In her new memoir, I Forgot to Cry, Claudean Nia Robinson shares the history of her personal breast cancer journey in 2008. Her story is about embracing the journey-despite the heartache and challenges that developed along the way. Learning and growing from those challenges was an integral part of the healing process for her, and it also allowed her to trust and have more faith in herself and God at a much deeper level. Being surrounded by her loving family and friends, day in and day out, was also an important part of her recovery.
Having come through such an experience, Claudean decided to use her passion and purpose to inspire and encourage cancer patients and survivors as they were working to achieve their wellness. Through this journey, she learned that it's not the years in your life but the life in your years that creates a brighter tomorrow.
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I Forgot to CryBreast Cancer and How One Woman Embraced Her Journey to Healing
By CLAUDEAN NIA ROBINSON
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Claudean Nia Robinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhere to begin?
My breast cancer journey began in the wee hours of Friday, February 8, 2008. I had a typical Thursday evening commute, leaving the slow-motion, bumper-to-bumper stress of Washington, DC, and arriving in a neat suburban community in Cheverly, Maryland, where I have lived with my husband and two sons for twenty-seven years. My husband, Jerome or Jerre, is affectionately known as "Byrd." Ever since high school, when he was a member of the track team, all his friends call him Byrd because he used to float like a bird over the high-jump bar. I call him Byrd.
I have been married twice. My first husband was Sam. We were married on June 23, 1973, and relocated to Washington from Kansas because it was his home. We parted amicably as friends after three years, but I decided to stay in Washington because I enjoyed the city. My twin sister, Claudette, also moved to DC about three months after I married Sam, and she has been here ever since. Over the years, I've met lots of wonderful people, including my second husband. We married on August 23, 1980.
When I walked in the door that evening in 2008, I knew I would be home alone. Byrd was called in unexpectedly to work overtime. This happens every once in a while when another computer programmer is out or when a technical problem requires all hands on deck to resolve it.
Our older son, Warren, was no longer living at home. At twenty-six years old, he was living on his own and working as an assistant manager at a nearby car rental service. Our younger son, Allan, was miles away. He was nineteen years old at the time and attending his first year of college in Virginia. I am not a person who has spent much time alone. Even in the womb, I had company. I was born with a fraternal twin named Claudette in Topeka, Kansas. My name is Claudean Bernice Robinson, known by many as "Nia," but if you grew up with me, you know me as "Deanny."
A lot of people talk about the "empty-nest syndrome," but I loved the peace and quiet of being at home alone, especially after a long, hard week at the office. I came in the door, and I loved the silence. I put my purse and keys on the red, contemporary sofa on the way to the hall closet to hang up my coat. Finally, I could breathe in, relax, draw some water for a cup of peppermint tea, and take it easy in the kitchen, where I always seem to find myself.
Moving through the quiet, enjoying the peace all around me, I took a few sips of tea and climbed the stairs to my bedroom. My bedroom is my sanctuary. Red is my favorite color, but my bedroom is blue. That's where I withdraw to find peace. My magazines are there; my chaise lounge and my music are there—anything I feel like hearing, jazz, R&B, country. It's all in my bedroom. So I sat in the chaise lounge, flipped on the TV to listen to the news, and started looking at the mail and a few of my bills.
I'm not sure how long I was sitting there, but pretty soon I was no longer watching the TV; the TV was watching me. I was so drained from my week at work that I realized I was dozing and managed to climb into bed. I woke up in the middle of the night. I never wear a watch. I don't even set an alarm to go to work in the mornings, but this night I noticed the clock on my husband's side of the bed read 2:30am. Somehow I almost felt driven to go to the bathroom. When I flipped on the light, I looked in the mirror, and for some reason I placed my hand on my right breast and felt a lump about the size of a small acorn. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is not unusual for me. I generally take a trip or two during the night, but this particular trip was different. It changed my life forever.
It's funny how your mind races when you are in a space unknown to you. Time froze for me, and a thousand different emotions washed over me all at once. I felt threatened and afraid. I couldn't move. I was filled with the uncertainty of what that moment would mean to me. I was overpowered by fear. Those emotions were so intense that I hope I never experience that again. The impact was so heavy and so powerful.
I remember thinking, God, why now? I knew then my life would never be the same. I was about to embark on a new journey. Somehow I knew, but at the same time, I didn't have a clue what was in store for me. Immediately, my mind was flooded with a million questions. I wondered, God, how much more time will you allow me to spend with my family and friends?
At that moment, I felt incomplete. In particular, I didn't feel like I had finished raising my youngest son. All I really needed was the opportunity to see my sons mature and become independent, self-sufficient men. I had barely adjusted to Allan being gone, and my fear was that I might not be able to guide him to maturity like I had with his older brother. Warren was maturing nicely. That pleased me. I relaxed some when I accepted that if it was God's plan to transition me from this earth, Warren would be a strong mentor for his younger brother and a comfort to his father.
