* story of sarah

When the doctor uttered the word “Malignant” on a cool November morning, I felt like a huge load was suddenly dumped on me. My first reaction was “you got to be kidding me”. The dreaded worditself is quite loaded and then the way it was delivered, so abruptly. I was baffled and was trying to explain to her that she is looking at a healthy person who just completed her 2nd Marine Corp marathon only two or three weeks prior. But words must have failed me because she was not listening to me, rather instructing me on my next course of actions. That’s where my ordeal with cancer began in early November 2009.

I scheduled my annual mammogram every year around Fall and considered these annual visits more of an inconvenience but necessary chores. After my mammogram appointment I checked off one of the annual “to do” from my list until I received a phone call from my doctor’s office. The doctor reviewed the film and the report from the radiologist and asked me to get a more detailed mammogram. I thought of how inconvenient it was since I was working on wrapping up a client work that had a dead line so that we can go on a three weeks family vacation to Bangladesh. I reluctantly made the appointment for the detailed mammogram! Things started to escalate from that moment.
The results of the detailed mammogram took me to my doctor’s office for a consultation that I was not really ready for. I arrived for my appointment a few minutes early and was told that my regular doctor was still tied up in surgery but if I wanted, I could see another doctor in that practice. I reluctantly agreed and that was my first wake up call. The doctor walks in and looks at the slides and then told me quite abruptly and directly, she thinks there are some calcifications and these may be Malignant and I need to see a general surgeon at my earliest. “Malignant” I said, and she snapped back, “I did not say it is malignant but it may be and you need to see a surgeon”. Wow! Its early morning and I haven’t had my first cup of coffee yet and you are sharing this information with me in such a swift and utter impersonal manner! I counted ten in my mind and asked her if she had any recommendation for a surgeon. Like I said, I knew I was in good health, the only complain I ever had was weight management and that’s more for vanity than anything else.
I walked out of the doctor’s office armed with the name of the surgeon and got in my car and went to Starbucks! I need a double dose of coffee now. I ordered a large coffee and called the surgeons office. I got an early appointment and then called my husband. I told him what I found out and he was quiet for a few seconds. I told him that I’m fine and will deal with this as soon as we get back from our vacation! I knew in my heart that this news is not going to impact our plans, we just had to find a work around… Iwent back to work and got busy with my deadline and deliverables…
I showed up for the surgeon’s appointment and she told me that this is a minor surgery and that I should do it after I return in early January. I asked her, what type of surgery, she was vague and did not go into any kind of details that I could understand and research. I was not too happy but I walked out of there feeling that I needed more information. That evening we had a dinner invitation at a friend’s place and I saw a dear friend of mine, Shilpi who is a Cardiologist. I whispered to her what was unfolding since my detailed mammogram. She listened and calmly told me to cancel the surgery appointment and go have a good time in Bangladesh, and in the meantime, she would find me a great breast surgeon and get me an appointment as soon as I get back from Bangladesh. That’s all I needed to hear and off we went on our vacation with our two minor children then ages 4.5 and 7 years.
If I told you that the thought of looming uncertainty didn’t bother me, it will not be the whole truth but I made a deliberate effort push this “uncertainty” aside. I told myself “que se-ra, se-ra” what will be, will be. The most important moment is now and I wanted to soak in the moment and enjoy every bit of it.
January 2010 could not come soon enough and I learned more things in the next few months than I have in the past several decades. Winter in Maryland is usually not that severe but the winter of 2010 seemed to have come with a vengeance. We had multiple snow storms that dumped over two feet of snow. That meant school cancellation and getting marooned in the house for several days.
True to her word, Shilpi made an appointment with Dr. Michael Schultz, Director of the Breast Center at St. Joseph Medical Center in mid January, 2010. I walked into his office with my husband and since then Dr. Schultz has become an important person in my life, so is Dr. Lickstein, Dr. Couzi, Jessica, Susan, Barbara, and a host of others.
Irony! As we were waiting to see Dr. Schultz, we were watching the breaking news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and they were showing all kind of human suffering and disillusion that rocked the island nation in such a swift and devastating manner. As a mother I accepted my predicament as well as I could with a sense of gratitude – I had a picture in my mind, had I been a Haitian Mom pinned down under the rubble and hearing my children crying and moaning but I could not get out to help them, how devastating would that be. I appreciated the blessings I was showered with and believed in myheart how fortunate I was in the whole scheme of things, my uncertainly looked remarkably pale and insignificant. I was appreciative that I could still go home and hug my children enjoy their laughter and cries, heard their soft breath at night… if I did not feel fortunate I didn’t know who would. For the next several weeks and months, I watched the unspeakable human anguish and knew in my heart that I was one heck of a lucky person and the minor inconveniences that I was going through was pale compared tothe unspeakable human tragedy.
I learned more medical terms related to my specific type of breast cancer – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ(DCIS). I learned numerous types of tests ultrasound, MRI, BRCA test to name a few. I learned to wait for test results, decipher complicated medical terms, and I continued with my Bikram Yoga, reading books, living and enjoying the “present”. My goal was to get through the process as fast as possible and with minimum disruption to my family.
I had my first surgery on March 12, 2010 and subsequently had two other surgeries to correct some surgery related infections. All along the process I was blessed with great family and friends’ support that paved the uncertain roads for me and my family. My children stayed on my side and were the biggest cheerleaders to get me back to “Mom mode” in a few weeks after each surgery. They are and always will be the rock of my life just like my husband, sister, parents, and all my friends and countless well-wishers. To this day I’m indebted to all of them to hold my hands and cheer me on and lent me their shoulders to lean on.
Four months after my last surgery, I finished my 3rd marathon on October 30, 2010. Okay, I have nothing to brag about my finish time, but it was a nice seal of approval that I am on my way to leaving all my “uncertainties” behind and move on to being healthy person and helping others to go through the journey. My goal is to reach out to people who may need a little helping hand or a few minutes to listen to their stories. I have also made a point to unapologetically tell women the importance of “self test”and mammograms. I believe it’s better to be cognizant and aware of oneself than being blindsided by it.
I am grateful for the life and love I have and I cherish my family and friends. My experience reinforced me to laugh from the bottom of my heart and I accept the things as the way they are. I still believe in “planting impossible gardens and making friends with peace, freedom and uncertainty”.
Sarah A

August 2011

 

One Response to “* story of sarah”

  1. Friend of Adhunika says:

    good luck Sarah as you start your 3 Day Walk in few hours, we will be thinking of you. you go girl!!!

    here is the route, cheer’em if you see the walkers 🙂 – http://www.the3day.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011_living_route&autologin=true

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Adhunika blog is launched with a mission to share knowledge among women from every walk of life. Sometime it would be in the form of sharing experience to find a feasible solution of a problem; sometime it would be in the form of professional consultation, which Adhunika group will arrange for its bloggers. Nevertheless, the intent of this blog always remains the same - to help and empower women through a common web-based platform....read more

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