Diem Brown and her sister
Courtesy Diem Brown
It’s the phone call that you never want to get – the one that makes your blood heat, your senses perk up and your heart drop. It’s the call where you find out that someone you love dearly is in danger.
When I pick up the phone I think my sister is calling to discuss the grey rug she wants us to buy for our newly-shared apartment. Living together might seem like a recipe for disaster – especially for sisters only 18 months apart in age – but as I hear my sister’s strong steady voice start to uncharacteristically tremble, I know that living together was meant to be for us.
“They found a lump,” my sister’s voice cracks through the phone. “My GYN wants me to get a mammogram tonight. Tell me it’s okay. Please tell me it’s okay. Tell me this is normal.”
The phone feels heavy in my hand. My sister is someone with the most incredible strength you could ever imagine. Hearing her voice tremble, I desperately want to wash away her fear.
“Where are you? Try and calm your mind from going to that bad news place. There is no way they can know just from feeling the lump if it’s … umm …”
The Stupid C Word
I can’t even say that stupid “cancer” word. I can’t even think that stupid “c” word would be able to creep into a conversation about my sister.
“Where are you?” I ask again. “I want to come with you. What’s the address?”
My sister adamantly denies that she wants company and quickly hangs up. I understand her thought-process: Having someone with you in a waiting room can sometimes feel like you are jinxing yourself for bad news. So I don’t press it, and instead start texting her “steps” she that can focus on and hope her mind doesn’t wander to Bad News Land.
“Loooove you sister!!! Think positive. Don’t let your mind go to any scary place. Until they have biopsied the lump they won’t give you any scary news. First is hand test, then is mammogram … if the mammogram is cloudy THEN they will biopsy the lump … Which still doesn’t mean bad news … Just take each step at a time and try not to let your mind race baby,” I write.
“It’s okay to be emotional,” I continue. “I know this is a scary thought. You have every right to be scared, sister. I totally understand where you are coming from. You are allowed to feel every emotion and KNOW I am here to hold your hand love you soooo much.”
I then get a short text message back from my sister and I know she is scared but eager to get more information. “Thk u … Happy they can see me now.”
I’m angry. So angry. I can now fully understand how friends and family feel when they can’t fix the hurt of someone they love so much. I wait for my sister to walk through our apartment door. When she does, her bloodshot eyes immediately tell me that she is overwhelmed and scared.
Getting the News
“The specialist did a sonogram scan and he found a lump … he found a lump in each breast,” she says. Her strong demeanor cracks and she tries to keep her lip tight, but she breaks and tears fall down her cheeks. My sister quickly wipes her eyes and mumbles. “I feel so selfish crying about this to you, of all people.”
Shocked and confused about why and how her mind even went there, I grab my sister’s shoulders. “What are you talking about? Stop. This IS a big deal! Baby, you are so strong, but stop being strong. It’s okay to cry. What else did this doctor say?”
My sister fumbles through some papers and shows me terms the doctor wrote down. She says she felt like her first doctor, her GYN, was an alarmist and freaked my sister out by saying, “This tumor needs to be removed immediately and biopsied because it wasn’t there in June when I checked you last, which that means this tumor is fast-growing.”
It’s funny how some words can immediately strike fear into one’s heart no matter how they are spoken, how the terms “lump,” “tumor” and “biopsy” all have scary associations tied to them.
However, my sister says that she loved her second doctor. The specialist had a gentle, calm nature even though he informed her that she has not one, but two lumps. She liked how sweetly he said that he could remove both of the lumps pretty easily. It’s amazing how the delivery of news can change everything.
As we searched online, I asked my sister if I could write about this. She smiled, saying, “I do think it’s good you remind people. I feel like it’s like flossing. We all tell our doctors we SBE (self breast exam), but no one really does it!”
So as we wait and continue the journey down this “lumpy” road praying for the very best, I hope tonight y’all will take a little extra time to do a Self Breast Exam. Like everything, knowledge is power – and early knowledge can be life saving!
Check back for updates every Thursday: Diem will be chronicling exclusively for PEOPLE.com her journey through fertility treatments, chemotherapy and her quest to educate others about ovarian health. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiemBrown.