Ten years ago a happy healthy 38 year old Nicole was sitting at her high top kitchen table about to demolish a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries when she received a phone call that would forever change how her and her family viewed life. Weeks earlier she had contacted her doctor to request a mammogram. Her grandmother had breast cancer along her great aunt. She felt it was her right to not wait until she was 40 to have this test. Her attitude was “Fuck you if you tell me I can’t”. Whatever driving force told her to do this was a force that would get her through the next year with poise and able her to be there for others in their own journeys.
So home after a long day at work about to indulge in rarely eaten fast food she settled in to treat herself to some much needed comfort food when her phone rang. On the other end was a voice saying words that no one want to hear and one can’t imagine even stringing together. “We found something. It’s cancerous.” Those 2 small sentences strike fear in the hearts of anyone who even reads them, in Nicole’s case the next sentences would be the driving force for everyone to comprehend and walk through her journey. “It’s a stupid cancer though. It’s stuck in your duct. It will not spread and has a 98% cure rate.”
She remembers thinking, what do I need to do to fix this and schedule it into my life? What do I do with this information? The way he put it made it feel like nothing. First a biopsy then removal. So what’s the next move because the cheeseburger is ruined. Naturally she called her mother, explained what the Dr. told her and her mother, as strong mother’s do took it in stride, at least over the phone for her daughter. One can only imagine what she was really feeling.
Nicole walked me through the story, her biopsy and removal. She stressed that if you don’t like needles you shouldn’t get cancer! A sentiment others have also recounted to me. It’s funny how after 10 years and, if I may say, a very lucky bout with cancer, how the memories and emotions come flooding back. It all sounds as if the situation was simple and methodical but there’s so much fear in a 2% death rate, in the term cancer, in all the what ifs.
I remember the night I found out Nicole had cancer. Apparently she called me though I don’t remember the voice, only the words. She told me what they told her. She will have it removed, it’s curable and nothing to worry about. As any good little sister does I took it in stride until I got off of the phone. I then walked out of the space where my play rehearsal was happening and had a meltdown. How could my sister have breast cancer? Any form no matter how curable was terrifying. What if they were wrong? What if something happened? What if it happens to me? In 10 years we never talked about it. We moved on with our lives and tried to forget that one time my sister had cancer. But it was always there, still raw and when we talked about it we cried. How can you not?
Immediately after her surgery was down time before radiation began. She recalls getting over anesthesia as the hardest part. She didn’t want it to phase her, she’s a fighter and thought okay nothing has changed, this is just a process you need to go through but she broke down and struggled after the surgery. The week after was the hardest part and the entire thing was surreal. At one point she was so scared from feeling sick. She was a single mom, she had to pretend it wasn’t affecting her but one night she was so sick and scared. She had to have a breakdown and needed to just know it was going to be okay. That fear and vulnerability was the scariest part of it all.
From there she went through 8 weeks of radiation which as with her biopsy and surgery she methodically scheduled into her life and tried to keep things as normal as possible. Once it was over she only needed to have follow up MRI which to her are the absolute worst part. Being face down feeling the dye pumping into your veins, not wondering if you have more cancer, just having the MRIs. Funny the things that scare us most right?
These days she has a few physical reminders of her cancer. Tattoos where the lasers went, a marker in her breast so that they know where the cancer was when she gets mammograms and a scar where it was removed. She doesn’t feel like she counts as a cancer patient. It was trapped in a duct and couldn’t move. It was the best case scenario. But she did have cancer and no matter her journey it’s a part of her life story. And her attitude toward the situation, she feels, is what got her through it with her sanity. She feels that because she made it part of her routine and just continued her life that it helped. It was part of her daily life.
Today we honor her journey with a photo session that fits her artistic personality.
Photo below shows two small black circle tattoos that run down the center of her sternum. This is where the lasers would point for radiation treatments.
Photo below depicts the scar where they removed the cancer from. The following one shows just how she feels about that!