A tumor, on a sonogram or a mammogram, looks like a black hole.  A cancer diagnosis is like falling into one.

You find yourself disoriented and confused. It’s almost a feeling like vertigo. You are swept along by a force that is not your own.

I found the dreaded lump on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend. Nightmare. I had to wait until Monday to even call the doctor.

I was breastfeeding at the time so, if my mother hadn’t had breast cancer before me, I probably would have assumed it was a clogged milk duct, which is very common in breastfeeding women. So, in a way, the fact that my mother had breast cancer probably saved my life.

I tried to smile my way through Father’s Day but, it was tough for all of us. Monday couldn’t come quickly enough.  In hindsight, I should have savored that Sunday. If I had known that the next three months would be a non stop flurry of tests, blood draws, mammograms, biopsies and surgeries, I would have enjoyed every second of that day.

When I called my ob/gyn that Monday morning, I was beside myself. They took pity on my and agreed to let me come in the very next day. That appointment was neither terrifying or comforting.  The lump was prodded and I was given a prescription for a sonogram.

I was able to get in for that test within the next couple of days. That appointment was not comforting at all. As I looked at the screen, I saw a black hole surrounded by static gray. Immediately, my blood pressure rose. The sonogram technician excused herself and left the room. When she came back with the radiologist, I knew I was screwed. My heart sank and my body went hot. He said nothing but finished the sonogram himself, pressing buttons, measuring the ugly black circle that now seemed to be mocking me.  Afterward, as we were waiting for the films, he called my husband and I into his office and told us, in no uncertain terms, that we should take the films to a breast surgeon as soon as possible.  My husband tried, desperately and unsuccessfully, to get the radiologist to give us some information, anything at all.

That is the worst part of being in the black hole, you see. You are searching in the dark for any information to give you something to hold on to. Some hope. You are at the complete mercy of the radiologists, the doctors, the labs. You are waiting for an appointment, a phone call, a result. You are in a constant state of limbo. It is darkness, the Great Unknown.

Once I went to the surgeon, a day or two later, my life B.C. (before cancer) was over. I was scheduled for a needle guided biopsy, which is basically a barbaric test wherein you are given a mammogram AND have needles stuck in your breasts all at once. After that, a lumpectomy was scheduled for July 2nd, the surgery for the left breast was performed on July 8th and my right one was taken from me on August 9th. I had a CT Scan and a Bone Scan in the hospital after that, to see if the cancer had spread.  My medi-port, where the chemotherapy would be delivered, was inserted via surgery in September.

This is the truth, though. By the time I got to this point, three months after finding that miserable lump, my mind and spirit had already started working overtime to climb out of the black hole.

Don’t get me wrong, I had many dark days ahead . I hadn’t even had my chemotherapy, radiation, or any treatment yet. I hadn’t had my failed reconstruction, my life threatening recurrent infection or any of the fourteen or so surgeries needed to correct the disaster. But, the mind and spirit are amazing things.

Somehow, you adjust to your circumstances. I have said often, “If you had told me years ago that I would have to have chemotherapy, I would have told you you would have to carry me in kicking in screaming.” You know what? I walked with my own two legs into the chemo room, sat down and took my treatment like a woman.

Somehow, in life, you find the strength and the courage that you need to change your outlook from one of despair to one of hope. You control your thoughts, which control your emotions, which control your outlook. A therapist once told me not to “plug into anyone else’s bullshit” and that was very, very good advice. You are the keeper of your thoughts and spirit. No one else.

I had eradicated the black hole that was the tumor through my blood (literally), sweat and tears and, in doing so, I had also climbed out of the black hole that I had fallen into.

If you are in a scary, desperate and difficult situation, look up, find the light and start climbing.