Posted by Kathy Waller
Very long, but sort of necessary

 On January 29, I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Two kinds of cancer are present, not a common occurrence. One kind is aggressive but easier to treat than the other, which is slow-growing. There is a lesion in each lung. One was biopsied, so we know which kind it is. My oncologist said there’s no reason to think the lesion in the other lung is the same kind, but since that lesion wasn’t been biopsied, we don’t know. The radiologist preferred not to biopsy it because it’s near the heart. Sticking needles near the heart isn’t a preferred protocol.

Before I go further, I must say this: Please don’t say you’re sorry. I don’t feel ill. I have no symptoms except one lump I can feel. I’m sorry–really, really sorry, big-time sorry–I’m in this fix, but I already know you’re sorry, too, so it’s okay not to say it. Hearing it can be a bit of a downer. 

I announced the diagnosis to a friend over lunch. We discussed the situation from all sides. Before we parted, she said, “You know this is an opportunity to write.” I said, Yes, I’d already thought of that.

Newbie writers repeatedly ask themselves–and each other–When can I call myself a ***writer*** without feeling like a fraud?

Answer: When no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, or what you’re feeling, you think, I can write about this.

From now on, when people ask what I do, or what I am, I shall say, in a firm and forthright manner, as if they’d better believe it or else, I am a writer.

I responded to the diagnosis with a combination of O God and Okaaaayyyyy…. The oncologist spoke of palliative care and statistics. I despise the word palliative, and the statistics were mind-boggling, and not in a good way. But I told David I’m going to fight, and he said he was, too. I said I was going to be happy while I fought. He said, “That’s what fighting is.” I’ve never heard a better definition.

When a navigator (survivor) from the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) called to introduce herself, I told her I hadn’t read the stack of literature the surgeon had given me–a looseleaf notebook, a spiral notebook, and a passel of booklets–because after glancing over a couple of pages, I decided I didn’t need that much information. I said I guessed I was in denial. She said a little denial can be a good thing.

I dumped the stack of paper in David’s lap and invited him to read it. He did. He’s a good person. A brick, if I may use an old-fashioned word that sounds funny now but in this case isn’t. He takes copious notes, asks questions, knows what meds and chemo drugs I take, records appointments on his calendar, remembers what other questions we need to ask, and and and…. He can recite most of the info from memory.

I’ve vowed several times to step up and take more responsibility for the fight. To date, I’ve learned which anti-nausea pill to take first and which to take if the first one hasn’t worked. I know chemo #4 is scheduled for April 15, too, plus a few other random facts.

On the not-denial side–and to date–for a few days after a chemo infusion, I feel kind of meh but generally okay. However, I become fatigued easily. But I forget about the fatigue and do too much and then pay for it. The oncologist said, “Yeah, everybody does that.” The first time, I paid with a day in bed. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stayed up half the night, three nights in a row, trying to write three hundred words for a guest blog, and paid for over-reach by thinking, What if the chemo doesn’t work?

The good old What if?

The thought had already crossed my mind, of course, but this time it was accompanied by the line from It’s Always Something, Gilda Radner’s account of  her experience with ovarian cancer:

I had wanted to wrap this book up in a neat little package. I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

I’ve not read the book, but a long time ago, I read that sentence, and it stuck.

The BCRC navigator called again to see how I was getting along. We I met for iced tea and conversation, and I unloaded a couple of million words on her and said I would attend a meeting of a group the oncologist had strongly recommended (twice already). I perked up some more. But then came the third visit with oncologist. He ordered a CT scan to check progress, as in, Is the chemo working?–and the possibility of No surfaced again. After a while, No morphed from possibility to probability. Then it began to feel like a prediction. More sighing, combined with an undeclared expectation of the worst.

But I knew that surgical oncologist Dr. Bernie Siegal says cancer patients must tell the truth, that if you go around claiming, I’m fine, just fine, your subconscious, which takes words literally, will believe you, and won’t tell your body it must fight. He recommends using a grading system: When you feel like C-minus, admit it. So I told people who asked, and some who didn’t, that I was a D-minus: scared to death.

