I'm sure most of you are aware that Maddie, my youngest sister, was diagnosed with stage two colon cancer in September, just after she turned 25. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy and has moved home to live with my parents.
I am going to help her share her stories here over the next few months, and maybe longer, as long as she's feeling up to it.
I don't know how to put myself in her shoes. God knows I wouldn't have had the same grace and composure she's had if I'd been in her place. Actually, my mom said that I took the news of her diagnosis even harder than she did. But the thing that Maddie and I have in common in this situation is that we deal with tough circumstances best when we can use them to fuel our creative passions. I know someday these stories will come out in the films Maddie makes, one way or another, but for now she and I are really excited to share them here.
Here is the first installment of Maddie's story.
I'm not the first person to have cancer, and unfortunately, I won’t be the last. I don’t want to share my experience because I think it’s exceptionally different than others, or that I’ve had any amazing revelations during this difficult process. I simply want to shed some light and share some details about my journey. Or maybe I just need to get it off my chest. Either way, here’s my story if you care to read…
I was diagnosed with colon cancer in my 25th year, only two months after my loving boyfriend threw me the most amazing birthday party I’ve had to date. I only mention it here because I want to illustrate how quickly the rug can be pulled out from beneath you.
The beginning of my story starts on a beautiful August evening. I vaguely remember the sky being pink. I was mostly so appreciative and excited because I got the privilege to leave work an hour early, catch the metro and go see Taylor Swift perform at the Staples Center with friends; something your average 25-year-old white girl would do. The night was fantastic and makes me happy looking back on it…I got to see Ellen DeGeneres dance on stage, be with my friends (and boyfriend) singing to some catchy T Swift songs, and sneak beer to the almost 21-year-old next to me who attended the concert with her mom.
If you couldn’t tell from that tidbit, I was a little over-served. I worried myself when I found that my stool was bloody the next morning. ‘It’s just my stomach being sensitive to the hangover,’ I thought to myself. But then I had a fever, and knew it wasn’t something to take so lightly. My boss, Nancy, took on her usual motherly role and encouraged me to leave work to go to urgent care. They examined me for hemorrhoids (one of the least invasive procedures I’ve had amidst this mess) and they couldn’t see any trace. So they ordered a colonoscopy for me. Woah, I thought to myself. That’s a little drastic for someone my age. I consulted my parents and my boyfriend’s dad who is a physician, and they all agreed with me, but thought I should go through with the procedure anyway. I dreaded asking for the day off from work, but reluctantly agreed to attend a date with my gastroenterologist and a camera up my butt. Thank God I did.
During my colonoscopy, they ended up finding a mass that resembled a shrimp, and the doctor’s reaction was far from comforting. Turns out the bleeding was related to a hemorrhoid, but they stumbled upon the mass as a result. This is one of the many lucky coincidences I’ve experienced. I had a pit in my stomach the moment after he came to me with the pictures that would not subside until we knew what it was. The next day, Nancy drove me to go bowling with my coworkers to make sure I took my mind off the pending biopsy results. It was probably nothing, we all thought.
Two days I waited in agony for the call. Then, on what seemed to be a typical Wednesday afternoon around 4pm, I got a call from my gastroenterologist. My heart was pounding in my ears. I walked outside. I think I always assume the worst will happen, because I’m human and I like to prepare myself. But in the back of my mind, I really didn’t think it was going to be bad. Then I heard the words you never want to hear…“It’s cancer,” he said. And I swear it sounded like he was about to cry. Then I started to cry, hyperventilate, and pace next to the dumpsters. I only could think of asking him questions about how to proceed. By the air conditioning units of my building, amongst all the littered cigarette butts on the ground, I tried to find some privacy and gather some semblance of sanity before I returned inside. But I was a wreck. Cancer? Seriously? I couldn’t catch my breath. What the fuck just happened?
I walked through the reception area of my office in disbelief, straight into my other boss, Dan’s, office. “I just found out I have cancer,” I said to him in between breaths, completely red in the face and hysterically crying. I remember how calm he was. I’ve found that in frantic situations everyone has to take their role. I was a mess; he was my constant. He endearingly tried to come up with all of the silver linings, but it was falling on deaf ears. It was kind of like a moment in one of those movies where all you hear is a high pitched ringing noise. I didn’t know what to do. Dan instructed me to go home, but little did I know that would be the last time I was in the building as their employee. I started to digest the information and call my family, boyfriend, and some friends. I still couldn’t believe it myself as I said it.