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The Diagnosis

by Trice Steiner

Actually, I never got bad news. No, what I got was "not the good news we would have hoped for." I guess the surgeon didn't like telling people they have cancer. That's fine. I didn't like hearing it. All through the extra mammogram views, ultrasounds, the needle biopsy, I remained convinced -- absolutely convinced -- that the funny spot on my right breast was just some weird scar tissue from a cyst I'd had removed from the same spot. "Not good news" was not what I expected to hear. I sat stock-still, staring at the surgeon.

Finally I said, "Oh, crap!"

The first thing I thought was: No, I don't think so! Soon my mind was swamped: Uh, no, I've got MS -- I don't do cancer! No, not right now. One sister-in-law had a double mastectomy just three weeks ago and the other lost her second breast to cancer, what was it, the year before last? Well, not me, too. No freaking way!

The surgeon said something reassuring about early detection and survival rates. When he moved on to treatment options, I cranked my brain into overdrive, convinced I had to remember every word he said. I hadn't asked anyone to come with me, so I couldn't fall back on someone else's memory. Somehow I managed to ask questions and even wrote some things down. Whenever the surgeon paused, I repeated a silent mantra: I can get through this; I can get through this.

I left the office clutching a huge folder of information. I don't remember how I made it to my car. I dropped behind the steering wheel and started to cry. I gave myself ten minutes and then called my family, one by one, starting with my husband - but first, I practiced saying "Hello" without breaking down. It took a few tries. Still in shock, I laid out what the surgeon had told me. I focused on the good survival rates for early detection. After the last call I allowed another couple of minutes for more tears. Then I turned the key in the ignition and headed home, repeating out loud, "I will get through this!"

A few days later I picked up the ultrasound films and got a good look at the villain, a dark gray blur with black, spidery legs radiating outward. I whispered, "You're gonna die, tumor." I couldn't control my fate, but I could control the fate of those particular cancer cells. They were going down.

Now, more than a year later, so much remains uncertain. I've survived surgery, chemo, and radiation, but I still can't say with absolute certainty that I've survived cancer. That's for my family and friends to say after I die from something else. But I know this much: I'm a cancer survivor. Each and every day that I'm alive, I'm a cancer survivor. I faced the "not good news" and I have survived!

Trice was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at age 52. Last summer, she and her husband celebrated survival with a cruise to Alaska (a belated 25th anniversary celebration), during which they whale watched in Canada, kayaked in the Sierras, camped at California beaches, and generally whooped it up.