Anyway. I had the CT scan yesterday afternoon. The oncologist had stressed that he wanted me to have the results by the second day at the latest–I like him a lot–so if we hadn’t heard by then, to call his office.

Later I realized that when you have a scan on Thursday, the second day is Monday, which leaves a weekend of not knowing in the middle.

But. Here’s where things get better.

The oncologist called Thursday afternoon, not two hours after we left the imaging center. One lung lesion has almost “resolved,” the other has reduced in size by nearly half, one lymph node has reduced significantly. However, a lymph node near where the bronchial tubes branch off from the trachea has enlarged significantly. He said it could be just “reactive,” doing what lymph nodes normally do when you have, say, a cold–but not to count on that. We’ll follow it closely, see what it does, and if it doesn’t shrink, figure out what to do next.

In short, this is a mixed result, but the oncologist is pleased. What pleases him pleases me. So I’m pleased.

Backing up a bit, at our second visit, oncologist asked whether I had more questions. I said, “No.”

He said, “Okay. Well, your next question should be, ‘How will we know the chemo is working?'” I told him I’d assumed he’d get around when he was ready.

Now, Dear Reader, your next question should be, Why did it take you so long to write this post?

For a variety of reasons, I suppose. Because I’ve only now decided how to approach the topic. Because I wanted to hear some good news before writing. Because I wanted some grounding–I like certainty; even relative certainty–before writing.

Because I didn’t want to.

Because writing about any subject makes it real.

Years ago, I put off writing a letter because I’d have had to say in it that my father had died. I still haven’t written that letter. Writing it would have made the death real, and I preferred it stay as it was, hovering on the edge of reality.

Writing about Stage IV cancer would have made every detail, every statistic, real. I wasn’t ready for that.  Now it’s okay. It’s real, not like it was yesterday with No in the ascendant, but real with mixed but pleasing results.

Ending tacked on Tuesday night: That’s the post I wrote last Friday, or most of it. I started working on it during chemo infusion #3 and continued that evening and into the night. Chemo drugs seem to invigorate me. Sunday, however, the crash came. The “flu-like” symptoms the oncologist had been asking about finally hit. That lasted only thirty-six hours or so, and it could have been worse. However, it left me in a nasty mood from which I haven’t emerged.

Last Friday, this was a chirpy post about adventures in breast cancer. Tonight–or, as it will probably post tomorrow, the 30th, a day late–it’s a non-chirpy post written by someone who’s in a nasty, nasty mood. Because I took all the chirpy parts out.

I shouldn’t admit that. Even if it’s evident, I shouldn’t admit it. I should pretend to be chirpy. I really, really should. That’s what nice Southern girls are supposed to do. Chirp.

But I remember the name of the English honor society I joined in college: Sigma Tau Delta. Sincerity. Truth. Design.

And I think of Dr. Siegal: If you’re feeling D-minus, say you’re D-minus.

So what this post lacks in Design, it makes up for in Sincerity and Truth. Tonight, I’m D-minus.

Having said that, however, I think tomorrow I’ll be much improved.


Oh, all right. As long as I’m already late, I’ll mention one achievement: After watching selected videos on YouTube, I have learned to wrap a scarf into a turban. For one devoid of manual dexterity, that’s big. The first two times we appeared together in public, the turban stayed put, and I received compliments. During Friday’s chemo, filaments of fringe kept popping out. They looked like little bitty antennae.

Obviously, Friday’s edition was poorly engineered from the get-go, because as soon as I got home, one end slipped out and draped down the side of my face. Fringe crawled over in front of my glasses.

I reminded myself of Lord Byron in Albanian dress. Except Byron’s headgear probably isn’t called a turban.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous.

I look like I wrapped a scarf around my head, and shouldn’t have.

2016-03-25 15.20.48 (2)



Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Austin Mystery Writers.





