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The first few hours

The hardest part is the fear. Since I don’t know the magnitude of the problem yet – ie, what stage it is, and whether the cancer has spread beyond the original tumour – I sometimes feel very much at the mercy of my worst fears.

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about the fear. It’s unlike any fear I’ve ever known or imagined. The closest comparison I can make is that it’s like the fear you feel while watching a horror movie, and the girl hears a noise in the attic and she starts creeping up the attic stairs while creepy music plays in the background. And you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, your heart in your throat, your hands half-covering your eyes because you can’t bear to look but you can’t bear not to look, and in your head you’re pleading with her not to go up there, just turn around, and run, run, run away!

It’s sort of like that, except it’s ME creeping up the stairs and it’s not all slow like in a horror movie, and there’s nowhere to run and hide. And it turns out that Google is the attic. So help me god, I am never going to google breast cancer again. It’s like opening the floodgates of hell.

Let me tell you about the first few hours after I found out.

After the biopsy, I was told that my results would be sent to my doctor at the Centretown Community Health Centre within seven to 10 days, and she would be the one to let me know. On Day 8, I called the nurse (at XUP’s urging) and asked her to see if she could make things happen a little faster. At 2:00 she called me back and said they had some results and my doctor would like me to come in for 3:00.

I pretty much knew then that it was cancer, because they don’t make an appointment to tell you it’s not cancer. But there was still a possibility that it wasn’t cancer…maybe it was something else that should be dealt with, and they wanted to explain it. But I was 99% sure it was cancer.

GC picked me up and drove me there. As soon as I saw my doctor’s face, 99% went to 100%.

“How are you?” she asked. The last time I’d seen her was just a few weeks ago about my back.

“My back’s much better,” I said. “How’s my front?”

“Sometimes I hate my job,” she said.

I was a brave little soldier. I felt inordinately proud of the fact that I didn’t cry. I left, retrieved GC from the waiting room, and told him it was cancer. We walked over to the Second Cup at Bank and Somerset and got cranberry-apple muffins, and then went back to my place.

By this time it was 4:00 and our volunteer shift at the Shepherds was starting at 5:00. I decided not to go, since I wanted to tell my son and a few other people. We decided GC should go, since we didn’t want to leave Shepherds doubly short-staffed. So off he went.

Okay. So here I am, one hour after finding out I have cancer, and I’m alone. The first thing I did was hit Google up for more information. And Google, as always, obliged. Within five minutes I was backing away from the computer, absolutely panicked by what I’d just read, sobbing and completely at a loss as to what to do next. Then I returned to the computer and shut down that window.

Behind that window was another window with my blog stats on it. The very first item on the list was a post I’d written about running in a breast cancer race a couple of years ago. Someone had just visited that page! So I clicked on the link and re-read the post and studied the picture, and then I knew what to do next. Call Lori.

So I composed myself and looked up her number and called her. I’m not much of a phone person at the best of times, and for some reason I was very surprised when she answered.

I couldn’t talk. I just burst into tears. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Fortunately Lori has call display so she at least knew who was sobbing on the other end of the line, even if she didn’t know why. So she just kindly and patiently tried to guess what was wrong while I sobbed. And finally I pulled myself together enough to tell her I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She was absolutely the right person to call. She picked me up and dusted me off and gave me the perfect combination of empathy, moral support, optimism, realism, book recommendations, good starter information and helpful tips. (“Whatever you do,” she said, “Don’t Google breast cancer.”)

She also told me that when the picture in that post was taken in 2006, she was the only one of the twelve women in it to have ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m the fourth. We’re all still alive.

By the time we got off the phone an hour later, I was feeling infinitely better and my son was knocking on my door.

16 comments to The first few hours

  • I had to join the Big Scary Disease club this last year, and I agree: Google is NOT your friend right now.

  • This takes me back…so hard not to torture yourself with google but best to resist (it’s like trying not to pick at a scab sometimes, though). In the beginning, the best no nonsense web site for straight up info was I also like Living Beyond Breast Cancer (
    Also ice cream. And wine. And playing a lot. And knitting. xo

  • Am reading your posts Zoom, though may not always comment, and treasure your openness in sharing what you’re experiencing. I suspect I’ve one of the BCRA genes, given the high incidence of breast cancer in my family.

  • Holy Henry. I hear you. When I had the odd things happening 24/7, I Googled them too, “because if you can name the fear … bla bla bla.” Boy oh boy, no name was better than all the names awaiting in THAT ATTIC! So, yes, yes, board that Google window, especially when there are lines like your last line knocking at your door. Cause that last line of your post? Ahhhhhhh, lines like that are what we live for! So thank you very very much (To Mudmamma: Love you back)

  • Kat

    Zoom the Internet is like the wild wild west but without a sheriff whether it be Google or some such other search engine. You have to go to trusted sites and this is learned through experience. But more importantly your friends and family are there for leaning on at times like this! Thank you for this writing as I have never been personally touched with ‘c’ but like many I have friends that are. I feel linked to you in exactly what a real human being goes through. I am also of the school that there may be no history of cancer in my family, but someone can start that history….

    Stay strong and in touch!

  • Zoom, I am so sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis. But at least you have a good support network to help you through this difficult time.

  • Julia

    It’s funny – I’m the kind to go up to the attic. But I would go already armed with a baseball bat. I actually already knew quite a bit about cancer and what it was. What I didn’t know much about were the tests and treatments, especially chemo. Let the doctors and nurses give you the basic information – they will tell you just what you need to know and most of them are pretty good at it.

    On Friday, I was waiting for the Zumba class to finish at my gym and as the participants were filing out, “our” surgeon saw me and said a nice hello! I found it encouraging that she goes to our gym and takes classes.

  • J.

    Hi zoom. We’re thinking of you during the difficult time.

  • Gillian

    I’m glad you have the right kind of friend to call.

  • Lean on all your friends during this. We need you to let us help. Please remember that. Same goes with GC…

  • PS Every time I look at the sheep in the middle (with the glasses)I think it’s you for a second and it makes me smile…

  • XUP

    What Woodsy said (the leaning part, not the sheep part…I didn’t get that at all…I’ve never known anyone who looks less like a sheep.)Anyway, when my daughter first got sick I spent hours every day and night Googling everything and anything about her disease. It really WAS a horrifying experience, but I learned that if you ask Google the right questions in just the right way you’ll get valuable information, bypassing all the crap. For me, it was useful in being able to ask the medical people the right questions, in helping me make decisions that were based on something other than fear, and in helping me feel in control about what was happening rather than always feeling in a state of limbo and uncertainty. Mainly, doing the research and talking to a lot of people about it all helped stop me from living in my head too much which can be a frightening place during times like this.

  • Nat

    You are so much braver and so much stronger than you think…

    (Not much else to say. I’m glad you found help and support.)

  • Helen

    I’m walking the Edinburgh MoonWalk, raising money for breast cancer research, on 20 June (, and I will be thinking of you on that night as I struggle to get through those 26.2 miles.
    Take care and look after yourself
    Helen x

  • Woodsy

    XUP – Zoom doesn’t look like a sheep. The sheep kinda looks sassy and brillinat like Zoom does/is…

  • sorry to hear about that diagnosis. it’s natural for that to leave you reeling.