I Live with My Diagnosis

Kim - Fort Wayne, Indiana
Entered on November 30, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: hope, illness
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I believe that a cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence.

When I first heard the radiologist’s words, “It is malignant,” over the phone, I honestly believed, “This is it.”

I was 32-years old with stage III metastatic infiltrating ductal carcinoma, or IDC, in my right breast and at least five lymph nodes. My mother passed from a recurrence of the same disease at 38 years of age. She was originally diagnosed at 32, just like me.

Not that there is ever a good time to get this news, but for my husband, Brian, and I, it was an especially bad time. We were both in a transitional, insecure stage. We had just moved from Arizona, where I left graduate school to accept a job in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was starting back to university to study math after 13 years as a chef. Both our parents had just left the Midwest, his to Florida and mine out of the country. When the news came, I had only been on the job for six months and he had not yet started school. We were still renting.

Brian offered to drop out of school. I went on short-term disability. “We need to carry on like everything is normal,” I would say. But everything was not normal. He hesitantly started school and I started chemo. My hair fell out. I grew depressed. We stopped looking for our first house.

I began to tell him stories of what I expected after I was gone. It was morbid entertainment for me, especially in the throws of sickness or self-pity. I wanted to be cremated, not embalmed. I didn’t want a traditional funeral. More like an Irish wake, with maudlin reminiscing over good times past, and, of course, everyone must get tanked. I began to imagine what my funeral was like: who would be there, what type of music would be played, who would be crying, laughing, pensive or there for appearances.

One afternoon after visualizing and describing the sites and sounds of my own demise, my husband stopped me.

“I have had enough,” he said. “You are not going to die and leave me here alone. We have a lot to do and you can’t cut out this early. It really upsets me when you talk like that, like your diagnosis is some kind of death sentence.”

That was the end of that talk. Never again did I bring up my funeral, the post-death scenarios or plans. He stopped talking about dropping out of school to take care of me. I started going back to work between my chemo treatments. We started looking for a house again. By suffocating my perpetual gloom, our future was resuscitated.

On the day of my last chemotherapy treatment, we signed mortgage papers. It has been over three years now since that phone call, and next Monday, I will have reconstructive surgery. I try to live each day as if it were a privilege. I am not always successful, but at least now I live with my diagnosis and not succumb to it.