Adventures with Cancer Part 1


It was like a grain of sand, or a sliver just under the skin, maybe something magical I thought I was feeling. It was elusive at first, rolling away from the pressure of a fingertip. Over weeks, possibly months it grew. Then it seemed as if something was truly there, a tiny bump. An ingrown hair? A lymph node? Eh, it’s nothing.

It became a little secret that I put away for later, later. But then in bed at night I asked my boyfriend, Can you feel this? Is this something? With the touch of his finger,  what I’d believed was in my imagination was confirmed with a sleepy Umm hmm.

The doctor’s room was cold, I had on a tiny gown tied awkwardly around my side. As I readjusted myself I noticed my legs were sticking to the paper spread across the examination table. Every time I shifted the paper stuck to my legs. There was a two-year old Sports Illustrated in the magazine rack and a few pamphlets about STDs.

It’s a cyst, the doctor declared, washing his hands with his back to me. So I don’t have to do anything about it? I confirmed. No, it’ll probably just go away in time, nothing to worry about, he said, leaning his back against the sink with his arms crossed against his belly.

So my cyst and I went on our way, on the subway back to my office, back to joking around with coworkers, back on the subway uptown to the tiny apartment I shared with my boyfriend turned fiance.

Every night as I read before bed I’d unconsciously find my hand covering the spot that seemed to me to be getting bigger. It’s getting bigger, isn’t it? I asked my fiance. I think so, yeah, he said, maybe you should get it checked again?

This time I reminded my doctor that my mom had breast cancer. Breast cancer that had returned. You know my grandmother and my mother had breast cancer, right? Again he assured me that it was a cyst. It would just leave an ugly scar if he took it out. Nothing to worry about.

My fiance and I went to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Minnesota. The cyst was uncomfortable. Rubbing against my dress, interfering with my bra. I pulled one of my cousins, an E.R. doctor, to a private spot. Can you look at this? I asked. Looks like a benign fatty tumor, he said, but you should have it taken out.

The next week I went back to my doctor. Look, I said, I’m getting married in a couple of months and this thing is getting big. When I’m wearing my wedding gown and lift my arm you can see the lump. Can you please take it out? The doctor said it was too big to take out in his office. He referred me to a dermatologist. That doctor would take it out. No problem.

Can I see it? I asked the dermatologist after he and the resident had removed the lump in his office. It was in a small vial floating innocently enough: white, solid. Not what I imagined a cyst to look like. I made small talk with the doctor, joked around as I always do. He didn’t say much. That night I was in pain. I called the on-call doctor and said that Advil wasn’t cutting it. You really shouldn’t be in this much pain she said.

A week later I hadn’t heard from the dermatologist’s office. Wedding plans overwhelming me. Flowers, music, the Rabbi and Cantor, where were out-of-town guests staying? I called the dermatologist’s office. We had to send it to a different lab for more testing, the doctor said, I’ll call you.

A week later a phone call at work. The doctor would like to see you in his office as soon as possible. My stomach dropped. I tried to put it out of my mind. But something wasn’t right. My fiance met me at the doctor’s office.

We were escorted to the back of the office, to a dark paneled room with medical encyclopedias and family photos. My fiance and I held hands, my knee bounced up and down, up and down. The small staccato of my knee was the only sound.

Soon the doctor came in, sat down behind his desk, and said I got the pathology back and unfortunately what we took out was malignant. It is cancer.

I have cancer? I looked at my fiance, soon to be my husband, and said FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK. 

Read PART 2 here

68 thoughts on “Adventures with Cancer Part 1

  1. Omigod. Jen, I had no idea. If I didn’t already know you were ok, I would be on a plane to stomp the hell out of the tumor, and the doctor.

    • Thanks so much, Beej! I don’t know what happened to him (I reported him and wrote him a long letter), but he has to live with his conscience. I’m healthy now & that’s all that matters. I appreciate your stomps so very much, though!

    • Renee, The more touching the better, I say. When in doubt, get it looked at, right? And never trust just one opinion. I learned that the hard way. Sending you love!

