Cancer patients have different “cancerversaries” -diagnosis, surgeries, chemo start and end dates, radiation start and end dates. Since 2013, I have been glumly noting October 28th as my “lumpervercery” – the date the cancer was definitely growing inside me. Not that I was seriously worried about cancer at first, and the cancer had started growing well before, maybe even years before. But it’s a date that doesn’t escape me.
I was 28 years old, unmarried but dating my now-husband long-distance and livin’ the dream in NYC, tryin’ to make it big. Well, more like trying to make it to the middle class. I had moved there for a job after over a year of fruitless job searching, and fell in love with the the city, despite a somewhat hardscrabble life on nonprofit wages.
I shared a run-down apartment out in Flushing with a roommate. The window in my bedroom let in a draft, so I was snuggled up in my fluffy robe. It was late, I had said goodnight to Younes hours ago and I was just wasting time. I yawned, ripped off my robe and prepared to dive under the blankets.
With that action, I froze. Under my long t-shirt, I felt something large and hard in my left breast. It was like it had came out of nowhere. My first thought was my Grandma de Fiebre. She had had breast cancer some decades back. Was I going to follow in her footsteps? But she was older and the father’s side of the family doesn’t count as far as family history (the latter is not true and anyway, I had some breast cancer unknowingly brewing on my mom’s side). My heart was racing, but it was much too late to call either Younes or my mom. And wasn’t there other causes of breast lumps in young women? I jumped on Dr Google.
What I read was instantly reassuring. Breast cancer was very rare in women under 30, only a .05% of developing it at that (why is it that I don’t buy lottery tickets again?) Also, there were like, 56875432564 causes of breast lumps besides cancer. Also, I had had a clinical breast exam at my annual back in January, did self-exams and had just come off a summer of swimming, peeling a tight suit on and off everyday. I knew this thing couldn’t have been brewing long. If it were cancer, I had “caught it early.”
But I also found this, the story of a young woman under 30, healthy slim, runner, vegetarian, who was living with breast cancer. She had been misdiagnosed for a year and had Stage IV. That sufficiently freaked me out enough that I figured “better safe than sorry” and vowed to find a doctor the next day (I didn’t have one yet as I had just moved). With that, I slipped into sleep, naively unconcerned.