Processing a Cancer Diagnosis




One day, sitting at my dining room table, it was as if I momentarily left my body and floated up into the air. I had an arial view of what was transpiring and it left me in a state of awe. Floating, I watched my family, like little worker ants, running back and forth, scurrying past me at breathtaking speed. Pacing and planning the next 6 months of my life, they ran around my house, talking, discussing, planning, arguing, agreeing, and planning some more. They zoomed with my doctors, made plans for us to fly to Mass General for a second opinion, arranged to send tissue samples for genetic testing, and on and on. Half the time I didn’t even know what they were saying. I just heard a lot of "You need to be here on this date," and "You need to have this done on this date."


A big black binder sat on the table with all of Reinaldo’s notes and all my scans – the last month of my life squeezed into one thick, zipped up leather binder. I felt a heaviness take over my body and gravity sucked me into my chair. Suddenly even my toes became too heavy to lift and my head to wobbly to hold straight. I was experiencing so many emotions and I didn’t know how to vocalize what I was feeling. I was still processing my diagnosis, and the fact that my tumor was malignant, and I couldn’t think ahead any further than that.


My psychiatrist helped me work through these feelings, and just in case someone might have had a similar experience, I want to share what he said to me. He explained it so perfectly and it completely changed my expectations of how I process each hurdle of this nightmare called cancer. He said,


"You feel like you have been hit by a bus and your family is running around picking up all the pieces from the crash, putting you back together, and planning ten steps ahead. And you are kind of just laying there on the road, saying UHHH, HEY GUYS, WAIT A SEC... I was JUST hit by a bus, and I’m over here still laying on the pavement.... You guys are talking about all this other stuff so far down the road, and I just need to lay here for a minute because I'm still hurting from the bus that just hit me."


I bring up the bus metaphor a lot when I talk to people about my experience because it applies every step of the way. For example, when I found out that the tumor was malignant, my family jumped into action discussing treatment options with the doctor over Zoom. And I just yelled and screamed (literally yelled and screamed and threw a few things) in another room because I couldn’t believe it wasn’t benign. My family didn’t get angry or have a violent meltdown (at least not in front of me) because there was simply no time for that. They knew what had to be done and they got to work – fast. I couldn’t. I felt paralyzed.


Every time I get a new scan and I am still processing the results of it, my family is already asking when my next scan is, and setting reminders in their phones. They are like well-oiled machines – my very own little worker ants – able to work, work, work without having the time to burden themselves with processing anything. It’s a reoccurring theme, and I’ve learned to one, appreciate my "worker ants" and the emotional and physical load that they carry for me on a daily basis, and two, remind them sometimes that I’ve just been hit by a bus and I need a moment to process it.