Jinyong calls me in the afternoon. Like a good friend he asks how I am; then like a good doctor he adds that I should keep being cautious about everything. As if I needed to be reminded. True, I didn't always live like this. And I'll jump at any reason to skip my Pilates session. That he knows it slightly irks me. But I am grateful to him for he's one of the friends who helped me get to this "healthful" state. Now my diet is mostly of rice, fresh vegetables, fruits, tofu and seafood--everything organic as far as possible. I do without meat and milk fat, and assiduously avoid sugar. And absolutely no smoking, not even a social cig or two that I used to love. I sometimes miss those occasional puffs but I know I can't afford to romanticize that now. I don't like meat, so going meatless isn't a problem. But desserts and cheese... Every once in a while, I'll have a bite, literally only a bite, and grudgingly curb myself. Eating this way, however, is much easier than sticking to my exercise routine--Pilates twice a week, swimming once a week, and an hour-long walk (often longer) twice a week. This may not seem very rigorous, but for someone like me who used to work out for zero hour a week for most of my life, believe me, it most definitely is. Especially because my joints still ache from the chemotheray, working out always takes a lot out of me. But since I started actively working out on a schedule in July, my body aches less. The thought of not being able to stop this routine (or at least something simliar), however, is disheartening. I am one of the laziest persons on earth. Exercise is modern day torture. Just look at all those unhappy faces on treadmills! But my doctors are always breathing down my neck about regular exercise as if without it I would keel over any minute. No shit?
On October 13, 2012, I was diagnosed with stage 2 TNBC (triple negative breast cancer). That's a little over a year ago now. I'd had a lump checked out and was facing the doctor in his office at the breast/thyroid clinic. The usually smiley doctor looked adequately glum as he said, "the biopsy shows cancer cells." So that was that. Since happening upon that damned lump in my right breast 10 days ealier, my anxiety level went through the roof. I am an extremely imaginative hypochondriac, who kind of likes going to the doctor and being told off for being neurotic. Something was wrong, though. A palpable lump cannot bode well. Still I went to the doctor, hoping he'd set things straight. But the usually chatty doctor was not so chatty when he told me that it wasn't just one lump. He saw three in the ultrasound. They weren't big but they were three, and he didn't like their shapes. He ordered an immediate biopsy, when all I wanted to hear from him was, "Aw, get out of here, this is nothing." Looking at him showing me the ultrasound pictures I could see thngs could not be good. The mere sight of the spiky little monsters in black and white was ominous. The poking needles didn't hurt as much as the marked reticence of the doctor. The following week was a haze. I tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy. It was still unreal, and, flimsy as it was, I held on to the possibility of benign tumors. On learning the biopsy result the following week, I realized that there was just no preparing for this, no matter how educated or philosophical you might think you were. Even a meltdown is out of the question for its sheer senselessness. The doctor suggested a mammotome procedure that afternoon so as to help expedite everything for me, with the cell block and stuff for further testing. He also said I should call someone. Too much to absorb and no one to call. At that moment, an appalling new sense of the word "lonely" descended upon an unattached 42-year-old woman in a single-person household. I could only repeat to myself: "No shit!"
Under these circumstances there is nothing one can do but accept the fact and act upon it somehow. I had cancerous tumors growing in my body. My body, which had been clean in the annual checkup only 10 months earlier, was being attacked by these rapidly multiplying malignant organisms. Don't they usually take years and years to grow? The speed and aggression with which these tumors seemed to be growing scared me most. Something needed to be done about this. Fast. Promptness seemed imperative even in my addled mind. Sitting in my car in the parking lot, I called my sister. She was going to come for the procedure. I needed someone else too, though, for I wasn't supposed to drive after the local anaesthesia and my sister couldn't drive. Thankfully, friends came to rescue. When I called SK, he said he'd run out as soon as possble to drive me home. Then I called Jinyong, a close friend who is a physician, for what to consider and where to call. As he got me some names and numbers at the speed of light, it was finally becoming real. Looking back, that hour was a threshold to an entirely different phase of life. The healthy, carefree, cancer-free era of my life was over. From that hour on, a constant confrontation with the face of mortality was going to be an indispensable part of my life. As a cancer-ridden single woman living alone, I was to be forever beholden to a few friends. Several phone calls later, Jinyong and I decided that I'd go see two surgeons in the following week about treatment and surgery options. Now it was a fixed fact. Now that the first steps were taken, tight-lipped concentration on pragmatics gave way to fear and despair. My voice began to crack a little. If I were to have an emotional breakdown once in my life, this seemed to be the time. But I didn't get to be a drama queen even at that moment, for Jinyong did not forget to forestall me by yelling, "Breast cancer these days is not even a cancer!" I heard him half in relief and half in disbelief, but of all the things I had to hear that day it was the only thing that I liked. No shit.