Not surprisingly, when I asked my surgeon to repeat herself and heard the words “invasive breast cancer” for the second time, I began to feel tears well up in my eyes. Clay had gone to the bus stop to pick up the kids, so I had a few minutes to myself. And I cried. Some. But I knew they were coming home, and I didn’t want to be a mess when the kids walked in. Since I’d had a minor surgery that morning, I knew they’d be worried about me and would want to give me a hug. I was so glad to have a few minutes to gain my composure. There were a few tears when I told Clay, then we talked about the next steps. Not the next year. Just the next week and the next months of treatment. From that time on, there were very few tears. From me, anyway.
I remember the first time I had a young friend diagnosed with breast cancer. Oh, how I cried. We weren’t really close friends, more acquaintances, frankly. But her daughter was close to Emma Clare’s age, and I was probably a bit over dramatic. I immediately began thinking of all the things I wanted to tell Emma Clare, to teach her, to do with her. And I cried that this friend might not get to do all those things with her daughter. I cried for her, but really I cried for myself.
But by the time I had to start telling people that I had cancer, I’d had time to process the information. I’d had time to cry my tears and find my composure. It’s funny, but no one tells you that once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re likely to be hugging a lot of crying people and comforting them. They haven’t had the time to process, and they can’t do a thing about it. They’re stuck with the emotional impact and utter helplessness. Sure, I was affected on an emotional level. I’m not a robot. But I had things to do, appointments to make and show up for, schedules to organize. I didn’t really have time to sit and cry.
Honestly, after that first day, I only really remember crying three times. Once, I was just so tired, I wasn’t sleeping well, and it was more about the fatigue. I cried when we told the kids. There’s something about a five year old’s first reaction being, “So, you’re going to die?” that will bring tears to a momma’s eyes. I had decided to be very honest with them, but that wasn’t a thought I was going to let them entertain, so I quickly answered with, “Oh, no,” before telling them what my treatment would likely entail. Besides the kids, most people were far to afraid to ask anything so honest, and we stuck to logistics for the most part. I had that down cold, no hint of emotion there. But I remember one day really early on, before I’d even talked with the oncologist, Sally had come with me to an appointment and we only had time to grab a quick lunch before she had to head back to her kiddos. We ate at Chick-fil-A, I can remember which table. And I remember her words, half question, half statement. “But it’s treatable.” My friend wanted to know if I would die. And the quick answer I found to reassure my kiddos just wouldn’t come. I fought tears as I cobbled together every positive statement I could think of. We found it early, it seems small, I’m young and healthy… A few tears, a deep breath, and then I moved on with the conversation. Not because there’s anything wrong with crying. But because I just had to.