It Was A Totally Perfect Day ... Until I Found Out I Had Cancer

The three words you never want to hear.

Pensive woman on a bus looks out window Matej Kastelic /

Two phrases you never want to hear: "The IRS wants to do an audit," and "You need to get your affairs in order".

One of these happened to me not long ago. Here's a hint — I didn't have to dig out my tax returns.
Being a time economist, last December I made four medical appointments on the same day.
I thought I was being clever to get them out of the way before the holidays so I would not do the appointment shuffle.
Blood test, MRI, orthopedist to review the MRI, and my monthly retina shot.
After my blood test, I went to the beach for breakfast at the Huntley Hotel. There, overlooking the calm morning ocean, I said to myself: ‘This is a perfect morning; pancakes, sausage, eggs, and coffee.’"
And I was planning to finish the day with pizza at my favorite place.
A perfect ending to a perfect day.


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Well, I did get to have the pizza, I did get the retina shot but never made it to the orthopedist. When he read the MRI he called my general practitioner (GP) and told her what they found on my ovaries … it was not a Christmas wreath.
My cell phone rang as I was getting ready to go to the orthopedist. It was my GP’s assistant telling me to skip that appointment and come to her office. Now.


I had not planned on driving because the retina shot renders my eye foggy. I was considering taking a taxi until a friend said: “Take the bus, it’s really cool.”
I am a transplanted New Yorker and there is nothing cool about buses, but maybe she, who is from Milwaukee, thinks it’s a novelty considering we all have cars here in Los Angeles. 
As I walked up the hill to the bus stop, I kept repeating in my mind: What could my doctor possibly be telling me? I took solace in reminding myself I had completed my trust and will, and my affairs were in order.
Paul Simon came to my rescue … if only for a brief second: “Hop on the bus, Gus. Make a new plan, Stan.”

It evaporated as quickly as it came.

The intersection was very busy, very broad, and complicated by construction crews very noisily digging for the installation of a subway tunnel. There were few buses, and their posted destinations were unclear to me, but I was running out of time, and worrying again … what was the bad news before me?

And what if I was late for whatever this urgent news would be? 
I used landmarks like the red bucket of a chicken restaurant, or the veterans’ monument to guide me … they were "lost in translation."
I asked the driver if she would be staying on Wilshire Boulevard. If she did not turn, I would arrive on time at the doctor's office.
Hearing her answer was challenging. A man behind me was screaming at me to move so he could see out the window and the ra-ta-ta of the power drill digging up the pavement. It was overwhelming. 


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Then there was the sullen attitude of the bus driver, and at the next intersection there was an impasse caused by the construction … nobody was moving.

I took a seat behind the shouting man and my thoughts kept alternating between the following:
How bad will the news be?
How could this be happening to me?

Thank goodness I just bought a pack of gum. A great way to displace nervous energy.
When I arrived, they immediately took me to see my doctor.
You see this scene in films all the time, that fateful conversation where the doctor is dispensing bad news and the patient’s brain is in slow motion, fading into the twilight zone.

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The words you never want to hear: You have cancer

I remember staring at her with my eyes wide open as if I was witnessing an accident in motion.

Her assistant did not make eye contact which was a mixed message. Is it worse than what my doctor is saying?
I remember the first comment I made to them, “I’m really giving this gum a workout.” It was my first day of chewing gum since I had given it up 35 years ago.
My doctor had a great sense of humor but looked at me with sympathetic eyes. She was not laughing. Maybe she was waiting for me to start crying.

The numbing sensation kept repeating itself: There must be a mistake in the records. This could not be me. I even have a history of mismatched records, but I wasn’t so lucky this time.
This is an echo you never want to hear.
“You have cancer.” 
And here I am eight months later, singing the same song of disbelief, despite the long surgery, the chemo treatments, and the constant fatigue. I thought I would age gracefully, not feel as if my body had been hijacked.

I keep thinking I am in a C- movie where everything looks familiar but doesn’t make sense.


Whenever I look in the mirror and see a bald stranger I think, I have company.

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Pegi Burdick is a certified financial coach specializing in helping women and men turn around their stress and shame about money and get back control in their lives. To learn more visit her website.