"Breast cancer is being detected at an earlier, more treatable stage these days, largely because women are taking more preventive measures, like self-exams and regular mammograms. And treatment is getting better too."
We were driving across the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, between St. Anthony and Eddie's Cove, when my cell phone rang.
You have to understand that only members of my immediate family have my cell number, and they usually text. So my first instinct was to ignore the ringing because I do get occasional calls from people trying to sell me something or wrong numbers.
Then it hit me that I'd given my number to the Breast Health Clinic so— Wait! The doctor who had ordered my biopsy was supposed to call me this morning with the results!
Honest, I'd been so busy that morning packing up to leave and having breakfast at our B & B, then doing some touristy things at St. Anthony, that I'd not once thought about the impending call!
I answered on the third ring.
Yes, it was my doctor, calling as he'd promised he would. He asked how we liked Newfoundland thus far.
I told him we'd been to L'Anse aux Meadows to see the place where the Norse had first come to Canada, had just visited the Grenfell House Museum in St. Anthony, and were now about to make our way slowly down the west coast to Rocky Harbour.
And then he told me his news. "I'm sorry," he said, "but you'll be having surgery when you get home."
He didn’t use the C-word, but simply said there was definitely a small mass that needed to come out, and that he would see me the Wednesday after we got home.
I said, "Okay." Then I added something about how we could come back sooner if necessary, to which he replied, "No, enjoy the rest of the trip."
And then we hung up.
As to how I felt? Relieved that I hadn't missed the call and that we'd stayed connected even while driving through a sparsely populated area where cell service was a bit iffy. And maybe a tiny bit in shock that it wasn't the cyst I'd expected, but was actually cancer.
I now knew I'd be having surgery after we got home, but I had no idea what kind of surgery it would be. Mastectomy? Partial mastectomy? Lymph nodes?
After having supper in Rocky Harbour, we went to our Air B and B in Deer Lake for the night, where I was able to do a bit of online research. Yes, it was concerning, especially since I'd been so sure it was just a cyst. But I talked it over with Les and we decided since there was nothing we could do about it and we had two weeks and two days left of our trip, we might as well try to enjoy it.
My only real concern was that by delaying the surgery the cancer could spread. But I trusted the doctor to have said something if that was the case. I also remembered that his nurse had told me I wouldn't lose my place in the "queue" should I need surgery.
I did send a note to a prayer team I've been part of for 18 years, telling them as much as I knew. But I didn't want to tell anyone else at this point. Not when I didn't really know what to expect myself.
I was mostly able to shove the thought of the surgery and what it might mean into a little cupboard in my brain and keep the door shut. The only nagging reminder of what was to come was the fact that I was still quite black and blue and sore from the biopsy, and I remained that way for the entire trip. (Sidenote: Do not wear underwire bras after a biopsy. Yes, I learned that the hard way.)
A Not-So-Random Story about Butterflies
We had seen something called the Newfoundland Insectarium while driving by Deer Lake on our way northwest from St. John's, and that's partly why we had chosen to stay in Deer Lake that night. Early the next morning, we drove the short distance to the building.
This is where I have to back up and tell a short story about something that happened earlier this summer.
We were at the Eaton's Centre this summer and I happened to wander by People's Jewellers. As I took a quick glance into the nearest display, I saw a gorgeous butterfly necklace. It was marked at $300 but on sale for less than $200. Now, I don't buy expensive jewellery (as in anything over about $30). But since I was about four years old, I've believed that God has talked to me. Not all the time, but sometimes. And right at that moment, I felt God telling me I needed to buy that necklace.
I've always loved butterflies, and I've often used them as concrete examples of how we can all become more than we start out being. I even have a butterfly as part of my website's logo.
Long story short, I didn't buy the necklace that day, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I needed to buy it as a reminder of God's promise that He is always with us. And eventually I did. Well, Les actually paid for it. Kind of for our anniversary, which is in late August, but really because I felt I needed to have it.
I was wearing the necklace when I first saw the doctor, and on September 19th when I got the call from him. And I was wearing it the next day when we stopped in at the Insectarium, which turned out to be primarily about butterflies.
So Many Beautiful Butterflies
Just in case I needed a reminder that God was always there for me no matter what, the morning we spent in the Insectarium was that in spades!
Of course, I also updated my prayer team.
We spent four more days in Newfoundland visiting some of the small fishing communities, including the first English settlement in Cupids, finding seafood places to eat, wandering around Signal Hill in St. John's, and checking out Water Street and George Street, where we found stuffed toys and books for our grandchildren.
