15 years ago today I was sitting in my office at the software company at which I worked. The phone rang and, like any good PR girl, I picked it up, chipper as usual. My dad’s best friend’s wife, Bonnie, was on the phone. It was really weird for her to call me, I thought. But then I remembered what I had already so easily forgotten (a twenty-something’s brain more concerned with getting out of work and out to happy hour with friends instead of the earlier events of the week). Bonnie had been my nurse at the outpatient clinic four days prior when I had my first colonoscopy at age 26.
Bonnie’s voice was considerably less chipper than my own. Immediately, I felt a rock drop from my heart to the pit of my stomach.
“Hi, um, what is it?” I asked. It dawned on me that it was REALLY weird that she was calling me, busy head nurse that she was. I had assumed one of the other nameless, faceless nurses from the outpatient clinic would be assigned the task to call me with my rather boring, BENIGN biopsy report, giving me even more of a reason than usual to hit happy hour where I’d smoke Marlboro Lights and down Miller Lites while shooting pool with boys who weren’t good enough for me. But Bonnie calling? Something told me this call wouldn’t end with a celebration.
I heard her breathe in, then: “OK. So, the biopsy showed cancer.”
“Cancer?” I asked. “Really? Cancer? I mean, like, cancer???” I stammered.
“The doctor wants to see you at nine tomorrow for a consultation on next steps and some tests. We’ll go from there.”
“OK,” I deadpanned. I guess I thought she would give me more details, being a family friend and all. But she didn’t. She was vague. Maybe she was supposed to be. I hung up the phone, knowing I had cancer but not knowing if it was the kind that would kill me or just sideline me for a while. “Cancer?” I said out loud, this time to my empty office.
I called my parents to tell them and we cried together. They wanted me to come over but I couldn’t bear to see their faces.
I left work and instead headed straight to my married friends’ house. There were no Marlboro Lights there. No beer drinking. Just her, her husband, their toddler, and my friend’s impossibly round tummy (from which would emerge her second child just days before my first cancer surgery in a month’s time).
They were already adults, living in their own home, dealing with dirty diapers, sleepless nights, childbirth classes, and not a pool hall in site.
On January 15, 1998, life shoved me across the imaginary line between kid and grownup that day, and I joined my friends on the side of adulthood. But, instead of being christened into my new life stage by the sound of a squealing infant, I entered with the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis. At age 26.
It turns out, the cancer was caught at an early stage. I had two surgeries at M.D. Anderson in Houston, but no adjuvant therapy (i.e., no chemo, no radiation). I was lucky. Fifteen years later, I’m still here. I have two children of my own who were once squealing babes in my own arms. I am lucky.
And I still remember Bonnie’s call, all those years ago, as if it came today.