Oncology and telling Ethan: things are moving FAST

After the MRI fail this morning, I waited around for one more appointment: the oncologist. Several survivors have told me that the oncologist is a super important part of the medical team, so it’s important to have confidence in the doc.

I checked in (the girls at the desk already know me by name – ugh) and sat in the same seat as last time. Again, I was the youngest by far. And again, the elderly patients were enamored by the TV (“The Chew” this time, not Kelly Ripa).

Suddenly three shrill bells sounded, followed by a message, “Medical emergency in the cancer center, infusion room. Medical emergency in the cancer center, infusion room. Medical emergency in the cancer center, infusion room.” All hell broke loose as 13 (by my count) medical people ran down the hall from all directions. It was about 30 minutes before an old man was taken down the hall to the hospital by gurney.

Soon after I was called by the nurse. We went through my medical history and the same series of questions I answered with the surgeon’s nurse earlier this week. I mentioned that I didn’t make it through the MRI this morning, and she said to make sure to mention that to the doc. The nurse took my vitals (blood pressure was a little elevated, but still within the normal range). When she went to take my temperature via my ear, she gently moved away my hair and said, “Oh, your hair is so pretty!” (I started to tear up.) She explained some of the things I could expect from chemotherapy and some of the recommendations this oncologist usually makes to his patients.

I waited for the doctor after the nurse left. “Fuck, this is an oncologist’s office. I have CANCER,” I thought. This was feeling really REAL. This was the toughest wait I’ve had so far. Oncology is SERIOUS. Surgery I get – cut it off, but chemo is scary.

The doctor came in, and I instantly liked him. He made me feel really comfortable. He asked the basics, then he said, “Do you want to just jump right into this?”

He explained the basics of chemo and how it’s changed over the years. Side effects, like vomiting and nausea, are manageable. He encouraged me to think of chemo as “medicine for cancer” not “poison.” His plan includes two phases prior to surgery: phase one will include Adriamycin (aka “Red Devil”) and Cytoxin (with neulasta to help grow cells lost from the two other meds), one treatment every two weeks (4 treatments total), and phase two will include Taxol and Carboplatin (second one only if my body can tolerate it without dropping my cell counts too low), one treatment each week (12 treatments total). With this schedule, I’m done with chemo by the end of May.

We talked about other chemo side effects like menopause (being in my 40s, instant menopause is very likely), when I’ll lose my hair (about 7-10 days after first treatment) and what I can/can’t do (no birth control pills).

Then he said, “You’ll start chemo next week.”

Back the bus up…WHAT?! (Tears. “Shit’s getting real,” I thought.)

We compared schedules – my class schedule versus his breast clinic schedules at two hospitals. We settled on Friday mornings. I don’t teach on Fridays and that gives me the weekend to recover.

He typed some notes in the computer, placed some orders for necessary pre-chemo stuff (a heart test, installation of a mediport in my chest) and wrote a prescription for lorazapam (to help me get through another attempt at the MRI). And he called the nurse to have a “chemo education session” with me.

“You’re young and healthy. I have no concerns about you in this process. I’m confident you’ll do fine with this,” he said.

The nurse came back in with a book to take home (so much casual cancer reading) and several documents detailing the various medications I’ll receive during chemo and those to manage side effects. We spent another 40 minutes talking about my fears and concerns. She printed a prescription for a wig (that’s weird to type!), we hugged, and I left the cancer center.


First thought when I got in the car: I can’t hide this from Ethan any more. He’ll notice when I start losing hair… I planned the conversation in my head on the drive home. I’ll tell him tomorrow – Ethan and I are spending tomorrow together (he has a doctor appointment so I’m keeping him home from school).

I got home. Mom had already picked up the kids, and Ethan was working on homework in the dining room.

I briefed my mom and told her I had to tell E. A few minutes later, Ethan said he was ready to review his work. I walked into the dining room. “Hey, pal, we need to talk tomorrow,” I said.

“Is it about your boob?” he asked.


“Yeah, I know something’s going on. But I don’t want to talk about it tomorrow.”

“Now then?”

I went back to the beginning. I found a lump, went to the doctor, had some images done. “The doctor told me the pictures looked funny,” I explained.

“Funny haha or funny strange?” he asked.

I made a face with my fingers in my ears and my tongue out. “Well, not funny haha. The lumps weren’t doing this. It was more like this,” I said as I made a sad face.

“It would have been funny if the lumps were making the funny face,” he said. Yeah, that would have been funny.

I continued with my explanation: they took samples from the lump with a needle on Christmas Eve, and they called with the results saying it’s cancer. “The good news,” I said, “is that it’s caught super early.”

“It can be cured?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said. “But the doctors need to do a lot to treat it.”

I explained chemo (“medicine for cancer that attacks fast growing cells. Know what other cells besides cancer grow fast? Hair. I’m going to be bald!” He laughed and studied me for a minute. “That’s going to be funny! I’m going to take pictures of you everyday bald!” Sure, kid, whatever floats your boat.)

I explained surgery. He asked, “You’re going to have ONE BOOB?!”

“Maybe,” I said. “They can rebuild it, though.”

“Will it be removable?”

“Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Wait… Do they rebuild your boob with metal? Will you have metal boobs? Oh! Wait! Super Mom! You’ll have metal boobs that shoot toxic milk!” he said.

He seemed really disappointed to find out my boobs will not be metal. Nor will I shoot toxic milk from my nipples.

“You’re handling this really well,” I said.

“You said that when you told me you were going to start dating. No big deal. You’re going to live another 60 years,” he said.

Nailed it, kiddo. Nailed it. (Well, not the metal boob part… Where that visual came from makes me a little nervous.)

Tomorrow: genetic testing

5 thoughts on “Oncology and telling Ethan: things are moving FAST

  1. I can’t help but feel like this is absolutely surreal.

    And you’re handling this really well, JLT. Once again, you amaze me.

    • Surreal? You and me both! But if I don’t start treatment, it can’t end. And I’m really looking forward to getting on the other side of this road block!

  2. You know the Super Mom/toxic milk think is TOTALLY going to end up in a school paper or art project, right?

    Hugs and prayers for another awesome doc and nurse in your journey!

  3. I know we don’t know each other but I want to say you’re and amazon woman and you’re moving through this bravely. I love the mind of children. I’ve always believed that they are much wiser than we give them credit for.

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