When Les had booked our tickets from St. John's to Sydney, they'd given him a 5:45 a. m. Sunday flight to Halifax followed by an 8:00 a.m. flight to Sydney. A few days before we were to fly, Les got an email saying our flight to Sydney had been changed to 1:00 p.m. Which meant we'd have to get up really early and then sit in the Halifax airport for several hours waiting for the second flight.
It took some doing, but Les eventually convinced them to change our first flight to 10:00 a.m., which got us into Halifax with just enough time to board the smaller plane to Sydney.
So instead of having to get up early and be tired for the rest of the day, we had a restful sleep, a great breakfast at our B & B, and then a relaxed trip. Which was good because I was beginning to be a little stressed at that point. It wasn't so much because of the upcoming surgery (I've had four C-sections!) as it was not knowing exactly what we were dealing with, and how much time I might have.
It seemed to me that if my time here was limited, I could be spending it on better things than being a tourist. But at the same time, I wanted Les to enjoy our trip as much as possible. He loves to travel to new places, and we'd both wanted to come to Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island.
Fortunately, those bothersome thoughts only appeared a few times, and never for very long.
After arriving in Sydney, we drove our rental car to Margaree Valley, where one of Les's nieces and her family live. They'd invited us to use their home as our base.
Although I'd seen pictures of her family, I'd never actually met their three children, or their adorable English springer spaniel, so spending some time with them was terrific.
We also drove the Cabot Trail and visited some of the towns and villages in the area. And I found some sea glass jewellery for our granddaughters.
I'm not sure where we were at the time, but at some point, I think while we were hiking at one of the bogs on the Cabot Trail, Les and I kind of looked at each other and agreed that we weren't worried. That whatever happened, we'd both be okay with it.
Truro and Dartmouth
On the last weekend in October, we drove to Dartmouth where we stayed at an amazing B and B, I taught an all-day writing workshop on Saturday, and we had supper on consecutive nights with friends we hadn't seen for a while—in one case, fourteen years!
Oh, between Truro and Dartmouth, Les got to catch up on his swimming since there weren't a lot of pools where we'd been in Newfoundland! He swam in Truro on our way to Dartmouth, then in Halifax and Dartmouth, and again in Truro on our way back to Cape Breton!
I took pictures of the Brad Gushue sign outside the pool in Truro since we hadn't spotted him in St. John's.
After the drive to Dartmouth, we both felt the need to just rest and catch up on email, etc. so we were able to do that at Les's niece's house, as well as visit with them some more.
Some time during the next week, I realized that I hadn't been given an appointment time for my next doctor visit.
I phoned the Breast Heath Centre and was told to come in at 9:30 a. m. on October 10th (the Wednesday after Thanksgiving) to see the doctor, and then at 1:00 p.m. for my pre-surgery. My surgery itself had been booked for Thursday, October 18th.
At this point, I updated my prayer team and sent an email with the details to my immediate family.
On our second last day, we drove to Rita's Tea Room for lunch and then walked around the Fortress of Louisbourg before heading to Sydney to look around and have supper before heading to a B & B for our last night.
We flew home the next day, Friday, Sept. 5th, just in time for Thanksgiving weekend.
That Sunday, we had a Legacy Pandemic marathon with our youngest son and visited with him and two of our other sons and their families for Thanksgiving dinner on Monday.
Early Wednesday morning, I took Les along to meet with the doctor (as per their recommendation that I bring someone with me).
My surgeon told us that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (i.e. cancer that began in a duct (tube) rather than in a node, and has moved out of the duct, but not far out). It was less than 2 cm in overall size.
He had booked me for breast-conserving surgery (aka partial mastectomy or lumpectomy) plus Sentinel Node Biopsy to find out whether or not the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. He said I could request a mastectomy if I thought that was a better option, and I could tell them any time up to two days before the surgery. He also assured me they would do everything possible to ensure a good recovery, and that the chances of a good outcome were identical no matter which route I chose—higher than 90%.
Of course, if they found out after my surgery that the cancer had spread, they could always do a mastectomy later.
I then met two nurses who would be involved with my pre- and post-op care.
Later that day, I met with an OR nurse for my pre-op appointment. She gave me a huge packet of information—everything from what to expect when you have breast cancer to exercises for after surgery.
So, basically, that day I interacted with four people, all of whom were really, really nice. I came away feeling that I had the best care I could have. But beyond that, I knew that God has me in his hands, so whatever happens I’m good. (For part of why I believe that, see the story of my oldest son's birth.)
My immediate thought after leaving the hospital was that I had a week to get ready for the surgery, and many, many things I needed to do first.