guest blogger

When the breath stops for a while…

By Anna Rathkopf of CzechMomNYC

At the beginning of December, on my birthday I gave myself a very peculiar gift. I found a lump in my right breast. A little round, pea sized, lump. My breath stopped by the idea, by the feeling, by the enormity of it.

What did I do? I went on google. The biggest mistake a person could make? Probably, so. I went to my husband. His breath stopped.

Yank’s worst nightmare? His mom had breast cancer, 23 years ago. Nightmare, shitload of it, the feeling of the biggest fear and a nightmare in one package. My husband was 12 years old at that time. Yes, he is not that scared boy anymore. He is now a father and a husband, scared.

The internet wasn’t enough. So I decided to have it over with and set a doctor’s appointment.

The week after the peculiar gift was given to me by me I was with my husband and his mom in the hospital to begin this story.

wp-1490826997375.jpgIt started with the American classic, the financial and the health insurance. Even after ten years living the American insanity of the health insurance system or un-system, I still find this absolutely crazy. My European brain is still unused to the idea that a sick person needs to clear with the financial side first and then maybe deal with the sickness.

The activation of my “Cancer resource services.” I admit I left that for the last minute. I didn’t want to deal with the word cancer, it scared me. Sorry, my husband, I left it on you. I had to. I was too sick in my stomach. Too scared by that word.

After the stroll to the financial department I had to fill around 30 pages of my family history. To the question on page 28, “No, I don’t have the Alzheimer’s. If I had that I would have forgotten, what to fill by that time.” “But thanks, that question definitively uplifted my mood.” The words around me: “Last radiation,” “my chemo,” all that was making me giddy with my nerves.

First examination: “It looks good. The lump is nice and round.” The doctor’s calming voice sounded in the background to my heart beats in my ears. “The risk is minimal, you are young and healthy, no background of breast cancer in your family.”

Second examination: Mammogram, one floor up, changed into a pink stripe standard robe. I entered the realm of pink, pink for the breast cancer ribbon? All the women around me, dressed the same. My husband sitting with his mom in a different waiting room. Divided but nervous the same. I have my book with me. I can read and not think. Mammogram, what a strange machine for women with small breasts. I have to hug and hang on the monster, my legs wrapped around it just to be able to have my breasts squeezed in it.

Third examination: The same floor, a little bit further in, it seems that the further I move in, the further I am being sent into that special club. The club I don’t want to be a member in. My sister-in-law came in, to cheer me, to lift my mood. Yes, it helped. Every cheer helps, even if it’s just for that moment, that second, your brain moves into a different realm. An ultrasound, the last time I had an ultrasound done I was pregnant, I heard the heartbeat of that tiny worm growing inside of me. The heartbeat made me so happy, the last time I had an ultrasound done. I am the only person now who can hear the heartbeat, the heart beat in my throat.

“Somebody cancelled a biopsy. We have time in half an hour.” “Sure, I want that.” I answer while thinking about the woman who cancelled hers. Why would she do that?

Fourth examination: A biopsy. I am scared, a little, not much, a little. The doctor describes every move she does. I prefer to look at the blank ceiling. A pity, some nice picture on the ceiling would be nice. “You are right, the TV behind your head, they installed recently is kinda for nothing.” Agrees that nice nurse. “I gave you, inside your lump a little mark. Just so that we can find it in a case of surgery. Don’t worry you won’t set any airport security.” “The results? Tomorrow, maybe Monday.”

Fifth examination: Mammogram, yet again, just that breast, now with a mark and a bandage.

Finally outside. My husband and my mother-in-law relieved, hugging, ready to go. The doctor again: “It looks good. We will know everything after the biopsy but it looks good. It’s so small the mammogram didn’t find it. Sleep well.”

Relieved? Sure. Exhaustion more like it. Waiting.

The day after: Friday, December 16th at work, my phone is ringing. “Sure, I have time.” “Unfortunately the biopsy shows invasive cancer cells.” My breath stops, but this time it doesn’t want to start again. She talks and talks, and I cannot breathe, my throat is tight, so tight. Why am

wp-1490826994133.jpg
How do I tell Jesse?

I crying? Nobody died. “What? No, I don’t need anything. I am fine, just fine.” Breathe in and out, in and out. Just get her to stop talking. I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t want to hear her.
I call my husband. He is not picking up. I am shaking. I call my mother-in-law. “Oh, God, God.” I am going to her. I need to hug and hold somebody. I tell my coworkers something about bad results. On a way out I call my mum. “Oh God, God.” It’s not even funny that they both said the same thing, in different languages, two mothers. I will never forget their voices. The same breathless responses.

I am sick in my stomach. I am in shock. My mother-in-law is waiting for me at the door. She holds me. It helps. Breathe.


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Anna is a 37 year old mother of three year old boy. She is originally from Prague, Czech Republic, but has been living in NYC for the last 10 years together with her Brooklyn born husband. On December 16th, 2016, she got the life shattering news that the lump she found in her breast is actually not nothing but something…something called cancer.  She decided to start a blog, CzechMomNYC, about her experience and about a life of a mother with breast cancer diagnosis. She and my husband also started a photo project of their lives as it is now, fighting this horrible hidden enemy.  Follow their project on Facebook.

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