A Cancer Survivor’s Diagnosis Story

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If you’re a current reader of the blog, you already know I’m a 13-year cancer survivor.  Every survivor has a story to tell, and each one is unique to the survivor’s experience.

It’s not ever been easy for me to talk about it. Even typing it out for everyone to read makes me a bit emotional (cue the waterworks).   Wrapped up in those tears are a swarm of emotions: insanity, grief, all-encompassing fear, love, and many, many miracles along the way.    Here is the first snapshot of my journey- A Cancer Survivor’s Diagnosis Story.

(Disclaimer- this post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase from one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. All advice given is my own opinion and cannot be used as a substitute for consulting a medical or mental health professional.  For more information, please view my disclaimer link page here.)

Where it All Starts

13 years ago, I was a 32-year-old wife and mom. I was teaching third grade in rural Kentucky. My husband worked the night shift, so I was the main parental figure, the go-to, for our 3 kids, who were 4, 5, and 6 at the time. We were in the process of adopting our son, he was the 5-year-old, out of foster care.

My amazing husband has always been super supportive, and he did what he could to help, all while working a 5:15 p.m-2:00 a.m. (it was usually later) shift.  I worked in children’s ministry at our church, scheduled meals for the community Teen Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group and sang with an all-girls group with 3 of my friends from church.  I was going about my life each day, acting as if the next were guaranteed.

Life was EXTREMELY busy, and I often felt exhausted, but I thought that was all a part of the busy mom’s life. 

It’s surreal now, but in hindsight (they say it’s 20/20) I can see the glaring signs that something was definitely wrong with me. Driving anywhere, at any time of the day, and feeling like if I shut my eyes I would fall dead asleep. Biking on the beach and realizing I couldn’t pedal more than a couple hundred yards without stopping to catch my breath. Walking outside and on the treadmill several days a week, and instead of building stamina, being able to do less and less. It was a slow progression backward, but it was there, nonetheless.

A Fun Birthday Weekend

So, my oldest turned 7, and we decided to celebrate at the local roller rink that Saturday. It’s a super-fun spot that my husband and I had frequented in our younger years, and we were excited to share the fun with our kids and their guests. Our oldest was in first grade. Several of her friends had older siblings in my class, so we encouraged these families to bring everyone and have a great time skating. It was a wonderful party and we had all had a blast!

On Monday morning, a couple of students in my class, who had attended the party, were out sick with strep.  Oh, no….  The next morning, the birthday girl woke up with a sore throat and a small fever.  She stayed home with her daddy, and we met them after school for her appointment.

I remember walking into the exam room, 3 kids in tow, one feeling unwell. The other 2 were live wires, even when tired or sick, so it was the usual fun event of “don’t touch that”, “don’t spin on that chair”, or “stop moving the bed”, and all of that nonsense!

Say What?

The doctor came into the exam room, and his eyes landed on me.  “Are you tired?” he asked abruptly.  His question caught me off guard, my mouth hung open, and I just stared at him for a moment. 

I finally managed to stammer out something along the lines of, “I have 3 kids, a full-time job, and tons of other commitments.  Of course, I’m tired!’’  Not looking impressed, he turned to the oldest, examining her kindly but thoroughly. 

Turning back to me, “She has a viral throat infection.  Rest and fluids will help.  As for you,” he continued as he turned to write in her chart, “I’m ordering fasting bloodwork for you to do in the morning.  You’re too pale.”  He stated this simply, but his eyes continued to bore into me after he was finished charting. 

I held myself back from rolling my eyes, thinking about everything I had to do, as he handed me the orders to take with me.  The doctor insisting I get bloodwork the next day did have me worried. But, people get bloodwork every day, so I didn’t think about it much more that night.

Getting Results

The next morning, I dropped the kids off at daycare, rushed to the lab, and pulled into the school parking lot without a minute to spare.  Going about my normal routine, I was planning to call my doctor at the end of the day to find out the results, when the phone rang at 10:15 a.m.  The nurse on the other end told me, “You have about 1/3 of the blood you should have in your body.  We need to see you in the office ASAP.  Dr. S wants to admit you to the hospital for a blood transfusion.” 