39 thoughts on “D-minus

  1. Although you may feel like D-, this blog is an A+ for its honesty, writing, style, and message. You are a writer or author much in the style of journalist Kathy Kemp’s long running series of columns. My only regret reading this piece is that I believe it was the guest blog for me that set you back a bit ….. Next time you guest, take an extra day.


  2. I love the quirky picture of the turban, Kathy. What a perfect way to end your post. Although this is a tough time for you, you are finding the funny things that happen to you and sharing them with others is awesome. You are one brave and courageous woman. And, like you said, sometimes you’re a D-. I can identify because I still have problems being happy all the time (it seems like most people think I should be) and continually trying to accept my Bipolar diagnosis. Some days I feel good and the writing or anything else I choose goes well. I love those days. But some days I want to lay low, read, nap and talk to no one. And then therre are the Manic days when I’m on top of the world and nothing can stop me. You can’t be brave all the time, even when you try. It’s very hard to be sorry for someone as forthright as you are in sharing your pain and your joy. And I understand your not wanting that. But I will pray that things turn out well and send special thoughts and prayers your way. Have an awesome day!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s this belief floating around that people who suffer from depression (yes, the word is “suffer”) should be happy all the time, but it’s okay for “normal” (whatever that is) people to be crabby, out of sorts, blue, and an assortment of other moods. Now, who figured that out? You see my bias creeping through here. Thanks for the good wishes and the prayers, which are much needed and much appreciated. And thanks for the comment.


  3. You my dear are one awesome lady. I have watched you go through some horrible “stuff”,
    and do a minute amount of complaining, if any. You can do this too, I mean WE can do it. I admire you so much. Love MVZ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, thank you. That’s because I’ve been watching my awesomer cousin all these years. You obviously haven’t been listening, though, because I have raised complaining into a high art. Thanks for the WE. I’ll try to be in a better mood when we next meet. If I’m not, you might want to wear protective clothing.


  4. Kathy, things are what they are, it’s our response that counts. Fighting is good, if that’s what you feel like. Being ‘grumpy’ is okay also. Honesty and willingness to deal with and share a big undertaking. You did it well. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Doris, grumpy doesn’t begin to cover it. I thought a lot before sharing that info but decided it’s as much a part of my life as my cats’ vet visits and other trivia which I’ve dealt with in detail. Sometimes it’s good to tell the plain truth. Thanks much for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have another friend who was diagnosed late last summer. She is a well-known writer in Wyoming and she also waited awhile to share the news, her struggles and hopes. Something so personal should be on YOUR timeline for sharing, not what others think. I admire your courage, your tenacity, your humor, and your writing, Kathy — praying for you, your family, and your doctors. May you be surrounded with love and encouragement on your D- days, your C days, your B days… whatever type of day you’re having, may you know the love, care, and prayers of those around you — physically or virtually. Hugs to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gayle, I appreciate your kind and caring words. I’ve worked myself up to at least B+, possibly A, and will stay that way if I have sense enough to shut things down this afternoon and take a nap. My best to your friend. I hope she’s doing well. Thanks for your kind and caring words.


  6. I deeply respect and admire you for writing this piece. So honest. Hard to write and hard to read. I am praying that you have many A plus days. As Gayle wrote, “I admire your courage, your tenacity, your humor, and your writing, Kathy.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mike. It was actually easier to write than I thought it would be. Maybe because I’d had time to let the facts separate from the emotions. And to figure out what the emotions really are. Being positive is good, but there’s usually something beneath the surface that must be dealt with. I’m lucky I can write about it.


  7. Hey, my writer friend, I just yesterday announce my husband’s illnesses in my newsletter, posted to the Guppy list not long before that, and nearly 3 years after diagnosis. You can’t rush right out and announce these things. This is the best Making Lemonade story I’ve heard. Here’s to a C+ day soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. They’re our stories, and we get to tell them when and how–and if–we please. Your wish for a C+ day makes me wonder–why do I think days should be A? C+ is high average, good enough for anybody. Now I have something to ponder. Thank you.


