Colon Polyps and You (and maybe Grandma Ethel?)

IMG_7655I’m taking an informal poll. Are you a member of one of these wide-open, free-wheeling families who discuss openly and without shame their colon polyps?

Merciful heavens (as my prudish mother would say), I am so NOT.

I cannot remotely imagine how such a topic would everrrrr be breached over our family dinner table. (“Aunt Iola, please pass the okra — and while you’re at it, how bout giving us the deets on those nasty colon polyps you’ve been going on about?”)

Is this a thing in anyone’s household anywhere?

I guess the people who wrote the family medical history questionnaire I just took are hopeful there are far more communicative families in this world than mine.

These smart people are just trying to figure out how genetics might have led to my out-of-left-field breast cancer diagnosis. But for seemingly endless pages, I had to check a box for every last blood relation, cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent —  living and dead — as to whether they’d ever had breast or ovarian cancer and if they ever had colon polyps.

Again, I ask you (picture my eyes bugging at the thought of it): HOW WOULD I KNOW THIS?! In what weird alternate family universe would these words ever be uttered!?

So I checked each box with a resounding “Don’t Know,” all the while snickering at the mental picture of me chatting away with abandon about colon polyps with the likes of Cousin Joe or Grandma Ethel.

There’s not much funny to be found in the cancer realms, so the very words colon polyps have become a source of much-needed comedy for me. I mean, it really is fun to say.

I cling to the weirdly funny bits like a lifeline.

Like the day Will said, “Well, if you do have to have chemo, at least you could get a wig without grey streaks in it.” (Clearly, he has the gift of edification.)

Or how I now refer to my beat-up little Frankenstein boob as “a dented can.”

Or how absurdly comical it is that the world’s most modest mouse is now flashing her pitiful rack all over multiple counties.

I’m sure Julia Louis-Dreyfuss has far wittier observations; maybe we can compare notes someday while wearing matching pink knit caps.

But whatever, you do what you can.

My life these past few weeks have been a series of Melrose Place-esque cliffhangers (minus Heather Locklear and the midriff-bearing tops). Do I have the weird genetic mutation like Angelina Jolie? If so, a double-lopping is likely in order. Is the tumor they removed high-risk for coming back? If so, chemo (and a brown streakless wig) are probably on the docket. I should find out the verdict on both counts this week.

I’ve had doctors say both scenarios are unlikely. But still.

It’s a lot to think about. So I generally try not to. I try to laugh. And I try to pray.

And I try to say colon polyps ten times real fast.

Now that’s comedy gold.






Tales from the Cancer Wing

IMG_7618So here’s a word of advice. If you go for a mammogram and, next thing you know, a nurse whisks you into that “consultation room” — the one with the fancy curtains and the cushiony love seat and the autobiography of Robin Roberts on the coffee table –you might seriously consider RUNNING. This is not a good sign.

I know, because after my last mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor saw something shadowy she didn’t like, something that wasn’t there the year before. So I got whisked into that room and left there to wait…just me and Robin and all her cancer-ass-kicking inspiration that I never imagined I’d need and was definitely NOT in the mood for.

While Robin looked on, they told me that they wanted to do a biopsy–just to rule things out, just to make doubly sure. The doctor looked at me with these compassionate searching eyes, leaning into me with such gentleness that I figured this was the part where people lose it and try to throw themselves out the window. I pushed down that impulse, mentally categorized this whole thing as “due diligence,” and tried not to overthink it. (When time came for the biopsy, whatever they did sounded an awful lot like a chainsaw laying into a pine tree, which I also tried not to overthink.)

A week later one morning at work came another not-so-good sign: a message on my phone from my actual doctor. It wasn’t the office nurse with the traditional “tra-la-la, everything came back negative” spiel. It was a voice mail from my kindly dear OB/GYN himself, saying the words: “I have the results of your biopsy. Please call me.”

That’s when I went numb all over. The only things moving were my eyes, which flew back and forth in a weird panic. The rest of me just froze.

I shuffled out to a picnic table outside my office and mustered all the strength I had in my dialing finder to hit “Call back.” That’s when these words flashed in my head and kept pulsating in my brain:

God is good…even when the news isn’t.

God is good…even when the news isn’t.

And it wasn’t good news.

When he first said the words, “abnormal cells,” I thought, Okay, well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Then he said, “It’s cancer.”


It seems I’d defied the odds. I’d become the first woman without visibly detectable boobs to get breast cancer. I am a miracle of modern science. (Seriously, you have to laugh.)

Then he started talking a lot–using words like SURGERY. And RADIATION. And how we don’t know yet about CHEMO. The words DOUBLE MASTECTOMY also went swirling into the air as a possibility.

The bench beneath me did its own weird sort of spinning. I guess that’s how it feels when the tectonic plates of life as you know it start shifting.

He offered some nice attempts at comfort, left me his personal cell number. Then I hung up and sat there, swirling, spinning, yet completely still.

My brain was going a million miles an hour: What in the world just happened? Was that a wrong number?? How was I ever gonna tell my husband and kids this? Worst of all, how was I going to pick myself up from that bench and sit down at a desk and work like everything was just the same? It wasn’t.

I will cut to the chase in this weepy Lifetime movie — just so you don’t feel too dreadful for me.

When my husband and I met with the surgeon two weeks later, his first words were “If you have to have cancer, this is the best kind to have.” Supposedly, it’s not the maniacally aggressive kind. It’s kind of lazy and latent, like me. It had to come out, but everything was pretty much going to be okay. Or should be.


I found this rock on the nerve-wracking day I’d be getting results from my first surgery.  Look up.

Since then, I’ve had a lumpectomy (NOT a double mastectomy, for heaven’s sake). Then earlier this week they had to go back in again because there was still some stuff “on the margins” they didn’t like. (I liken it to unzipping a zip-loc bag and rooting around in there for more.) So yeah, I’m sore. I’m tired. But hey, I’ve finally gotten caught up on The Crown, which I’ve been meaning to watch forever, soooo…silver lining.

There will be radiation shortly down the road, but with no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes, hopefully, no chemo. That’s the best news I could hope for and am still hoping for.

Everyone’s cancer story is different — some are an absolute horror show. Depending on what happens with me and chemo, so far mine seems like vaguely troubling after-school special.

But no matter what version my story shakes out to be, my go-to prayer all along (besides the one that sounds a little like, “I DON’T WANNA DIE”) is this: that God would give me the measure of health He wants me to have. That He’ll use any bad news in my life somehow, some way, for good.

I always feel weepy and a shade guilty when I hear that amazing old hymn, It is Well With My Soul. Because sometimes it just isn’t well with my soul. Not even a little bit. But at the same time, I very much want it to be. That’s the place of wrestling where I am right now. A place where it is slowly, prayerfully, step by shaky step becoming well with my soul. Becoming okay. Becoming more than okay. Becoming more the version of me He wants me to be.

I try not to openly weep when we sing this song at church these days, the one based on Romans 8:15 that goes:

“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God.”

No matter what happens, I will ever be a child of God. A flat-chested (potentially even flatter chested) child of God, but whatever. It still counts.

It’s all good.