A Cancer Survivor's Diagnosis Story
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I could feel whatever blood left in my body drain to the floor as I hung up the phone and stared at my expectant students. After a long minute, I called the office for a substitute and got ready to leave.

When I got to my car, I was shaking and crying so hard I could barely see to drive.  I called my husband on the way to the doctor.  It took 3 calls, with my screaming into the answering machine before he finally answered.  I told him through sobs what the nurse had said and he agreed to meet me at the doctor’s office.  When we got there, the doctor told me he was admitting me for transfusions AND he was ordering tests to see why I was losing so much blood. 

So Many Questions…

We arrived at the hospital and I was hooked up to all the wires and tubes. Settling in for a long night to receive 3 rounds of blood transfusions seemed surreal.  What was wrong with me?  Why is this happening?  These questions swirled in my mind as I tried to sleep, waking often and wondering what was going to happen next.

After 3 pints of blood, I was feeling a TON better and ready to go home the next morning.  Unfortunately, the doctors had other plans.  They wanted to run some tests to figure out why I had lost so much blood in the first place.  The first test was an upper GI.  After this test, they vaguely told me they found “something”, and were scheduling a scope for later that afternoon. 

BTW: in case you don’t already know, whenever you have any type of internal/intestinal tests, they don’t let you eat ANYTHING!  So, I ate breakfast the morning I went into the hospital, nothing for lunch or dinner, nothing for breakfast before the upper GI, and they didn’t plan to feed me until after the scope that afternoon.  I was starving, worried, and in a VERY bad mood!  The poor nurses and assistants had to deal with my bad attitude, and thinking back now I kind of feel sorry for them…

Learning That It Was Cancer

 Anyway, they put me under for the scope later that evening.  I remember waking up and hearing my hubs and the doctor talking quietly, “I think it’s a tumor, and I think it’s cancer.”

My heart leaped into my swollen, dry throat. “Am I going to have radiation and chemotherapy,” I managed to croak out.

“You’re not supposed to be awake yet,” someone whispered, and I sunk back into the darkness of sleep. 

Several minutes later, I awoke groggily with one word echoing over and over in my mind. Cancer, cancer, cancer… That one word; it’s amazing (and not in a good way), terrifying, and mind-numbing all at once. Both of my mom’s parents died of cancer when I was in college.  One of my closest friends had lost her battle 2 years beforehand.  I was only 32 at the time, 3 kids under the age of 10, a husband and a full-time job.  What was going to happen to me? My job?  My family?  And the classic- Why would God let this happen?

The next week I had a follow-up appointment for the scope.  The surgeon confirmed that the tumor was, in fact, cancer.  He was sending me to a specialized surgeon for removal and was also recommending a round of chemotherapy after surgery.  I did feel a little better at the end of our appointment. The doctor leaned across his desk, looked us both in the eye, and said “I believe the tumor is contained, and I think that surgery will be the cure.” We scheduled my next appointment before leaving his office.

The Takeaway from Finding Out You Have Cancer

I wish I could say that my faith was always strong, and my attitude was 100% positive from the beginning, but who am I kidding?  I was sad, scared, and angry about cancer invading my life, AND I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with being sick! Seriously, God? I thought I was too busy living my life.

I was then, and continue to be, a work in progress. My reaction was pretty normal, but looking back, I wish I had let my faith carry me through during this phase. Subsuming to my fear and grief, they were all I could focus on. Fortunately, as you’ll read in part 2, I was truly blessed with amazing family and friends. Their faith and love were what sustained me throughout these early difficult times.

Have you ever been there before? Not just with cancer, but with any time that seemed dark and hopeless, with no way to escape. If so, shoot me an email or drop a comment and let me know what helped you to overcome it. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading,

14 thoughts on “A Cancer Survivor’s Diagnosis Story”

  1. I was praying for you during all of that, so hearing your story is great! I love Rose and Chester, so it was easy to love their children, every though I had not met any of you at that time. Pls write more!

  2. Even though I know how the story ends I’m still crying and it’s just the first part. Those were some scary times but I don’t ever remember thinking that you would not make it through it. I always had faith.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement! Your support and faith helped me so much during that difficult time and still helps now.

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