  8. I think the blue is very nice and different. I had an x-ray because of the pneumonia. She asked me if I know I had a growrh on my lungs? I said I did. She sent it to my doctor. The growth is under my colarbone. Here’s to a better grade, maybe up to a B+ Thanks for sharibg this. I know how hard that is, but you are being positive and encouraging. I will keep you on my prayer list. Please keep us updated. My devotional book will be a free Kindle download 1-5th. It was written when I was in a real down place, and how I started healing. Love you. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I downloaded your book, Cher’ley. Thank you so much. I’m finally back to a better grade. You will keep us posted on your situation, too? And thank you for the prayers. They’ll be coming right back at you.


  9. Kathy, you look good, all things considered (knock wood) and the turban is precious.

    I think you are aware that Linda B (purpleborough) is also writing about her condition.

    I am going to recommend that all my readers follow both your blogs for insight.

    Needless to say, I wish you nothing short of perfect health. ❤



  10. Tried responding last night, but apparently it didn’t post. You could call yourself a writer with your short stories. You could call yourself a writer with your posted blogs, pictures, and sayings (either that or a cat lover), but this piece confirms that you are a writer – an author. It is moving and honest and reminds me of the quality pieces of journalist Kathy Kemp’s long running series. Whatever grade you give yourself on any given day, I give you, as an author, an A+.


  11. Thank you for putting this out, Kathy. Your honesty and willingness to fight is inspiring. My grandmother had cancer in the 1960s and was determined to fight it with her husband. She is now in her upper 90s. You can fight and win!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Chirping would not be you. I’m sure your turban skills will soon improve but I do not expect them to catch up with your writing skills.


  13. I think it has to be fairly normal to sit on news like this for a bit before going public. I admire your approach to writing this post. Your salutary bit about not being in self denial too long is also very important because I’m the sort who would say ‘I’m fine’ … Even if I wasn’t, but I’d not considered before that that strategy really isn’t letting your body approach the negative influences in the best possible way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised when I read Bernie Siegal’s advice about admitting how you feel. I think we’ve all grown up hearing that being positive is a virtue, that no one wants to hear us complain, and maybe we can take that to an extreme that’s counterproductive. There’s a delicate balance between being positive and telling the truth when you need to. I read Dr. Siegal’s books twenty years ago, when I was a lot younger and healthier, and now I’m glad I did. Thanks for your comment.


  14. Thanks for sharing. Attitude can play a large part in fighting cancer so I am sending you positive thoughts and wishing you a few D+ days followed by C+ days that evolve into B+ days. B+ days are a good thing and can lead to A+ days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the positive thoughts. I’m working my way up the grade levels and have finally convinced myself that if I get enough sleep, I can feel pretty good most of the time. Just don’t like to sleep. Thank for commenting.


  15. Thank you for sharing this and your honesty. I am in awe of you and your courage. Hope you are having more positive or “chirpy” days but if you don’t feel like being chirpy then that’s fine too. It sounds like you have a very supportive team/family/friends 100% behind you every step of the way which makes all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, if truth be known, I never was really chirpy–just always thought I should be–so people who know me well would be surprised if I started now. I’m sure they’d rather I not go around snarling, though, and fortunately I’ve stopped that for now. I do have a wonderful support system, including that extra-wonderful husband, and, as you say, that makes all the difference. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Honesty and courage shine through in your blog of this “new” yet sometimes, I’m sure, frightening adventure for you. Your talent in writing brings me into this journey with you, enough to understand some of the roller coaster of emotions I imagine you must experience. Add me to your list of pray-ers. Love how you model your “style” with a turban. You are one amazing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Neva. I don’t feel particularly amazing, but I’ve had some remarkable role models, and I’m doing my best to follow their lead. The turban–I figured out the other day that I’ve been wrapping it backwards. D’oh. It looks better now and stays on, too. Thanks also for the prayers, too–they are needed and most welcome.


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