Monday, December 8, 2014


(Copyright 2014 TheBigCandMe)
Four years ago today, December 8th, 2010, cancer called my house. (Actually, Dr. S. called; he gave me the news here.) 

Fast forward two years, and in an attempt to put a Six-Word Memoir face on the beast that is breast cancer, I wrote these six words on this blog: "Cancer called. Wish I hadn't answered." 

Do I still stand by those words? 

No and Yes and No and Yes...

No, I don't regret answering the phone. (That would mean I was ignoring my cancer, not a good thing to do.) 

Yes, I was certain the news would be good. 

No, I was not (yet) out of my mind with worry. 

Yes, I was in denial. So much denial, in fact, that I hadn't even told my husband I'd had a biopsy until the night before that phone call! I was trying to spare him the emotional upheaval and unnecessary worry, because I was so certain the news would be benign. He had already lost his first wife to breast cancer; I couldn't imagine the universe being so cruel and unkind as to give one man two wives with this dreadful disease.

I was wrong.

One ring-a-ding-ding of the phone later on that breezy late-autumn afternoon (a day after December 7th, already a date that lived in infamy for me — not because of Pearl Harbor, but because it's the day my father died), and December 8th would now live in infamy too.


Actual notes that I took while on the phone with Dr. S.
Here's how it went down four years ago:

Dr. S: "Well, I have your test results!" 

Me: "Yea! I'm so glad."

Dr. S: "Unfortunately, it IS cancer." 

Me (long pause): "I was not expecting that."

I struggled to comprehend the few words I heard Dr. S. saying: "Invasive Ductal Carcinoma... Well differentiated... Not a tumor... One inch in size..."

I ended the call, and immediately had what I now know to be a panic attack. I'd never felt such fear so fast. I couldn't get enough air in my lungs; it seemed to be missing from the room. I felt like I was going crazy. Like I was going to die

That's the one-two punch: I am going to die. And so are you. 

As humans, we are experts at suppressing our fears surrounding our demise. Our existence on this beautiful planet seems at once long yet short. We busy ourselves supporting and caring for the families we are part of and the families we create, sometimes forgetting to care for ourselves in the process.

Then cancer calls, and it shoves a huge cracked mirror in your face, and forces you to see it, feel it, taste it, touch it, breath it — the very thing you spend your life trying not to think about or address, the ultimate antithesis of this wonderful life: DEATH.

And death will not be denied. 

Unfortunately, neither will cancer. And that's really why I answered the phone four years ago. I had to know. (And then had to tell my husband.) 

Cancer is my infamy. So what have I learned over the last four years of "cancerversaries"? If there's one takeaway I can share in a single sentence:

  • The gist of the cancer journey is coming to terms with your fear of death, then managing that fear in your daily life.

  • How we do this (and when) is as individual as we all are. And an ongoing process. I'll share a few of the ways I manage my fear of death in an upcoming post. Stay tuned... 
    Until then, take care. In the hustle of the holiday season, it's easy to overlook taking caring of yourself. Don't overlook YOU.

    PS: Elizabeth Edwards died on The Date of Infamy —  December 7th — in 2010. I remember being completely shaken by the news. The next day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.


    1. dear Renn,

      I felt so heartsick reading about how sure you were that you did NOT have cancer, and about having to tell your poor husband that he would have to endure a second wife cancer journey. and you are so right - the gist of the whole experience is learning to manage the fear of death. it means living in the "now", which is such a struggle at times. thank you for this open and honest story of the beginning of it all for you; I will look forward to the next chapter. and I think your advice to be sure to render self-care, especially at this holiday tsunami time, is a good reminder to us all. it was so wonderful to see a post for you - I've missed you, dear Renn, and I am sending you loads of warm hugs...

      with much love,

      Karen oxo

      1. Karen! Always so great to see your comments. Thank you. Life and death and living in the now... it's a lesson for the ages! Take care of YOU, sending warm hugs right back atcha! xo

    2. Renn, I'm so sorry that you had to deal with this awful disease... I have learned so much from you here...I pray it never returns for you...

      You are right that we live in denial of death... living in the present isn't easy...

      Have a great day... I hope you enjoy the holidays :-)

      1. Launna, thank you for stopping by. I find comfort in knowing we ALL are in it together, this magical ride called life. I am trying not to get too "busyied up" by the holidays. Wishing you comfort and joy this season.

    3. I received my breast cancer news over the phone too. My notes (more like scribbles) were not as easy to read as yours. Yes, we take life for granted until death opens our eyes that it is real and will happen to us, perhaps sooner than expected. Great post!

      1. Thanks, Sharon! I think it is more unusual to get the results over the phone... but that actually worked for me, as it allowed me to fall apart in the privacy go my own kitchen, rather than feel I had to put up a front in front of my doctor, then fall apart while I was driving home.

        I am interested to hear how others "heard" the news and whether or not they thought it was the best mode of hearing such awful news for the.... ???

        Readers, feel free to tell us how you heard.

    4. I was sure I didn't have it either...and was feeling awful due to first rounds of chemo the day Edwards died and you answered the phone. Shiver--awful memories.
      Yes, it does make us confront fears and death--I'm still working on that....
      Great post!

      1. CC, every time I blog about my diagnosis date I always forget to mention Elizabeth Edwards. I remember the sickening sinking feeling I felt all over when I heard she had died. Thanks for sharing how you felt when hearing her devastating news, and your own.

    5. A friend just shared this morning how she heard she had breast cancer: "I was in the Winn Dixie checkout line and happy to take the doctor's call too, because I was sure he was going to tell me it was just a fatty lump." Thanks for sharing, S.!

    6. Renn, I can't believe your husband had 2 wives with breast cancer. Just shows how prolific a disease it is. I too got the call by phone and also preferred it that way. If my doctor would have said to come in, it would have been torture and I would have said, "Just tell me over the phone!" Because at that point you know anyhow. --Eileen (Woman in the Hat)

    7. Eileen, it's true, if the doctor's office called first and said they want to see me in person, that's a huge red flag! However, I know many woman whose doctors set up the results appointment *prior* to biopsy — they made them come into the office to get their results, no matter what they were. That may be the best way to do it!

      PS: The odds of 1 man having 2 wives with breast cancer: 1 in 64. (That is higher than I would have thought.)

    8. Hi Renn,
      I got the news over the phone too, but unlike you, I did rather expect to hear it was cancer. But then again, maybe I didn't. My feelings were so jumbled. It's an awful disease and I'm sorry you have that day in December to remember - and all those other days too. Do you ever have a day when you don't think about cancer? I don't. Thanks for writing. I've been missing your regular posts. xx

      1. Nancy! Good to "see" you, this is the downside of not blogging regularly, I miss my peeps! :-) I do think about cancer every day. It's hard to ignore when you take a daily pill to stave off recurrence ... constant reminder, not to mention the side effects. That is for another post!

    9. Hello Renn,

      Very interesting thoughts, and 100% realistic approach. The fact that your husband's first wife had breast cancer is certainly ..something. (The odds of 1 in 64 is amazing. Hopefully he is actually "one in a million" and standing by you.)

      What is really striking is your snapshot of the phonecall's notes... A life-changing phonecall in a post-it (?) note...

      And, last but not least: your advice should follow all of us: "Don't overlook YOU." Thank you for that.

      1. I found that note tucked into the notebook that I carried to my first appointment with my surgeon — back when my head was swimming. I scanned the note so I wouldn't lose it. (I have since lost the note. But I still have the scan!)

    10. Hi Renn, this is a powerful post, and I felt heartbroken at you being so sure it wasn't cancer and it was. Cancer is horrible. I was told the news over the phone, and 2 days before that fated phone call, I knew from my doctor that it looked like cancer. I was prepared. And then I wasn't.

      1. Thanks for sharing how you found out, Beth. "I was prepared. And then I wasn't." That says it all.

    11. Oh, Renn...there seem to be a lot of us who got the news over the phone, like I did, and who also, like I did, were expecting the news to be benign. Not me! I'm healthy! No one in my family but a great aunt had ever had breast cancer! Needless to say, I was gobsmacked.

      Your poor husband...

      I actually got the news over the phone by accident. I had had the biopsy three days previously when I got a phone call from the hospital imaging scheduler, confirming an appointment I didn't know about for a stereotactic breast biopsy on the following Monday. 'Why do I need one of those?' I asked this poor scheduler. She didn't know what to say, except that I should call the breast doctor who'd done my biopsy. I did, and that's when she told me my first biopsy was positive. Oy.

      Glad you are still here. Glad we're both still here. And yes, I have thought about death virtually every day since. It's hard to explain that to folks who've not been down this road.

      I've also been so behind in the blogosphere. It's good to start catching up a little. xoxo, Kathi

      1. Thank you for stopping by, Kathi! You sure heard in an unusual way! Yikers. I shudder when I recall how randomly some of us received the news that would change our lives. I'm not sure which approach is the "right" one, I just know ALL doctors (and their staff) need to be more aware of how and when they share this news with us.

        Glad you are still blogging too! I wake myself up in the middle of the night with new blog post ideas. I just need to find/make time to write them all. (Instead I stick the idea in my drafts folder!)


    Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!