So often, my life has seemed to move in fast forward. One minute I’m graduating college. The next I’m getting married and buying a house and starting a career. Now I’m quaking as I bring my first baby home from the hospital. Before I know it, I’m putting that same child on the school bus for her first day of school. Bang, zoom, zip. All I can do is try to grab memories as they fly past, stuff them in my pocket and hope like hell they’ll still be there when things slow down and I have a moment to savor them.
Then, on Friday, October 30, 2009, things slowed down. In fact, it took only six words for my life to come to a screeching halt. “I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “You have cancer.” And like that, my world stops. I feel gravity planting me in place. I’m 34. I have three kids under five years old and a husband who works 80-hour weeks. I’m too young to be sick, I thought. I was moving so fast. I thought cancer couldn’t catch me. I was wrong. I’d found a lump in my left breast while doing a self-exam in the shower. I thought about waiting to see if it would go away on its own, but then went ahead and made an appointment.
After examining me, my doctor said she didn’t think it “felt like cancer,” but that it should be checked out further just to be safe. Four days later I had a mammogram and then a diagnostic ultrasound with a radiologist, the one who said those six life-changing words that transformed me from a busy mom and wife into a breast cancer patient. At any age, a cancer diagnosis feels like you’ve been handed a death sentence. But when you find out you have cancer while raising small children, you feel like your whole family has received a death sentence. I remember lying in bed the night after receiving my diagnosis and crying. “I can’t die,” I was thinking. “This family will not work without me. I have too much work left to do here.”
I let myself dwell in self-pity for the night. I felt I had earned that much simply by having cancer. But the next day I focused myself. I am too busy to be sick. I do have too much work left to do. I’m not happy about having breast cancer, but maybe this is an opportunity to slow things down. Maybe this is someone’s way of telling me to take my foot off the gas and make sure I’m getting the job done right. Cancer may have hit my life’s “pause” button, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it hit “stop.”