As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
Waiting is the hardest part when wondering about cancer complications.
I was attempting not to think about the possibility of more cancer.
For two months, I went about my life without my breast prosthesis. I had lost it, and my insurance paid for only one a year. It really didn’t matter because my special cancer bras had firm cups and when I wore them, I hardly needed the little prosthesis that fit on the one side of my bra. I looked fine. Plus it was the pandemic, and everyone had a pass in the “looks” department. My prosthesis was simply gone, and I thought I’d never find it again.
A key aspect of blogging about your cancer life is that you “sign” an unwritten contract to be honest. For this reason, I am going to admit that I am a cancer survivor slob. I’m messy, and for this reason, it will come as no surprise to you that I hadn’t decluttered our bedroom since the pandemic hit. That was in March, in case you forgot.
Our bedroom, the one that I shared with my dear husband who had suffered through two bouts of my cancer with me, was a bit nest-like. I liked to call it “the rat’s nest.” Piles of clothes sat on the floor. My sock basket was overflowing with unmatched socks. Good dresses and suits had slipped off the hangers in the closet and were lying on the ground. A pile of magazines lay next to my bed, where I’d tossed each one after I finished reading it.
But then, something happened. Last week I went back to teaching writing at the local university, albeit remotely, and something changed. Something interrupted the malaise I’d felt since COVID-19 began, and suddenly, I felt like cleaning. I couldn’t possibly do it in the daytime; at about 8:30 on Friday night, I tackled my mess.
In my cleaning that night, I found so many things that I hadn’t seen in six months. I found my burgundy, long-sleeved blouse with the bell sleeves; I found my nightgown that said, “Due to unfortunate circumstances, I am awake.” And, wait for it, I found my breast prosthesis. It was under a pile of clothing next to my dresser.
I was glad to have it back. I wore it then. It made me feel more put together and respectable.
Underneath it, was a bright purple lesion that my oncologist was following. I’d had the ugly spot for two weeks. She wanted me to inform her on Tuesday if it was gone. If it hadn’t disappeared, she was going to biopsy it.
But it was probably nothing. I’d had so many false alarms that I was not worried about this one. I felt a bit like a cat with nine lives. A cat in a prosthesis. (I hoped I had one or two more lives left.)
And so the truth went on, and the rat’s nest was no longer.
One week later. The saga continued. They wanted to biopsy it.
I asked my oncologist’s assistant what the lesion looked like, and she said, “It looks like a pimple, but it’s purple.”
“Well, should I ignore it?”
“No, we investigate unusual lesions on folks who’ve had cancer issues before. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
So the punch biopsy was Thursday. There were more days of uncertainty ahead.
The biopsy went swimmingly. It didn’t even hurt. My mother had been watching Mass on television and praying for me, and we were convinced this was why I had no pain.
At that point, I had a couple of stitches in my breast. Those would come out in about a week. I would learn my fate in the next few days. I was not too stressed, just extra tired. I’d feel much better when I knew definitively that the cancer hadn’t come back.
There was a lot to do to keep my mind off cancer. We celebrated my son’s 16th birthday. I received a set of 38 papers to grade. I taught remote classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, signing on happily as if nothing was happening. I wondered if I would need to quit teaching if I got cancer again. Cancer for the third time.
Can you say nightmare? Did I have cancer? Didn’t I have cancer? I couldn’t get through to the people at the breast cancer center to tell me what was going on. It was 10:00 AM, and they were still not picking up their phone. I kept getting their answering service. Finally, an operator took pity on me and transferred me to a secretary who was privy to my information. She checked my file. “No, still in process,” she said. It looked like I had to wait another day.
The next day, I called again and got the answering service. It was 9:10 AM. But the operator finally figured out the problem. I was calling the answering service phone number, not the number of the cancer center. She gave me the right number, and I quickly dialed it. I reached Karen, the woman with the info. She checked my file again. “Benign,” she said. “It’s a benign inclusion cyst.”
Can you say “relieved?”
I went thrift shopping to celebrate, picking up a Sponge Bob Christmas ornament for my kid and a pair of shoes for my mom. As I was driving home, my oncologist called, all bubbly and happy. “I’ve got good news,” she said. I hated to tell her she was a little late. “It’s a benign inclusion cyst.”
“I talked to Karen a few minutes ago,” I said. “But this is great news!” I was trying to sound as elated as my doctor, but I’d just had too many near cancer misses, and this was just another one to add to my list. “Thanks for letting me know, Mary.”
“We’ll see you on October 1 to remove the stitches,” she said.
Driving home, the sky did look a bit brighter, and somehow I was not as weary as I had been.
Cancer was not going to get me today.
Not today and maybe not tomorrow.