It’s been 2 months since I was diagnosed with cancer. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and this will all have been just a bad dream. But it’s not. No amount of pinching is going to wake me from this nightmare. Today marks two months since Marvin the Masshole was diagnosed as “official” cancer in my chest. Two months of being poked, cut into, medicated, injected, scanned, and going to countless doctor appointments.
The morning of July 25th , a very unlucky Obstetrician walked into my hospital room, where generally only babies are delivered or pregnant women are treated. It had been 9 days since my youngest son had been born; he had been released from the NICU just two days prior. We were able to bring Malcolm home the evening of July 23rd to finally meet his brothers and sister, but I was re-admitted to the Women & Infants Pavilion (WIP) at the hospital the following morning due to preeclampsia complications. We had one night at home as a healthy family of 6. Not even 48 hours later, I was sitting in a hospital bed watching as Doctor Spectre pulled up a chair (it was all very Grey’s Anatomy actually…) to deliver this awful news to a new mommy holding her 9-day-old infant in her arms. I later learned that Dr. Spectre went to the parking lot and wept afterward. She had lost her best friend to cancer only a month or two prior. She was not my Obstetrician, just the unfortunate doctor on duty at the WIP the morning that my CT scan results came in, but her name will forever be ingrained in my brain.
“You have a large, 9cm mass in your chest that is likely cancer.” Not the words I was expecting to hear. They had performed a CT scan the night before in my chest to make sure I didn’t have any blood clots from my cesarean surgery a week prior. Thinking about that moment is incredibly surreal. Then she explained that I would need to have a biopsy procedure done with a large needle being guided via another CT scan, straight down into my chest cavity the following day and concluded the discussion by asking me if I had any questions. I had a million, but I couldn’t formulate any into words. I dismissed her with a “thank you” and sat on my hospital bed in stunned silence while my poor husband tried to offer me comfort.
I couldn’t tell you what Brent said, but I remember thinking that he must be so scared. Here we were newly-weds of just four months with four children together, (Yes, we waited a while to tie the knot…) one of whom was just over a week old, and there was a very sudden and very real chance that I may not be around to help raise our children to adulthood. Thoughts swirled around in my head, the forefront being that Brent’s own grandfather had given up his career to care for his wife with cancer and ultimately lost her battle with it, which then led him to raise his 3 sons on his own. For years I’ve heard Brent tell me how much he respected his grandfather for doing that, it’s the reason our 3-year-old’s middle name is “Ray”, named after his great-grandfather Raymond. “Papa Ray”, whom Brent so admired as the epitome of what a husband and father should be. They say history repeats itself…we even have 3 sons like he did, along with our oldest that is a girl. Still, the similarities are there. Was he being sentenced to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps? I sure hoped not. I still hope not.
My next thoughts were that I needed my mom to be there. I sent Brent into the hallway to call my mom and let her know what was going on and I sat in silence on my hospital bed, staring down at my sleeping newborn and just thinking that this couldn’t be happening. Five minutes ago I was hopeful that we would be released to go back home with a clean bill of health to continue our lives together as a family of 6. Now our future was nothing but a jumble of unanswered questions. Questions that, as it turned out, would take weeks to gain any solid answers to.
My mom arrived and I could see that both she and Brent were struggling to hold back tears as we discussed what this mass could be. Cancer was likely, as the doctor had said, but maybe it was just a benign mass. We were all hoping for benign, but my gut told me otherwise. Regardless of what it was, the location inside my chest was dangerous to my heart. Since my mom was there to sit with me, I sent Brent home to check on our other 3 kids and to give him some time to shower and feel whatever emotions he needed to feel without trying to be strong for my sake. My mom and I sat together while he was gone, and hearing her getting choked-up allowed me to focus outside of myself, which is really what I needed at the time. I didn’t want to see my mom cry. I knew she had to be thinking about the loss of her mother to cancer, about her father currently being treated for cancer, and now the probability of her oldest daughter having to fight cancer as well. I attempted to make her laugh by telling her that we needed to name this “mass-hole” who was messing up my happy life. I came up with Marvin right away, because the mass is an invader, and Marvin the Martian came to mind. Marvin the Masshole was named right then, and it immediately lightened the mood. Naming this invader made me feel like I had some kind of power over it; it made this large mass somehow seem less scary. That was enough to shift my mental-gears over to a more positive line of thinking, and I hopped in the shower with, ironically enough, a very appropriate Barenaked Ladies’ song (Pinch Me) verse playing on repeat over and over in my head: “I feel fine enough, I guess…considering everything’s a mess.” It was a mess, and all things considered, I should probably have gotten into that shower and crumbled onto the floor into a sobbing mess, but I didn’t. I actually felt fine enough, I guess.
Fast forward 5 weeks and I had 3 CT scans under my belt, (The original biopsy via needle through the chest had been inconclusive, which led to further procedures.) a PET scan, a second attempt to retrieve a viable biopsy via a very serious surgical procedure, countless blood draws, and finally an appointment scheduled with an oncologist who would be detailing the results of that second biopsy.
On August 31, 2018 I was given my official diagnosis: I have cancer. Aggressive Stage II Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma to be exact. I notified close family and friends early on, and went “public” on social media about everything two days later. Since then, the outpouring of love, generosity, and support has been incredible and completely humbling.
After my diagnosis, I had to have two more procedures completed before I could begin chemotherapy: a catheter port-placement surgery inside my chest and a bone marrow biopsy. Everyone tells you how painful bone marrow biopsies are…but nobody warns you about how much worse the port-placement is. I was given 5 days to recover from those procedures before Day 1 of: “Operation Evict Marvin” commenced.
It’s been 10 days since my first chemotherapy session, and I have to admit, I still feel fine enough, I guess. Though admittedly, everything is still very much a mess, and it’s likely to be that way for a while. As my oncologist so gently put it, I have a long road ahead of me. But I will beat this. I’m a fighter, always have been. I’m looking forward to the eviction party we have planned for Marvin the Masshole once my treatments are completed and he is no longer “squatting” inside my chest.
In the mean time, I’m just going to continue to put one foot in front of the other, taking everything one day at a time. If I’m being honest, I still haven’t really allowed myself a good cry over any of this. Sure, I’ve gotten choked up here and there. Breaking the news to my kids was rough. Giving up breastfeeding my newborn because my milk is now toxic from the chemo drugs has been the most difficult part, which has lead me to well-up with tears a time or two; but I haven’t let that dam of tears break. Part of me is terrified of doing anything that might irritate this mass that is so precariously wrapped around my heart. If I cough too hard, or laugh too hard, or allow myself to cry too hard, what if it constricts the mass and causes my heart to stop? Then there’s the other concern: Part of me is afraid that if I start crying, I won’t stop. And what good will that do anyone? So I smile. I laugh. I give a name to my pain, in hopes of making it less terrifying. I focus on the good and keep moving forward with the knowledge that I will come out of this alive. I will get to see my four precious children grow up. I will come out of this stronger than ever. And I will share my story along the way, because I feel like I need to. If you’ve read through this far, thank you. Thank you for caring enough to read my journey so far. Thank you for fighting alongside me. Thank you for being one of my many reasons to fight. God bless you and I’ll try to keep my future blogs shorter than this one turned out to be!
XoXo – Nikki
P.S. Here’s the Barenaked Ladies’ song, “Pinch Me” in case you’re curious about the verse that is still pretty frequently playing on a loop in my head: