Ganbaru 頑張る! (Ch.1)

I learned a few new words today. The first words were Infiltrating Duct Adenocarcinoma. In layman’s terms, it means breast cancer. Words that I have dreaded for 30 years, since my mom was diagnosed while I was in high school. Statistics told me that the chances of it striking me if my 2nd degree relatives (grandmother, Aunt Barby) had it, are higher than average. Statistics told me that chances of it striking me when a first degree relative (Mom) had it, are even higher. I think my sisters and I held our breaths for years, waiting for one of us to come forward with the awful news, because when you have our family history and you add a sister with breast cancer on top of that? It’s like really bad compound interest on a maxed out credit card; you’re probably going to get a call from that creditor for payment … So a few days before Valentine’s Day, I felt the lump, and the first thought was, “Oh no, JoJo and Annie…”

As I was out of town enjoying the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had, I ignored that lump like it was a whining child in the backseat of the car. I would deal with it when I got back home. As soon as I came home, I saw our family doctor and he sent me straight to Edmonton for a mammogram/ultrasound. My furry man and I kept telling each other, “This could be nothing. Let’s not freak out until someone officially tells us to freak out.” I called my Aunt Barby, since she has been a survivor for 14 years, and she briskly told me, “Now, don’t you go hanging crepe, Sue. Even if the worst is confirmed, so much has advanced in breast cancer treatment in the last 14 years. You can do this. You hang tough and you don’t forget to look out for your furry man. After all, you are Hess Tough. He has a slight disadvantage.”

Although there are many critics of some of the wait times in a national healthcare system, it is almost a magical thing to see how quickly people can move in such a system, when things are urgent. I went in for a mammogram/ultrasound (normally a several weeks – months wait), and after a closer look, they asked me to overnight in the city and come in first thing in the morning for a core needle biopsy (normally a few weeks wait) on the lump and a surprise lymph node that looked “suspicious.” I turned to the radiologist and asked in a shaky voice, “May I see what you see on the ultrasound? Why do you think it’s suspicious looking?” She obliged, showing me the lump, which looked icky and alien, and the lymph node, which turned out to look EXACTLY like the Death Star. I kid you not, complete with narrow alley that Luke Skywalker had to fly through to blow up the place. I thanked her and held it together until I reached the parking lot and melted into a blubbering mess behind my steering wheel while on speaker phone with Markus. After soothing me and letting me cry for a while, he waited until I calmed down a bit and said one very true thing, “Honey, we have been waiting for this for years, haven’t we? We always knew that this might come up, with your genes. Now that the moment is possibly here, I know we can do this together. Our family can do anything.” So I went back to the hotel room and for the first time in my life, raided the Honour Bar in the room. I binged on Pringles and chocolate, and ordered cheese from Room Service. Then I went to bed at 5pm to try to sleep away the time until my morning appointment with the giant needles. Had the craziest dreams from the chips, cheese, and chocolate, and woke up completely unrefreshed.

The needles were super big AND they had a spring-loaded trigger that reached out a mini-claw to snip off core samples of the lump and lymph node. I swear the trigger snapped exactly like my automatic cookie press at home. Each “SNAP” made me jump, and when the radiologist, Dr. Ling, muttered, “darn it” I knew she would have to try again. She apologized and said, “I’m so sorry. I need 4 core sample from each site, and these tumours and lymph nodes don’t just sit there nicely. They’re slippery little suckers…like..like…” and I blurted out, “Like bubble tea taro bubbles?” She burst out laughing and said, “YES, EXACTLY! I have never thought of that comparison, but they are JUST like bubble tea…now I don’t know if I ever will drink bubble tea again…” So laughing together and with me doing my lamaze breathing to stop panicking, I got through that procedure. We taped up the two little tunnels in my breast and armpit, and I drove 4 hours home into the arms of my loving family.

