No one ever, ever wants to hear the word cancer. It’s an infestation to your mind and body. There’s no escaping it. And when you and word cancer are claimed together in the very same sentence, vicious thoughts and ideas and scenarios hit your brain faster than a million seconds times a trillion bullets slash a couple light years and then pluto. Not to make light of the situation, but WOW. It’s brutal. Whether you’re being told you have thyroid cancer or you have one month to live, that inital reaction, is the exact same. Once the logistics are addressed, the game changes and goes it’s different course for everyone. Then. It’s just you. No matter how much support you have, in these moments, it’s just you. You against your mind. What you’re going to do next. How you’re going to handle it. How are you going to tell people? How can you accept it? What’s next, but even that’s too much.
It was 8AM on a Wednesday morning. I was sitting at a little cafe off Flamingo with a co-worker of mine. We were grabbing an early bite to eat before we ventured over to a new children’s clinic in an under privilaged part of Las Vegas for the Women’s Leadership Council of United Way. It was the grand opening. I had just spent the past three months, pouring my creative heart and brain cells into designing the entire inside of this quaint little clinic. From vinyls and wall color placement to furniture, rugs, graphics from floor to ceiling; my heart and soul went into making this a colorful, welcoming place for children and their families. Everything I always hated about doctor’s offices, I did the complete opposite. The outcome was stunning. Gaby and I were popping in to see the finished project and help install one last vinyl.
Early December 2013, I had addressed a concern with the nodule on my thyroid during my women wellness check up with my new nurse practitioner, Maureen Parker at Sparks Family Medical in Summerlin. It didn’t hurt, it didn’t bother me a bit. I thought I would start the new year with a clean slate and face my fears. My 29th birthday reered it’s head that upcoming March. That gave me one year to figure my shit out before I hit 30. She handed me a slip on December 3, 2013 for an ultrasound referral. I again, waited. The excuse, Christmas was coming aided my procrastinate. Then New Years. Ok. I finally scheduled it.
I went to Steinburg diagnostics off St. Rose Pkwy. Paperwork. Waiting. More waiting. Down payment. Procedure.
Enter the dark, yet calm room. I was relaxed. I’d done this before. I knew what to expect. I was just being proactive with my health.
I laid down. This emotionless women put the gel on my neck and went through the standard routine. I tried not to look at the screen. Right side first. She paid a little attention to an enlarged lymph node, but I’ve had that since I can remember. Then the left, in which my head was directly facing the screen. Thyroid! We meet again. Oh hey nodule, you’re still there. Knew that. Then I closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. She took a lot more images that anticipated which elevated my conciousnous of thinking something was different. Ding. Ding. Every time a photo was taken a little bell rang. All these technicians are different. I didn’t question anything until I was on my way out. I asked “So, everything still there?” in which she replied “Yes.” I asked “Was there a reason for a whole left thyroid photo shoot?” Intending on making light of the situation, I felt the need to crack her into pretending maybe she was nice? She replied, “There are multiple nodules spotted, some solid, some cyst like.” And that was it.
I froze inside, but kept walking as she showed me the way out. Julian met me in the lobby where I had left him. I tried to keep myself together, clutching my bag, until we started walking through the doors of the building. Nearing the car I started breathing heavy, and instantly upon buckling my seat belt, tears streamed. Intuition hit. He begged “What’s wrong!” And all I could break out at first was, “there’s multiple.”
Now I knew I had two abnormal things in my neck. The main nodule and then a smaller cyst below it. That’s two. She said multiple. Not a couple, not two, not a few, multiple.
We had a trip scheduled for Minneapolis the next week on terms of a photo shoot. I let myself slightly freak out that day of the ultrasound until I wrapped my head around everything and then tricked myself into thinking she probably is being overly critical to make sure everything is looked at. Anything can look suspicious when your browsing around a human body. It’s complicated. I feel fine. Running every day, nothing hurts, I’m not tired. Life is good. So I pushed it out of my mind again and prepared for the trip.
Minneapolis in the dead of winter is beautiful. White everything, everywhere. It was so damn cold in the mornings, well actually, the entire time. When we’d get up and in the car, it was impossible to stay tired. It makes you feel so alive! The air in your lungs, the feeling is indescribable. Julian claimed to hate the whole damn winter thing. I Think he was just being a Nancy. I love bundling up. I love it being so cold you can’t leave the loft one day so the option of staying inside and cuddled up on a couch, watching it snow out the windows that surround you, is not stressful at all. The few times in my life I never feel pressured to do something with my time.
