By Ayesha Hakki
August 14, 2014. Post One
I’m staring at this text document on my laptop with fingers poised, somewhat unsure, over the keyboard. How do I start talking about the sudden, unexpected direction my life has taken?
I Have Breast Cancer.
Do I want to talk about it? How do I pose this? What will people say?
What will I say?
You hear about cancer all the time, but never really understand the magnitude of the word until you actually experience it. Even now, it hasn’t quite sunk in, cancer.
A few weeks ago, upon the insistence of my new Obamacare primary doctor, I went for a regularly scheduled mammogram. What I thought was going to be a rather uncomfortable, but routine exam turned into an appointment for a secondary mammogram (and sonogram) of my breasts, which in itself resulted in a biopsy of my right breast that lead to me sitting in Sloan-Kettering being told I have Stage 0-1 breast cancer.
That’s exactly how quickly it happened. In a matter of three weeks, everything I have ever thought about myself has been detoured off my inertia and diverted in a direction I never really expected to take, the magnitude of which has yet to settle in.
I am lucky I guess. They found it early enough that my treatment will consist of surgery and radiation and–thank you God–no chemotherapy. When I asked the good doctor how it came to be, he said, “One in ten women will develop breast cancer. You just happened to be the ‘one.’”
On a side note: I have gone my whole life waiting for a man to tell me I am the “one.” Perhaps I should’ve been more clear in my Ask of the Universe of what kind of “one” I was hoping to be.
Another “one,” my dear friend Payal was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and underwent a distance of treatment that I will not have to…God willing. This tiny woman endured a round of chemo that would break the strongest of men and came out the other side healthy and rid (but not free) of this insidious and stupid disease.
Cancer. It’s a very scary word and as well as it should be because some of us are lucky to live…some of us aren’t. Right now, I simply feel that I chose the wrong duck in the pond, and now, I will journey to the end of my days with the C-word trailing behind me … like a balloon tied to my wrist. These days we hear of so many people being diagnosed with some form of cancer that it is almost like an epidemic. With advances in modern medicine, particularly with breast cancer, it no longer needs to be a death sentence, and in my case, my medical team doesn’t expect it to be.
I am lucky. Early detection caught the cancer in time, and I will live…with treatment and a commitment to a major lifestyle change, but I’m thinking about the woman sitting next to me in the radiologist’s waiting room who couldn’t stop coughing. “Uh, uh, uh,” she rasped, every minute or so, and I offered to bring her a cup of water to which she apologized, “Sorry, the radiation has weakened my lungs.”
The very next thing I remember was my name being called in for the biopsy.
Treatment depends very much on how early you catch the disease and how well you endure the treatments and cope with the position this disease places you in. Payal, a survivor and a fighter, is the guide in my new funhouse of mirrors. Although I admit to being utterly scared, I see in her a daily example of a woman who has triumphed over this potentially life-threatening condition. Knowing her since her initial diagnosis a few years ago, I have witnessed the top-to-bottom changes the disease causes in a person from lifestyle, to daily routine, to relationships, to work choices, to overall perspective. Cancer challenges you and changes you, making each healthy step a small victory in what I am realizing is a life long war. With her magnificent example in front of me and her advice and support, I hope that I too will make it through to the other side.
Cancer is a rollercoaster, I have oft heard it been said. While you are comfortably navigating the undulating rails of an expected life, you suddenly find yourself dropping in a deafening speed that jerks and rattles you to your very core. The only difference is that unlike the carnival line you willingly join, waiting to board the ride, analyzing and preparing for its every loop and dip, this ride is murky, unexpected and you never really know how it will end until you reach the other side. All you can do is hang on and hope you’ll arrive safely back at the platform.
My ride has begun. I’m not sure if I’m ready, but I do know that I will come out on the other side greeted by the bouyant chords of the carousal and an armful of cotton candy.