My Cancer Story: Guest Post by Jenni Laurita
A Note from Fatty: We are still right in the middle of the contest where you can win a Giant TCR Advanced SL, outfitted with the all-new Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed group, not to mention a bunch of other fantastic prizes. Click here for details, or click here to donate for a chance to win.
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Guest Post Author: Jenni Laurita has been a reader and commenter on this blog for years and years. Much more importantly, she’s been a Team Fatty Philly powerhouse fundraiser and troop-rallying organizer. She is one of the absolute nicest people you could ever meet, has an incredible smile, and — when push comes to shove — is the first to volunteer to ride a lime:
Shot while a group of us were walking around during the Ride for the Roses a couple years ago)
Jenni is also a breast cancer survivor.
A few weeks ago — along with lots and lots of other people — waited and worried that her breast cancer had come back. And I — along with lots and lots of other people — was incredibly relieved when tests (finally!) showed that it hadn’t. I’m pretty sure that the shortest email I have ever received from Jenni is also the best. It was just one word: “Benign!”
So this year when — like last year — it came time to select a ride ambassador from Team Fatty to ride the Tour de Pink, Jenni was already top-of-mind. I asked her to go do the three-day ride this weekend and bring back a report, telling us all about it.
For today, I asked Jenni to tell her story, for a first person account of what the fight against breast cancer is like for a young woman. Read it, and then make sure you take the time to donate in the fundraiser we’re doing right now. Because while winning a bike would be cool, helping a foundation specifically targeted toward helping people like Jenni — or Susan, or Michelle — is even cooler.
My Cancer Story, by Jenni Laurita
“Yes, the results are here, but the doctor who reads them won’t be in until Tuesday, “ the increasingly rude receptionist said.
“Well, is there any doctor there that can read them? I’m really nervous.”
“There is, but he’s not the one who reads the tests.”
“You’re going to leave me waiting until Tuesday to find out if I have cancer because another doctor can’t give me my results?” I said, Friday afternoon.
“Ma’am, even if he could read you the results, if it was something bad you’d have to come in for an appointment”.
The next call I got about 10 minutes later simply said, “Can you come in right now?”
And in that office that day I heard the word for the first time.
I really don’t think I heard any other words that day other than “cancer,” over and over again. I don’t remember the doctor’s name, I don’t remember his description or speech, I only remember “cancer” and his unusually hairy arms — it was like a pelt of thick arm fur.
I was 33.
I sat in the parking lot, unable to drive, and I called my mother. I said, “Well, I got the best of the worst news” and told her that at this point it seems like we had caught it extremely early. In what amounted to a mistaken prescription given to me for a mammogram I was rightly too young to have prescribed by a doctor who had his license revoked for drug and alcohol abuse (and whom I tried desperately to avoid getting an appointment with that day), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Very tiny “grains of sand” showed up in the moonscape image of my right breast. I had no intention of following up on his prescription, until at the end of the appointment he looked in my eyes and said, “Promise me you’ll go.”
And so began my journey into the awful world of cancer. I had test after test after test. Every shadow, every perceived anomaly in both breasts was biopsied, a titanium marker left behind each time to mark the areas of concern. I look forward to the day I own a titanium bicycle, such a matchy matchy girl I am.
I turned into a human pincushion. The first few made me very upset; needles and I aren’t friends. By the last biopsy of that year, though, I was over it. I didn’t even stop eating my apple while the now-familiar team did what they do.
I had surgery in what can only be described as the most archaic and anachronistic of medical procedures, the details of which I’ll spare you. I bounded up the stairs post-surgery to cheerfully say goodbye to my surgeon, I was wearing Livestrong yellow.
And bad news: not clear margins, another surgery.
I asked if we could do it now. Today. Let’s go, get this done. My surgeon described how I needed to heal first before they cut me or it would be like shredding the carving of the Thanksgiving turkey. I had long become accustomed to people’s careless words. It seemed each conversation lately started with a story about someone who died of cancer, someone who had a botched surgery, someone who was currently dying.
If I could impart anything to the world through this forum it’s this: ask how the person is doing, offer help and support (from the mundane to the elaborate if you’re so inclined), and then zip it.
Ultimately, I did not need chemotherapy and — against medical advice — I refused radiation. I prayed, I meditated, I read scientific studies until I couldn’t see straight. And I listened to my body telling me the right choice for me; radiation was not without its risks. My inner voice saved my life before and I promised myself I’d never ignore it again. I could deal with recurrence more than I could deal with betraying my instincts and myself.
My surgery was Halloween 2008 (yes of course I showed up in costume, and insisted my cat ears and tail stay on); I was declared “cancer free” December 1 after the second surgery.
And so began followup.
Every three months, some form of test. Then I could stretch it to six months. Finally, I was put in the annual category: a momentous day!
Then, a few months ago, I went for a routine checkup to schedule my routine MRI and was told they don’t do that anymore, insurance is giving too hard a time paying for MRIs. Long story short, I fought and insisted on the MRI and got it. And then I got the phone call.
“The scan is not clear.” And then all I heard was a bunch of Charlie Brown teacher noise: “Wah wah wah wah.” I made it through the phone call, hung up, and lost my composure.
Ok, losing my composure would be stubbing my toe and spilling my coffee. This was composure-obliterating ugly-cry. Through choking sobs I called my mother. Again. And again, heard her wishes that she could take it from me. And then I told my new sweetheart. Welcome to the world of being with a cancer survivor. He stepped up like a hero and held me every step of the way, what a monument of love.
In rare fashion, I shared my struggle with many people around me. I was loath to hear people’s scary words, but the support and love and outpouring of awesome from so many far outweighed the scary stories which I have now become adept at interrupting. Team Fatty family rallied around me. There were offers to drive hundreds of miles to be with me, there were frequent texts, calls, emails.
So the cycle began again, test after test after test. Targeted ultrasound, mammogram, enhanced mammogram, extra pictures mammogram. Each one failing to give me an all clear. I needed MRI-guided biopsies.
After a week of waiting for availability and more tears than I could count, I had my MRI biopsies and in the most-underwhelming call of the decade, I got a nurse on the phone to matter of factly tell me:
I hugged the first person I saw, whom — thankfully — I knew. Strangers in Wal-Mart were not so lucky when my mother found out.
So now I’m back to three-month follow-up, and though I’m not completely out of the woods right now, I’m well on my way.