Chapter 2: Five Stages of Whatever

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To start at the beginning, read  Chapter 1: Abby’s Crap News – AKA My “Journey” With Cancer

OK, so I definitely have breast cancer. No more loopholes, no more undone tests or incomplete test results. The MRI, thankfully, showed no cancer on the left side. And the pathology reports from the biopsy were, all things considered, positive.

As I wrote in a group email to friends and family on November 16: “the lymph node is ‘suspicious’ but has thus far tested negative. The cancer in the breast is contained, slow-growing, non-aggressive (or ‘lazy’ as my doctor put it), the hormone receptors are positive (which is good in this context), and the HER-2 is negative (also good). So with the tiny exception being the fact that I have breast cancer, everything looks great!”

Ah yes, that tiny exception: I have frigging breast cancer.

Everyone knows about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief,” right? They go like this: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

Well, I went straight to Anger first. This is bullshit, I thought! I am a person who does not drink, does not smoke, is not obese, does not eat junk food, and sweats buckets several times a week in Bikram Yoga classes. I do everything right; I get mammograms every year. I’m not supposed to get goddamned cancer!

My second stage was Whining. As some but not all of you know, I had serious spinal-cord surgery in 2005, to remove abnormal (congenital) lesions from my spinal cord in my neck. When I was diagnosed, Chris and I traveled to see four different surgeons.

We were told pretty much the same thing, which was: well, you could do nothing, but one or more of these lesions might burst in your spinal cord and you could be paralyzed from the neck down; or, you could have this extremely dangerous surgery (that came with no real guarantee of success) to have the lesions removed – and oh, by the way, there’s always a danger in spinal cord surgery of something going wrong and so you may end up paralyzed from the neck down.

My Whining stage went like this: whyyyy meeee? I already went through all that spinal cord crap, which has left me with mild (but chronic) neurologic issues seemingly for life. Isn’t that enough for one person to endure? I felt sort of like a six-year-old who gets blamed for his brother’s transgression: “It’s not fair!”

Third came what I’ll call the Whatever Stage, otherwise known as “Why not me?” After talking to some of my friends and doing a little bit of research, I realized how dreadfully common breast cancer is, especially here in Marin County, CA, where I live. Rates in Marin are apparently 10 to 20 percent higher than in the state generally – and breast cancer is already crazily prevalent in California (and really, almost everywhere). So: it’s going to happen to lots of women – why not me?

Fourth, aligned with the Kübler-Ross model, I did feel depressed. This was related to Stage #3, Why Not Me?, in that I wanted to feel more unique and special, and instead I felt like just another statistic. I know, what a baby, right?

It sort of reminded me of when I was in labor for the first time, with Jonah, and I went to my OB’s office to get checked. The doctor told me I was 4 cm dilated already, and that I should head straight for the hospital. Holy cow, I’m having a baby! I thought. This is amazing! A miracle! But the blasé, unimpressed stares of the nurses at the office completely deflated me; their faces said, “Lady, we see this every day. Get over yourself.” Similar thing with the breast cancer: thousands of women deal with this every day, Abby. Get over yourself.

And finally, yes, Acceptance. I looked into the beautiful blue eyes of my husband, Chris, and he looked at me, and we said to each other: OK, this is our path. Whatever we need to do to completely rid my body of this cancer, we will do. Just like the Obama campaign said: Forward. And for me personally, acceptance came much easier after our country dodged the bullet that could have been a President Mitt Romney.

Next post: How Do You Tell Your Kids That You Have Cancer?

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