In the words of Carl: She called.
My husband, Carl, wrote this narrative to remember his vantage point on the day I was diagnosed - March 28, 2018. For my point of view on my diagnosis story, read this post.
Two words so simple, but two words I’ll never, ever forget.
It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon. March 28, 2018.
A couple days earlier, Jennifer was scheduled to see her OB, Dr. Kirk Matthews, in the afternoon because of a lump she noticed in her left breast. She hadn’t told me anything about what she found the night before, and on a whim (or maybe instinct), I asked her if she wanted me to come to the appointment with her. She said yes, so I did. Little did I know that this would be the first of dozens of office visits that we’d attend together over coming months.
Up until this point, we had been a fairly healthy family with a pretty normal life. Good jobs, two beautiful daughters and two small dogs, a house, two cars and little to worry about. We were days away from our 10th wedding anniversary and a few months away from celebrating our 18th year as a couple.
This appointment, while scheduled urgently, was precautionary since we had no reason to believe Jennifer’s discovery was anything to worry about.
After examination, Dr. Matthews was honest with us. He reassured us that it could be nothing, but that it certainly was something that needed a closer look. The only thought running through my mind at the time was “cancer,” but he never once used the word. “The ‘C’ word” is what he referred to it as.
We would soon find out that the walnut-sized lump Jennifer had in her left breast was a 6cm cancerous tumor, that seemingly came out of nowhere. We didn’t know this quite yet, though. Immediately, Dr. Matthews made sure to get us an appointment with a colleague of his, Dr. Rachel Jendro. Jennifer was scheduled for a mammogram in Cary on Tuesday the 27th, and then headed straight to the Rex Breast Care Center in Raleigh to meet with Dr. Jendro. I met her there and was with her for the biopsy of her breast tissue and lymph node. Dr. Jendro was very cautious with the situation and paid close attention to the words she used during our time in the office. Still, the only thought going through my mind is “cancer.” What else would I make of it? The rest of the day Tuesday was a blur.
On Wednesday, we went back to our normal lives...back to work for both of us. Both of our minds were racing, and I remember Jennifer left work around lunch time to come home for the day.
That was the afternoon that our lives would forever change.
We knew that Dr. Jendro was supposed to call. I was sitting in my office when my phone rang. It was Jennifer, and she only got out two words before she burst into tears: “She called.” I told her I’d be right home.
What came next were the longest, scariest, most heart-wrenching 11 days of my life.
What is going on inside Jennifer’s body?
How were we going to deal with this?
What does this mean for our future?
How advanced is her cancer...and is it anywhere other than her breast?
Is my wife going to die?
Battling tears and fears
I’ll be honest, I don’t do well with tears.
I don’t like to cry (who does?) and I have no idea what to do when people around me are crying. But, I’ve gotten softer with age. I get a lot of practice at home with our two girls...not a day goes by that tears aren’t shed over something.
But those tears are different than adult tears. Real adult tears.
When I got home that Wednesday afternoon, Jennifer was sitting on the couch in our living room. The ottoman was covered with dirty Kleenex and I didn’t even have to ask her what Dr. Jendro said. I knew it was cancer. We spent most of the afternoon sitting on the couch...the two of us talking between bursts of tears. It was an emotional day, to say the least. I called Dr. Jendro to get the story first hand. Jennifer had spoken with her earlier, but as you can imagine, after being told you have breast cancer your mind begins to race with other thoughts. Dr. Jendro was reassuring, and although we didn’t know the full scope of the diagnosis, we were sent down the path of discovery...and appointments.
It felt like we had about 10 doctors appointments over the next 7 days. Radiologists, surgeons, oncologists...you name it. We were trying to figure out the severity of this cancer. We knew it was cancer, but not a specific diagnosis. We had no plan in place yet and no assurance that this cancer wasn’t in other organs in her body.
On Tuesday morning, April 3, we went to Wake Radiology for a CT scan.
This scan would allow doctors to inspect Jennifer’s entire body for any suspicious signs of potential cancer. Later that day, we first met with Dr. Susan Moore, Jennifer’s oncologist. From the moment we first met her we knew we were in good hands. She explained to us the diagnosis - Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer. She walked us through the treatment plan: chemotherapy, then surgery (mastectomy was required due to size of the tumor), then radiation, then targeted therapy.
We asked questions...a lot of questions! Dr. Moore was patient with us and explained why this type of cancer would be treated in the order prescribed. We almost had the entire plan in place...except for a Jennifer’s pesky little liver that showed a questionable spot on the CT scan earlier that day. While we didn’t know at the time whether the spot on her liver was cancerous or not, Dr. Moore recommended we get started with the treatment plan right away to attack this aggressive cancer.
The spot on her liver could be nothing...it could be cancer.
What? Nothing or cancer. I didn’t sleep too well that week.
We knew the treatment plan, which was somewhat reassuring. But now we had to go through just one more scan before any treatment started. We got the first available appointment for an abdominal x-ray to further inspect Jennifer’s liver. Turns out the first available appointment was at the Wake Radiology office...in Chapel Hill. So what, we’ll take it! The waiting was eating us alive. We had to figure out what this thing was and we had to do it right away! The appointment was on Friday, April 6, and it would be a day or so before we got word on the findings. Here we go again...waiting. Waiting to see if this spot on her liver was nothing or if it was cancer. Talk about extremes.
Saturday, April 7. We spent the morning in Durham at the Counter Culture HQ for Tasting at Ten. Afterwards, I was helping Jennifer clean up around her office when she got the call. That spot on her liver was a harmless hemangioma. Do you have any idea what that is? At the time, I didn’t either...but it wasn’t cancer. Tears of joy!
Now, we could move forward with Jennifer’s treatment.
On April 10, we’ll continue Carl’s trip down the 2018 memory lane with another installment of what it’s like to be a support person during cancer.