We had a three day photo shoot and there no down time. Everything went smooth and it was so wonderful to be surrounded by the creative ora that Intermedia Arts gives off. I work with these people on a daily basis but we never get to see each other anymore. The whole week was great.
On the last day of the photo shoot we got caught in a blizzard but the show must go on! A ten minute drive from downtown to uptown took us an hour and 15 minutes. I thought of it as a wild adventure as Julian’s mouth cussed like a sailor as he listed off all the reasons we were going to buy a house as soon as we got back to the desert. I laughed.
When we finally made it, we were a bit rushed in the beginning. As we got the afternoon under control, I was sitting and editing on stage when I got a phone call. It was my doctor’s office. They said after the recent ultrasound my doctor was referring me to get a CT scan. WHAT. Ok. I’ve been avoiding this for four years. “Do I have any other options?” I pleaded? Nope.
All day I was freezing, in the dead of the great Minnesota snow. Earlier I had to shovel our car out a space in the parking lot in my giant heeled boots I wore and pleather pants that made my legs feel like my skin was out in the open. They took a cold beating to the wind. But I mad it fun! And now I was sweating like a basketball player running a hundred suicides in a burkim yoga studio.
I didn’t waste time but my doctor’s office sure did. I called Steinberg to schedule a CT scan for as soon as I landed back in Vegas. Oh, you haven’t received my referral yet and you won’t put me in the books until you see it come across? Right. Let me call my doctor back. Sparks, what’s good? Just give us a few we have to get it approved by your insurance. Well fucking get it approved before you call me because I’m now panicking, trying to finish this major shoot and don’t have time to be wasting on playing phone tag to get this scheduled. I’m a business women that wants to take care of a business. Especially when my health is involved. It was a total run around. Note, I have a PPO plan through Seirra Health and Life and as far as I’ve always been told, I don’t need referrals. Liars. Through a new found strand of patience, finally my CT scan was in the books. One week from that day.
I’ve never had a CT scan. I was terrified of the needle that was going to go in my arm for the contrast. It almost ruined a good ending to a great trip back in Minneapolis, but I was thankful to spend our last few hours home at The Murray bungalow, eating pizza with immediate family and our friend’s Andrea and Thomas.
Vegas. I didn’t miss you. Agency life hit strong like a brick wall, as it always does when you’ve been gone for more than a day. This time, add doctor appointments to the mix. It wouldn’t be until that awful morning phone call I would let anyone aware of what was going on because at that point I didn’t even know. It was killing me. But like was it literally killing me? What was killing me? The waiting? My thyroid? The stress of the unknown? No one said I had cancer yet. I could be freaking out over nothing. Thanks media and society for brain fucking me to instantly think the worst before I had any solid evidence.
The CT scan was quick. Maybe 45 minutes. Paperwork. Down payment. Waiting. Change of clothes. More waiting. Scanner time.
The needle hurt. They always do. This one hurt a lot. The contrast literally made me feel like I had pissed my pants. They assured me I had not. The actual scans, two passes, took five minutes and I had to hold dead still. I tried to look at their faces when I was on my way out. You know they saw those images right away on their screens, behind that glass window, but no one spoke.
Breakfast came out looking delicious. Gaby and I were splitting an omelet and some fruit and toast. My phone rings. I didn’t recognize the number. I answered “This is Lacey!” It was Maureen Parker.
She calmly asked, where I was and if I was at work. I told her, “Well, kind of. I have an installation at a children’s clinic and am currently at a cafe, about to eat breakfast.” She continued “Well, your test results came back from your CT scan and it’s safe to say, you do indeed have cancer.” Long pause. I can’t imagine my face. Gaby stared at me. You could see from her expression “What’s wrong?!” I had to catch my breath. It’s safe to say I have cancer? Really? Safe? That’s the word you chose, doctor? Maureen asked if I was still there. I don’t remember anything else she said except, “Did you still want to keep your appointment with me this afternoon?” I stuttered, “Yes of course, why wouldn’t I?!” – “Well alright, we can talk more about it then. Take care of yourself.” Click.
I was having panic attacks as my mind frolicked wildly in circles before and after the CT, awaiting the results. I had been trying to get in to see her and what she recommended I do to keep my head on straight while I waited, but she was booked a week out when I last called. I mean, I have to work, I have a team to look after, with deadlines. I have a freelance business, a husband, a cat, a life. I can’t just keep being a bi-polar roller coaster while all this waiting is forced on me.
