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New Year, New Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Mom to two little ones and mom.me contributor, Meredith C. Carroll will be sharing her experiences of her recent breast cancer diagnosis, imminent treatments and day-to-day living with the big "c" here on Mom's the Word. Please join us in supporting Meredith and wishing for the easiest path through this challenging journey she and her family are facing.

I’m not a big resolution girl, but I do usually anticipate each new year as a time to start fresh. This past December 31st, however, felt a bit different. I had a biopsy scheduled for January 3rd, after my first ever routine mammogram turned up an area of concern in my right breast. Instead of slamming the door shut on 2013 and welcoming 2014 with a warm hug, I found myself clinging to the old like a weepy tween saying goodbye to her parents on visiting weekend at sleep-away camp while warily eyeing the new as eagerly as a bout with gonorrhea.

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The results of the biopsy came back on January 6th: Cancer. If there’s an upside to my diagnosis, it’s that the kind of cancer I have is contained. I’m meeting with a team of surgeons and oncologists later this week to discuss the next steps, although from what I’ve already learned about the large size of the cancerous area, I’ll probably lose my right breast, in which case the left will be going with it. They’re a package deal, as far as I’m concerned. Sort of like one of those couples you see on the news who’ve been married for 60 years and one dies within hours of the other because they just couldn’t take the heartache of life alone. I’m projecting emotion on my left breast and assuming it wants to stand in solidarity with its friend on the right.

I’d like to think I’ve been handling this pretty well (although ask me that again when I wake up at 4 a.m.) in the seven whole days since getting the news. Except for all the dread of the je ne sais quois, that is. Although, really, at this point, before I have all the information and a specific plan of attack in place, it’s actually the dread that I’m dreading.

It’s because I don’t know the specifics of the in-betweens that I have 10 refills on my Xanax prescription.

After talking with a few doctors, several friends who have friends with breast cancer and actual survivors, I’m looking at it as if I’ve been sentenced to jail for the better part of this year. January is usually a time that I start guessing with my 5-year-old daughter when the tulips might start peeking through our garden. Except this January I’m imagining an orange hospital gown and a cell, er, roommate hiding a shiv under her IV tape in an effort to intimidate me away from the bed with the window.

Depending on the kind of reconstructive surgery I have, if I have it all, the soup-to-nuts course of action for me could be as long as eight or nine months. It’s because I don’t know the specifics of the in-betweens that I have 10 refills on my Xanax prescription. For how long won’t I be able to lift my arms—and my 2-year-old—after the surgery? Is my insurance really covering what could amount to more than a quarter of a million dollars? How will my implants look on a scale from natural to Dolly Parton?

The good news, of course, is that it isn’t a life sentence. I will be up for parole. But it’s still not easy to look ahead to the next several months and know how much inconvenience, pain, money and time will be suffered, spent and used up.

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Sure, all signs point to my release, finally giving me the fresh start I crave each January, and for that, I am profoundly and unspeakably grateful. But the thought of the process is still holding me back, keeping me from peeling off the old year and reaping the promise of a new, bright one.

It could be worse, and by worse, I mean the worst. But when you’re looking at a long stretch of hard time, that doesn’t always make it all better.

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