Metters Musings

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The Unchosen Journey
June 12, 2006

Sometimes life throws you curve ball. You plan your life, you go about your business, and then out of the blue your world turns upside down. Suddenly your plans and routines go out the window and you have to start improvising. How well you improvise is critical to how well you handle the unexpected. It can devastate you or you can make the best of it. Or better yet, you can use it as an opportunity to better your life and the lives of others. I know that last option sounds like a cheesy load of crap, but in all seriousness, it really is possible to make the best of the worst. Even when you think you have no choice, you still have choices.

Just a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What the hell?!! I am only 39. To say this came as a shock is a severe understatement. I had no idea this was coming. There was no suspicious lump, no warning whatsoever. I went in for a routine mammogram and things snowballed from there. This was going to be the first of my annual mammograms that most women start at age 40. Since I turn 40 in July, my doc and I thought I should just go ahead and start the mammograms now. The result? After a second mammogram and a biopsy, they confirm I have cancer. Happy birthday to me.

I will never forget that moment when the doctor told us. Bill and I were waiting anxiously in the exam room to get the results of the biopsy, so stressed we both felt sick. We could hear the doc outside the door grab my chart, and then talk in hushed tones to the nurse before coming in. We tried to make out what he was saying but the only thing I caught was, "she's so young". Not a good sign.

"Well, we have a problem," he said after a short greeting. He handed me the pathology report. It was all in doctor-speak of course, and I didn't understand most of it. But there was no mistaking what he was referring to. My eyes zeroed in on the word "carcinoma" - I know what that means. It means I have cancer. Not good. Not good at all.

Immediately the tears started flowing. The nurse handed me a tissue and then the surgeon started rattling off info and statistics and treatment possibilities. It was all a blur. I caught maybe a third of what he said, if that. All I could think about was that I have cancer. My God, I have cancer. He's right; I'm too young for this. My mom was 71 when she got breast cancer. How did I manage to get it at 39? Is this really happening? How could I possibly have cancer???

I will never be able to fully express what it felt like to get that news. The best way I can describe it was a mixture of dread and disbelief. My heart sank, and yet I wasn't sure it was really happening. Could this really be happening? Seriously??

I have no idea how long the doc went on talking. It felt like a million years but it was probably around 10 minutes. Then he said he wanted to take a look at my biopsy incision, so he left the room and asked me to put on a gown. As soon as he and the nurse left and shut the door, I turned to Bill and - laughing and crying at the same time - said, "Well the good news is that maybe I'll get new boobs." I'm not sure why I said that or why it even popped into my head at that particular moment. I said it without really thinking. But it was the first of many choices to come. I'm not going to let this devastate me.

Does this mean that I am full of sunshine and positive attitudes all the time? Hardly. I am stressed, and sad, and scared. My emotions are on a roller coaster right now. One minute I can be laughing, making jokes, and making light of it with friends, and the next minute I'll be driving home in my car and I'll be sobbing. I don't want this to be happening to me. I don't want to have to go through this. But I don't have a choice. Whether I wanted it or not I have cancer. I don't have any say about that. My plans and routines are out the window and I have to stop everything to deal with this. This may be an unchosen journey that I am embarking on, but it is still my journey. I can still make the best of the trip. It's going to be a rough road; I have no doubts about that. It's not going to be fun and it's probably going to be the hardest thing I ever have to do. But I believe, and I have the will, to find meaning in all of this. I will make it to the other side. And when I do, I believe I will be a better person for it. I may not have chosen the journey, but I can choose to make the most of the trip.

Copyright 2002 2008 Susan B. Metters.  All rights reserved.

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