I excused myself from the breakfast table, trying to find the bathroom and Julian on my phone through a massive tear build up. He couldn’t even understand me when he answered. It was one of those moments I really needed to break down, but wait! Que business mindset. My make-up, my outfit, my mission to finish this children’s clinic. What the fuck was going on? I was dizzy. I finally got across to him with what Maureen just filled my ear with. I could hear his voice trying to be strong but it trembled on the other end. “Do you want me to come get you?” “No. I Can’t. I’ll call you.” I could not let this ruin me there, not yet. Soon though.
I was still a mess when I walked back out to the table. I kept my head down, taking deep breaths. Gaby and I sat in silence for a few minutes. Our food was there. I could barely eat. And then I told her I was just informed I have cancer. Mind you, no one ever said what kind, they just scanned my neck and I was assuming it was my thyroid, but where and how much and how can they tell from just a scan and oh my god, now what? I teared up a little and she asked if I wanted to go home. No. The show must go on.
We wrapped the tab and got to the United Way children’s clinic. It was awesome there. Perfect and bright. All the hard work I had put into the designs of this placed turned out wonderful. I tuned my emotions out and laid the last vinyls that were needed. Then, Gaby offered me her car o get back to the office. I went. I don’t know how I drove that morning. When I got there, I literally tried to sit at my desk four differnt times and would instantly feel the tears swell so I would get up before anyone saw me and go to the bathroom. That fourth time, I ran into one of my best friend’s Haley. I lost it. For the time.
I’m glad it was her that walked in, but I can’t imagine the sight I was. I didn’t expect her to say anything. She tried to calmly ask questions but in the end she just stood in there with me. No one else came in. Best possible scenario ever. Ten minutes later I composed myself, and toughed out the rest of the day to 3PM when I met with Maureen, face to face. Julian picked me up another extremely close friend of mine, Bonnie came too. She was a little late, so we were already in conversation with Doctor Parker when she peeked her head in the room and I waved her away.
Maureen was calm as always. It was just us three. She repeated our phone conversation. I could’t stop shaking. She started the whole “The possible good news is, if it’s thyroid cancer, which it is most likely, it’s the ‘good’ kind of cancer to have. Treatable. etc…” No. Don’t you ever let someone say that to you. The emotional toll alone makes it awful. Remember what I said in the beginning? About how the initial shock of even the mention cancer in your body triggers paranoia beyond your wildest dreams? There is no good cancer. It’s all fucked. But now, I had to deal with the fact that I have cancer and go through more shit to find out exactly what kind and where exactly it all is.
She prescribed me two different anxiety pills, in extra small doses, due to my parents past with alcoholism. I myself drink casually and work in a high stress career, which made her cautious. She then referred me a surgeon, which she instantly admitted he had a terrible bed side manor to him but was the best in the area. Whoa now. I was thinking, ok biopsy time. But no, she had a list. An endocrinologist, a surgeon, a biopsy, a chest x-ray, and an oncologist.
This all may seem over dramatic, but this is exactly how it unfolded and if you know me, I only bullshit if I am forced to in a client meeting. And even then, that’s not the way I prefer to construct business. It’s my style. These are all literal thoughts I had for split seconds, running to the tips of my nerve endings. It’s so much to process.
All these appointments were a few weeks with in each other. I broke. This all happened on a Wednesday and I didn’t go to work for the rest of the week. I stayed in my bed for almost three days, crying on and off, trying to figure out how to tell family. Considering surgery. I’ve never broken a bone and they are talking major neck surgery? Why me? Why not me? Why didn’t I get this taken care of four years ago? Did I kill myself? My mind would not stop. Julian is a saint for his patience. Eventually I went numb and only cried with every phone call I made. I had to repeat the information so many friends and family. I got to a point where I stopped answering phone calls when people would call to just say hi, thinking of you! Thank goodness everyone understood. Well most.
This was all the worst part. I came out of this hopeless black in about a week. I didn’t do much research on the internet because that always makes situations worse and doubtful. I did discover a girl’s blog though. Lydia. It was the only anything I had read that seemed to relate and I can definitely say it inspired me. WE are very different yet going through a similar situation can really bring strangers together. She is a wonderful, talented law student based out of Chicago and her story is courageous.
When I pulled myself back to work, I gave minimal details until everything was confirmed. They were extremely supportive through this whole wild experience. For that, I am grateful.