because my son weighs 50 pounds and I had to drag him up to his room for a time-out when he tackled my daughter for trying to borrow his (or better yet, her) ride-a-long Pooh truck.  (Don't worry, she can stand her ground, and since time-outs pretty much mean nothing to Teddy anymore, it's really just a way to get a few minutes of peace and quiet downstairs, and give Annabel an uninterrupted turn on the toy.  Bad parenting?  Perhaps.  Another explanation, aside from cancer, for my back ache?  Hopefully.)

Anyways, after our appointments today, we will schedule tests so that that can see through me.  I wish I could just go to the Logan Airport, take my shoes off, and stand in one of those security machines.  The whole line behind me can wait and grumble, and I'll just yell back, "Chill out.  They're just finding where the terrorist is in me.  Then I'll be on my way."  Then again, yelling "terrorist" in an airport is probably not a good idea.  So I'll go the hospital route and lie dazed through MRI, bone scans, and CT scans.  I'll probably be glowing by the time the week is done.  And not the new bride kind of glowing.  But, in sickness and in health, right?

So that's today's plan.  But I really set out this early morning to write about hope.  I've seen that word around lot, but I've haven't ever felt it's true meaning until now.  Now I know it as a gift that was given to us by three truly lovely women at the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center.  My mother is the Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Services at Winchester Hospital (can you tell I'm kinda proud of her?).  On Friday, the day after my official diagnosis, she scheduled an appointment for her, Brian and I to meet with two nurses, Christine and Pat, to sit down and get our bearings in the world of breast cancer, a world completely foreign to all of us until now.

I got so car sick (or maybe worry sick, I'm still not sure which) on the way to the appointment that I spent the first few minutes hurled over the toilet waiting to throw up.  I didn't, probably because I had barely been able to eat anything in days.  We floated into a small, comfortable conference room, so dazed and so devastated that we barely knew our own names.

Then Christine took my hand.  I am not a religious person, but the only word I can think of to describe her is an angel.  An angel is someone who picks you up from the darkest place and puts you in a comfortable one, right?  Then she's an angel because that's what she did for me.  I can barely remember what she said to me.  All I can remember is that she gave me hope.  While I had let my mind go as far as to wonder where I wanted my ashes scattered, she gave me the pep talk of my life.  She told me with her words, and convinced me with the look in her eye, that I would beat this.  Brian and my mom felt it too.  It was magical.

Pat, the other most wonderful nurse, and Christine somehow found the perfect balance of medical information, compassion, empathy, and encouragement.  Most importantly, they helped me with a paradigm shift I didn't even know I needed.  They helped me realize that this will be a journey.  I will get answers I won't like, maybe a higher stage of cancer than I'd appreciate (although I'd really like a negative zero stage so I guess I've already had to stomach that one).  But those answers all become part of the plan, part of the attack.  We will adjust better than the enemy can, and we will defeat it.  I felt (part of) the weight of the world lifted.  Even if this did prove to be a complicated fight, it would be a fight nonetheless, and I would have a say in the outcome.  I would have a team of the best doctors in the world.  And I would have my family and friends by my side.  Together, we would control my destiny.  For the first time in days, I felt like I landed back on planet earth.  I felt like I was me again.

The third woman who joined us, an absolutely lovely surgeon from Winchester Hospital helped me with my "cancer has invaded my whole body" fear by explaining that at one point she thought she had bed bugs and she itched for days.  Once it was confirmed that there were no bed bugs, she realized the true power of the imagination.  I am praying for no bed bugs this week, and hoping that I just have one awesome imagination!

When I got home, my in-laws came over.  They are two of the most caring, comforting people I've ever met.  I cried when I hugged them, but it was a different cry -- one less full of fear and more full of thanks.  Then I started to read the countless emails, Facebook comments, and texts, and listen to the voice mail messages that hundreds of people had left for me.  I honestly mean this when I say that those messages gave me my life back.  They made me realize I am still here, still a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a lawyer and writer and a teacher.  Still a force to be reckoned with.

I've never had a day like Friday August 10.  I feel like I started it in a coffin and ended it in the sunlight.  That, to me, is hope.


I had to add a Winston Churchill quote just sent to me from my cousin, Kenyon:

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . . "


  1. Dearest Tara,
    I am just catching up the battle that you are waging. I am astounded by your strength, honesty, and courage, in sharing your thoughts and the thoughts themselves. It so healthy that you are feeling all these feelings, the fear, the hope, the sadness, the love for your family and friends. You are attacking this with a healthy mind, the most powerful weapon!
    You will beat this!
    With lots of awe and love,
    Alli (Marshall) Geller

  2. Tara,
    I am so sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis. I know that you will beat this cancer, not only are you an amazing and strong person, but you have such a great support system behind you. I give you so much credit for sharing all your raw feelings in your blog, your writing is beautiful. While it sounds like you are already very connected with the best dr.s in Boston, a cousin of mine has been an oncology nurse at MGH for the past 8 years, so please let me know if you would like me to put you in touch with anyone over there. You are in my thoughts and prayers and I'm hoping you get as good of an answer as you can hope today.

    Lyndsey Wakeham

  3. Just as you can imagine the worst, as in the pain in your knee...or the doctor's bedbugs, so too can you imagine the best...perfect health...and as you were, in the not too distant past, in great health, it should be very familiar to you to recall what great health feels like...remind yourself each day, what grat health feels like...and you will develop neurons in your brain that will allow you to heal...Think about great,when you close your eyes, and take deep breaths, you can visulaize your own body's defenses working to eradicate the longer retreating, but attacking...putting up a wall so that the enemy will not penetrate any further...visualize your defenses attacking from all sides.