  2. I gather this is from some years ago? And from the comment above and from what I’ve read in your posts, it seems you are healthy and vibrant. Still, a terrifying experience. I hope that first doctor had his license taken away. Wishing you the best of health and no recurrences!

    • Hi Iza, I had cancer ten years ago. I had tucked the whole experience neatly away and haven’t written about it, but am finding it coming up in my thoughts quite a bit lately. This seemed a good place to explore that time in my life. Thanks so much for the well wishes!

    • Yup, he was the lazy type for sure. A laid back doctor can be good on the surface, but in this case it was quite dangerous. He will have to live with his poor decision making. I just hope the AMA took away his license.

  3. I’m riveted by this story. It’s moving and beautifully written. So glad you’re through this. What a fucking asshole of a doctor. Christ on a cracker that pisses me off. Totally not a cancer story, but I had my uterus repaired (septum) and I got my period right after the surgery, this while a surgical balloon (to keep my uterus from sticking to itself) was still in place. Called that asshole doc (no bedside manner) two days post-surgery and said, “I’m in a lot more pain than yesterday. I think I have my period. This balloon needs to come out.” He said, “You don’t have your period. You should take your painkillers.” Um, hi assfucker, I took the pain meds and it still hurts. Also? Been getting my period for quite some time. I think I know what it feels like. Yeah, I went in the next day and he had the nerve to tell me “You have your period, that’s why there’s so much cramping.”

    Ahem, wow, totally not about your story. Sorry! Tangent. I love this post. You’re just lovely. Gonna share it.

    • Nicole, What an asshole! That’s unbelievable. I just wonder if he would’ve talked to a fellow man in the same manner. Did you follow up?

      Thanks for sharing my post. xox

  4. Jennifer, oh my gosh! I am speechless here. I just want to tell that doctor off. I am so, so glad you persevered and did not let this go.
    Beautiful, powerful writing. Stunning.
    Big, giant, so-happy-you’re-okay hug to you. xo

    • Heidi,

      Thank you. Thank you, friend.

      Sadly I think things like this happen much more frequently than we know. Doctors get lazy. I think he thought I was a young girl freaking out over nothing. But clearly he was very wrong.

      Anyhow, hugs right back at you!

  5. Effing doctors. We get reamed with health insurance premiums and sent away when we have tumors growing. What a story! That is maddening. They ought to lose their friggin licenses. Since this was years ago before you had your kids I can only assume you’re in the clear? I wonder how much surgery and chemo, etc. you had to endure. Damn..a-hole doctors. I’ll be thinking about that for a while..

    • Stephanie, I am healthy now and I’ll have more installments of my adventure with cancer coming soon. I’m pretty sure this doctor was just lazy, not malevolent. The state of our healthcare system? That’s another story. Anyhow, he got quite a letter from me, though, and was reported to the AMA.

    • Robbie, Sadly I saw him for many years and he was a really nice guy. Just a very lazy doctor. (And maybe stupid?) I’ve (mostly) let go of my anger toward him because it goes nowhere–I don’t want to let him make me sick again, you know? But yeah, nut sack removal would be fun. More story to come! xo

  6. What a fucking dick, asshole doctor. I am just SO PLEASED, HAPPY, OVERJOYED, that you did not take no for an answer and are here to tell your story. It is a sobering reminder to us all, to always get a second opinion. The sad thing is that I have heard this story about doctors saying ‘oh it’s nothing’ so many times. Because of their gross negligence, arrogance and lackadaisical attitiude, some of those that I’ve dearly loved have lost their lives, my Mother being one of them.

    You brave, wonderful lady in sharing your story with us, thank you.

    • Lottie, I am so very sad and sorry to hear that your mother lost her life. We share this in common, sadly. Anytime you want to talk about it, I’m here, ok? Thank you being here. xo

  7. i’m glad you decided to tell the whole story about when you had cancer. I already read about it a little bit in your “little asshole” post and now i’m glad you’re telling the whole thing.
    i think that “events” like this one get buried for a while first, but never really go away. they come to the surface when you’re ready – and i am so glad you are here and ready and reported that doctor!