At first I thought I would wait to tell the kids anything, only sharing if the news was bad. But I made it back home in time to pick them up from school, and Hanna and Simon immediately started to cry, and asked me, “Mama, are you going to die?” I guess not knowing CAN be much worse than knowing. And they jumped to the worst case scenario when they found out I had to stay overnight in the city for more testing. So I decided to tell them absolutely everything. Of course, I had to give them the all the possibilities, which did include possible death, but considering I’ve been having annual mammograms since I was 30, the tumour could only be, at most, a year old. And I caught that sucker all by myself in a self-exam. And I reminded them, I am Hess Tough. We had a big cry, and a big hug, and luckily, they went back to being normal children.

The last week has been miserable, waiting and wondering. I used the time to read up on anything I could find about all the possible outcomes, all the types of breast cancer, all the potential treatments. I tried in vain to find cases of a negative biopsy on both a tumour and a lymph node. The very worst part of all was not telling anyone. I didn’t want to worry my dad if it turned out to be benign, I didn’t want to put my sister into a panic, I didn’t want to burden friends, and even though I am the first to share everything with friends and family on Facebook, I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud.

Normally I give up Facebook for Lent. Yesterday, I realized with a start, “TOMORROW IS ASH WEDNESDAY.” How was I supposed to go through this ordeal in this Godforsaken place, with most of my friends and family so far away, without my touchstone? With Facebook, I log in, and see that you’ve had your morning coffee, that you share my teenager problems, that you laugh at the jokes I love, and that you care about me. I have conversations and I give sympathy or lend a helpful shoulder for anyone to cry on. It could be 3am here in Canada, but my friends in Taiwan, my cousin, friends, and sister in Australia, my old friend in Turkey, and my other loved ones around the world, might be awake to have a chat. For the first time, I realize that this would be the wrong Lent to take a Facebook hiatus. This would be the time I would need my friends the most. I bargained with myself, “If the news is good, I’ll give up my FB connections for Lent. If the news is bad, I’m going to ask my friends and family to lend me their shoulders.”

So here I am, on Ash Wednesday, letting you know that you won’t be getting a Lenten break from Suzy Creamcheese this year. One of my closest friends, Laurie, called me from Arizona tonight, marvelling, “Sue, what timing you have. Here we are on Ash Wednesday, getting ready to begin a spiritual Lenten Journey, and you have ahead of you the biggest journey of all. Don’t forget that you are not alone, that you can glean strength from all those who love you, and from your faith.” And then I started reading some more and I learned the best new word of all: Ganbaru (頑張る). It’s a Japanese word which some say means “to do one’s best.” But to the Japanese people, it means more than that. It means to do more than survive; it means to “commit oneself fully to a task and to bring that task to an end.” And I hope my furry man, my sweet precious children, my family and my friends, will Ganbaru by my side. I’m going to do my usual oversharing. I understand that some of you don’t know me as intimately as most, so this might gross you out. Don’t worry if you need to bow out and block my feed for a few months. I will see you on the other side. And I am determined to do that – to get to the healthy side of summer. With you to keep me company on this journey, and Ganbaru and Hess Toughness…this shitty little disease hasn’t got a chance.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 06:27:09

    Bless you, Sue.

    Like

  2. Rekha Kaula
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 11:27:30

    Sister Sarah. Shoulders are here for you. I appreciate your candor and found myself crying with joy and laughter by the time I got to your Aunt’s admonishment about Furry man being at a “disadvantage”. Whatever I can do from this distance for you, don’t hesitate to let me know. My primary skills are audio/video everything (except for advanced motion graphics) and I’ll try and fish out that old Guys n Dolls video and convert it to digital like I”ve been meaning to since the dawn of FB. Laughter and Love is the best medicine and girl you have quite the stash. XOXOXOXOX
    Biss Adelaide achoo!

    Like

    • Suelinhess
      Mar 06, 2014 @ 22:47:28

      Dearest Adelaide, you have no idea how wonderful it is to read your words. A copy of the Guys & Dolls performance would be most enchanting. I want my kids to see us in action – and to stop thinking of me as a crabby old lady 🙂 I love you!

      Like

  3. Karen
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 20:17:51

    My dear friend, know that we are right beside you ,You are wrapped in arms of love and hope and the most positive vibes ever!

    Like

  4. Rekha Kaula
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 12:02:18

    Going to snoop for the video tonight at Mom’s house! Wish me luck!!!!!

    Like

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