Day 1: Telling People

I got the call on August 16 at 8:15am. I was getting ready for work, and I was almost done. I was excited to get into work early. It was my six month anniversary at this position. Jean called me, the nurse practitioner in surgical oncology. She called to tell me that the breast mass was cancerous and I would absolutely need surgery, probably chemo, probably radiation. I didn’t really hear anything after cancer. Cancer? I didn’t process. I couldn’t process. After she told me, she asked if anyone was with me. I said no. I’m all alone.


We hung up. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what to do. It’s 8:15 in Boston which means 6:15 in Utah. I am going to ruin everyone’s day with the news. I couldn’t stomach waking anyone up AND ruining their day. So I won’t call family yet. My mind keeps on slipping away from how to tell people. I can’t stop crying.


I can’t go into work, which means that I have to tell them I can’t work. I’ve never called in to this job. Can I text them? Probably not. That doesn’t seem professional. I can send an email. Maybe this is a face to face talk. What do I tell them? I google “how to tell your boss you have cancer.” I get a lot of tell them in person, keep it professional, focus on the job, how this affects the job. My mind keeps on slipping away. I try to focus on that I have to tell work, how to tell work. I can’t focus. I can’t stop crying. I google, “how to stop crying.”


It’s nine now. I write an email to work about cancer. I write a whole email. Bullet points. But I don’t really know anything. Not really. I know that I can’t work today. When can I work. I don’t know. I should do this in person. This seems like an in person conversation. Which brings me back that I have to stop crying. I have to stop crying long enough to walk to work and tell them in person. It’s 9:30 now. I focus on I have to tell work. I focus on I have to stop crying. I should call someone in Utah. I can’t. What do I say? I have to stop crying. That’s the first step.


I stop crying. I put on shoes to walk to work. I need my keys and my badge. I get downstairs and realize I forgot my badge. And I need a tissue. I go back upstairs, get a tissue, walk back down. Remember I forgot my badge again. Go back up. Finally get my badge. Walk downstairs, not crying. Eight minute walk to work, don’t make eye contact, one foot in front of the other. Go into the office, walk into my office, I don’t see anyone, get my laptop. Walk upstairs to bosses office, I don’t see anyone. This is good.


I see Vonda clearly in a hurry, her arms FULL of carpet and paint samples. She is CLEARLY rushing to a meeting. She sees me. Asks if I’m ok. I shake my head slowly, tell her I need to talk to her and Scott. Right now, she asks. Right now, I confirm. We walk into Scott’s office, close the door. I sit. Vonda is hovering anxiously. I say, you know how I’ve been going to a lot of doctors appointments lately? Turns out I have cancer. They are shocked, they are asking questions. I say, I can’t talk about any of that.  I say I can’t come into work today. Vonda says OF COURSE YOU CAN”T FUCKING COME INTO WORK RIGHT NOW! WHY ARE YOU HERE? I tell her I have appointments tomorrow. I don’t know anything, if/how it will affect work, that I will do my best to minimize the effect on the lab. I say, When I said I could have this job for the rest of my life, this is NOT what I meant. They are horrified. I am amused. Vonda says, let me walk you home. I say that isn’t necessary. Vonda insists. It’s probably a good thing Vonda walked me home. I’m pretty clearly in shock. Probably. I don’t know, can’t focus.


I come home. Next step: tell the family. Who do I call? My mind keeps on slipping away. Most of my conversations go like this from my end:


Hi. Uh, where are you at right now? What are you doing? Who’s with you? Ok, are you in a place where you can talk for a couple minutes? Ok, so … so I’m going to ruin your day. I’m the depression fairy, and you’re next. So, I have breast cancer. Yes, like mom. I mean, hopefully not dying like mom. Maybe? I don’t actually know. Probably not. I should say definitely not, but I don’t actually know that. Maybe I should say it anyway for the positivity of it, right? Ok, it sounds like you are having a lot of emotions about this. You should… you should talk to someone about this. Not me. I can’t handle this. Call…. call someone else. Ok, I’m gonna go. Have a nice day. No, social niceties are inappropriate here, right? No social niceties. Call someone to help you through this. I have more phone calls to make.


I had WAY too many calls. Alek, Les, Gab, Mark, Emily, the other Emily, Adam, Natalie, the Boston Emily, Emma, Abby, Dad. They were all keeping it together on the phone with me, or trying to. They did ok. Next time, I’d try to figure out a better way. How do you tell people something like this? I’m open to advice, and the less talking the better. I did subsequently tell someone by text. He said that was the wrong way. So we can go from elimination of all wrong ways to find a right way.

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