The Five Stages

When me and my cancer woke up this morning, we were immediately plunged into a horrible quagmire of worry and depression. In fact, waking up is pretty much the worst part of the day when you have cancer, because every single morning, for just a few seconds, I think to myself, “What an awful nightmare! Thank God none of that was real!” But the relief melts away in seconds when I realize that actually, every single part of it was and is totally, completely, undeniably real.

When the radiologist called on the day after Christmas to tell me I had cancer (worst Christmas present ever), she warned me that I might experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. She didn’t really give me a timeline for experiencing these, and I would say I experienced all five of them within the first 30 seconds of finding out. Then, as the days went on, I realized that those five emotions are not really sufficient to explain the runaway emotional rollercoaster that is a cancer diagnosis. So, these are my new and improved Five Stages of Finding Out You Have Cancer!

1. Temporary deafness. I don’t know what it is, but when someone says the word “cancer,” you lose the ability to hear the rest of their sentence. I know I was on the phone with this radiologist for like 20 minutes while she explained what the next steps would be for my now-cancerous self, but the call right might as well have been a text message that said “u have cancer lol” for all I remember of it. Even afterwards, when my parents and my brother tried to talk to me about it, I felt like I was lying at the bottom of a pool and they were shouting at me from above the surface, their words distorted and muted.

2. Manic inspirational Pinterest quote searching. A few hours after my temporary deafness subsided, I morphed into Oprah. I was like a fountain of crappy needlepoint sayings, spouting out bullshit like, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!” and “God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle!” I wouldn’t call it hopefulness, exactly; it was more like last-minute, panic-induced mania, probably induced by the same biological response that causes all your capillaries to explode to warm you moments before you die of hypothermia.

3. Public crying. Once I realized that no amount of typographic posters talking about hope and love were going to undo the fact that I would have my breasts cut off, my body pumped full of poison and my bald head on display for all to see for at least six months, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I mean, like, not even for a few minutes. I cried when I woke up. I cried over the breakfast I couldn’t eat. I cried while watching CNN for hours, hoping to hear some news stories of people that were even worse off than I am. I cried while looking at Facebook. I cried on the toilet. I cried in the shower. I cried in the car. I cried in the yard. It didn’t matter who was around or if they were looking at me or if they were looking alarmed or what. I cried on the airplane (if you recall, I was in Costa Rica when I was told that I had cancer – the one perk of this was that United then upgraded me to first class, but I was sitting away from my family). As I was sobbing hysterically, the woman next to me said comfortingly, “Oh, honey, what’s wrong? Boy troubles?” I think that’s when I really realized I was too young for this bullshit.

4. Googlemania. If you are ever diagnosed with a deadly disease – and I pray to God that you never are – STAY. THE. EFF. AWAY. FROM. GOOGLE. Dr. Google is not a very good physician. He’s full of statistics that will get in your head and make you certain – and I mean certain – that you are going to die. After a few hours of Googling horrible things like “how long before breast cancer metastasizes,” “how many people are stage IV breast cancer at diagnosis”, “what if my lymph nodes are enlarged with breast cancer”, I was pretty much ready to roll over and wait for the cancer to ravage my body and leave me a dead, hollowed-out shell of myself before age 28. Finally, I vowed that I just didn’t care what Google or the stats had to say. Only 0.3% of breast cancer cases occur in women under age 30. Statistics already screwed me once. I ain’t listening to them again.

5. Drugz. Finally, some kind-hearted doctor realized that a 25-year-old girl who can barely even cope when Modcloth is sold out of the dress she wants really just is not equipped to deal with a cancer diagnosis on her own. This wonderful doctor wrote me a prescription for a combination of anti-depressants and benzos, which is something they often give to soldiers with PTSD. I feel that the comparison is appropriate. After all, I’m about to go into battle.

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