  8. I am so sorry. This is such a powerful post; I was with you the whole way, holding my breath as I followed this story. I am so glad you listened to yourself. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  9. I am very, very sorry for your diagnostic experience, but overjoyed by your outcome. Incompetent doctors make my blood boil. I am the lazy/stupid/fuckhole doctor antidote. For real. And you are saving lives by sharing this. Know that. Ellen

    • Ellen, I would want you on that wall. I need you on that wall! I would want you as my doc! I have had far more amazing, excellent doctors (life-saving!) than the lazy/stupid sort, so I haven’t lost faith. If this helps even one person I will be thrilled. xoxo

  10. oh gosh. how horrifying that this was overlooked and you had to face such an ordeal. so happy that you made it past it despite their lack in judgement. all my hugs to you.

  11. I’m so very glad and grateful that you weren’t writing about a current event, and I also very much appreciate getting to hear about this powerful time in your life, before I knew you. Your gut instincts are always ALWAYS so right on, Jen!! I miss you and love you, and am grateful to your gut that you kept seeking input and opinions and pushed forward with your diagnosis, treatment and cure. One of your earlier comments alluded to how often this happens. My mother experienced this kind of doctoring; I agree with you…it’s not malevolent. But I don’t know what to actually call it. My mother’s 3rd occurrence of cancer is the one that took her. She had ongoing, debilitating pain in her back and hip, and her naturopath kept telling her it was her arthritis and to take pain meds. For a year it got worse, until her husband, a retired surgeon himself, finally took a stand and forced an MRI. She was lit-up like a Christmas tree by that time, from head to toe, with cancer. It was stunning and horrifying. I often wonder what might have been different, if anything, had she pushed for a second opinion within a month or so of being told it’s nothing to worry about. I wonder if her life may have been prolonged had it occurred to me that her MD could be mistaken and something was really wrong. But, that’s not what happened, and she’s gone; and whenever I hear or see the name of her naturopath, whose very successful practice is local, I kind of cringe and have a flash of anger (thankfully, it passes quickly). He apologized deeply to her; I know he carries her death on his conscience, with regret and pain. I take no joy in that, but it does soften what could have been an unhealthy anger on my mother’s part (she forgave him long before she died), and now mine. I also agree with you about the toxicity and choice of carrying anger, and I support your decision to avoid both. I’m glad you did what you felt was right, writing to him and reporting him to the AMA, and once the action steps were taken, letting go the best you can. I imagine this choice of yours has probably been an important component in your overall health and well being, and for this, I am also grateful. I miss you, Sweetie. xxxooo

  12. I am covered in goosebumps. As a um stalker I’ve read everything you’ve written so I hoped this was referring to your past experience and I’m glad it was. I’m glad you didn’t give up, and I hope you went back to that doctor and junk punched him.

    As usual your writing is moving and motivating! Sending lots of hugs for your continued good health!

  13. Jen – I’m going to pretend you’re writing this series for me. Ever since you posted a little about this, I’ve wanted to hear the whole story. I’m embarking on my own journey with the big C and am so interested to hear how the story unfolds. As I’ve said before, I think you’re writing is inspired and I look forward to every post! So glad you are healthy 10 years later.

  14. well I thought I wrote a response but clearly…didn’t. Doctors. phtooey. The doctor who did the ultrasound on my (ultimately very preemie child) said, after my exam, “well, basically you have a crappy placenta.” Great. And how should I index that in the PDR? Is that “placenta, see also crappy” or does “crappy placenta” get its own entry? I’d delighted that you’re well enough to write about this journey (probably not half as delighted as you are yourself) – and wondered if you know Marisa Acocella’s graphic novel _Cancer Vixen_? It’s quite wonderful – and brutally funny – and about shoes, breast cancer, and love. And etc.

  15. I’ve never been in your shoes, but I’ve worn your fiance’s. My husband was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2010. I’ll never forget the feeling that coursed through my body when he told me about the tumor in his abdomen that had grown to the size of a softball before we found it–like the world had just tilted on its axis. Glad you’re well now (so is my husband.) Cancer is a scary, scary word.

  16. Ok, I somehow knew you had cancer. We must have chatted about it.

    But even knowing that, my feet got all sweaty and my tummy ill while reading this. Just going through the finding and realization stuff. Cancer is the worst case scenario most of the time when you find out something is wrong…the “what is the worst that it could be” thing. And then when it IS the worst?

    I am so glad you’re writing through this now. Not because it’s a good thing to have gone through, but because writing it out can be so theraputic.

  17. I’m late to this comment party. So let me just say now (as one of the lucky people to know you before and after this experience) how very glad I am that you were persistent.

    This world needs you. And selfishly, I need you.


  18. I was saying FUCK FUCK FUCK in my head just before I read your written expletives. Usually, I’m on the conservative side of invasive procedures, so I find it hard to really come down on the docs too hard. Especially having had several moles removed, just in case. But putting your family history into the equation negates that completely.

    Thankfully, I know this isn’t coming around in real time – so I can relax just a little. Except then I think about other people in the presently unfolding stories. So, I’ll say it again: FUCK FUCK FUCK.

  19. I think you know about what I’ve been giong through with my husband’s health lately. We’ve now learned that sometimes you need a second opinion. And I think you always know these things somewhere inside, that something isn’t quite right. We must listen to that.

    I’m so glad you’re going to share your story with us. And so very glad you’re healthy now!

  20. My, God. You trust a doctor. They’re the ones that go to school for so long. They’re the ones who are supposed to know when something’s wrong. This makes me so angry at that idiot who wrote it off as “just a cyst.”

    So glad to know that this story has a happy ending. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the third installment.

  21. Pingback: Adventures With Cancer, Part 4 | Kvetch Mom

  22. Randomly came across your blog and reduced to tears as you described my exact situation. I’m only 38 so my doctor diagnosed me with general hardening of the breast, ultrasounds and mammograms showed no mass even though it was visible and palpable. Doctor dismisses it as fibroedinoma and tells me to come back in a year. I said, I don’t care what you call it, I want an MRI. Hospital rejects my request twice since scans show negative for any mass and ignore hand written note on scans indicating mass was palpable. In Canada with “free” healthcare,they are very discriminating as to who gets what and when. They decided if you’re getting an MRI not you. Two months wasted in beurocracy, meanwhile, lump has grown from a walnut to an orange overnight. My gp decides to go on vacation for a month leaving me hanging waiting for an appointment at the breast clinic. Breast clinic is booked up solid to next month, loose another 30 days.

    I have stage 3b aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma, her2 +. I am infertile from chemo and losing my breast soon. Surgeon says to me…”well if we has caught it sooner we could have saved your breast… Thanks a lot FuckWads!

    Obama Care, although well intentioned, does not work in practice. When stuff is free, you have to beg for it, and those in control of the spend decide your fate. This is why so many Canadians cross the border and pay cash for healthcare services such as ultrasounds and MRIs.

    • Erica, I’m cursing up a freaking storm here. I’m infuriated in your behalf. That is so damn irresponsible of all parties (except you) involved. I’m so glad you kept advocating for yourself. And I’m so very sorry that you are going through this hell.

  23. As I wrote that last comment, I am hooked up to an antibiotic drip, I developed intestinal bleeding, perforated lining from my last round of chemo. 2 more to go and i’ll be eating pablum for the rest of my damn life

      • Thank you so much, so far I have remained positive and focused on my treatment and recovery, but as you can see, there are days when I am so angry and sad, but I know it will pass. Your blog is so inspirational and I am so glad to have come across it.

        • Erica, I remember having many low, low days. It’s brutal. I think the anger is good at times for keeping you fired up and fighting. I’m by your side!

  24. Pingback: yeah write #53 winners |yeah write

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