All of this ran through my mind in a matter of moments. When I felt the lump, I was stunned and I gasped. I had thought I was all alone, but I heard Warren call upstairs from the bottom of the steps. He must have used his key to the basement door, and I didn't hear him come in.
"What's wrong, Mom?" I heard his feet climbing the stairs. He pushed his way into the doorframe of the bathroom where I was still standing looking in the mirror. I turned to him and looked in his face and said, "Warren, Mom just found a lump in her breast."
"Mom, we need to go to the hospital." He was looking surprised and shocked.
I think he sensed fear in me. He was so used to seeing me as strong and in control. He's very sensitive, very perceptive, so I knew he could sense something was wrong with me. His concern made the mother in me take over. I didn't want him to have anxiety about something unknown. I decided to calm down, and I began to put some things in motion.
"Warren, I promise I will call the doctor's office in the morning and make an appointment." He began to calm down and relax once I said that. I also knew that going to the emergency room at that time would take about as long as it would take for the doctor's office to open. Plus, the doctor's office had my history and could be more efficient in determining what was wrong.
I knew I had to call my husband.
I called Byrd at work, and he said, "Hey, what are you doing up?"
"I wanted you to know that I just discovered a lump in my right breast," I said calmly and matter-of-factly.
Byrd is a fairly mellow person. He doesn't get excited very easily. He was calm too, but I sensed worry in his silence.
"Well, I am going to come home." He wanted to come home right away to comfort me.
"No, Warren's here."
"Oh, Warren came home tonight?"
"Yes, we've been talking, and he's such a comfort to me." Byrd knew Warren and I were very, very close, so he felt relieved.
Byrd would get off from work in three more hours. I felt there was no sense in him coming home right away, since he was already scheduled to come home soon.
"Okay. Try to get some rest, and I'll be home shortly. I love you," he said, and then we hung up.
Warren came into my bedroom. He sat in the chaise lounge, and I propped myself up in bed with some pillows. We started to talk about his life, and I asked him if he felt there was anything I could do for him. I was trying to reassure myself that the way I had raised him was at least right for him. I wanted to be sure that I wouldn't have to worry about him. I took a chance and asked him whether he thought I had been a good mom.
"Yes, Mom," he said. "You're the best mom I know. I love you." That really made me feel much better.
I asked him what his goals were in life. He told me he wanted to finish his degree in business and that he wanted to own his own marketing business eventually. That gave me a picture of where he saw his life going. I decided to stop there. I didn't want to scare him, so we made a little small talk, and then he drifted off, and I drifted off. He fell asleep on the chaise lounge, and I fell asleep propped up in the bed.
When Byrd arrived home from work that morning, he immediately came upstairs to our bedroom. I was already up and getting dressed for work. Byrd embraced me, and I put his hand on my lump. He lovingly said, "Everything is going to be alright." Byrd trusted that, once my doctor's office opened that morning, I would call and make an appointment as soon as possible.
He asked if I felt like going to work that day. I said, "Yes." In retrospect, Byrd and I recall this moment differently. He thinks I stayed home that day and that we went to see the doctor right away. But, I'm certain that he just couldn't remember that it was actually four days after I discovered the lump before I was seen by a physician. Besides, a lot of time passed between the beginning of my cancer experience and the writing of my experience.
Byrd said, "Hon, take your time going to work, and call me when you get there." He now went into his protective mode. His silent fear was obvious to me, and I reassured him that I'd call as soon as I arrived at work. I don't know how I managed to get to work. The commute seemed to go smoothly that morning. No road construction, no detours, and no bumper-to-bumper traffic. Actually, my mind was not focused on the discovery of my lump. I don't know if I was numb and started going through the motions. At this point, I wasn't emotionally invested in the discovery. There was nothing urgent about what was happening to me.
As soon as I arrived at work, I called Byrd to let him know everything was fine. He understood what that meant without going into any details. He knew that when I said, "everything was fine," I wasn't talking about the commute. Once I settled in my office, retrieving voicemail messages and glancing at my e-mails, I started pulling materials together for a new hiring manager's orientation.
I was a staffing/recruitment manager in the human resources office. Our work was nonstop but very fulfilling because I thoroughly enjoyed the work. Once everything was in order for the orientation, I decided to call Pam, my co-worker and friend. Pam and I worked closely together and traveled as a team on recruitment trips. I told her of my discovery. She was sad to hear it and said, "Call if you need me." Pam, whom I affectionately call "Duckie," sent a book on breast cancer awareness in an interoffice mail envelope a couple of days later. At first, I was confused as to why Pam would think or suggest that I might have breast cancer. I soon realized that she was just being proactive and truly supportive. I had forgotten that Pam lost her mother to cancer many years ago and other family members to the disease as well. Pam's insightfulness was appreciated, and the book was extremely helpful.
My other colleague, Barbara, who worked in the staffing department as well, had not arrived yet, so I confided in her later that afternoon. I also told my goddaughter, who worked in another department. Eventually, my director stopped by my office to share information regarding her executive meeting. I told her of my discovery and that I was waiting for my gynecologist's office to return my message. She nearly panicked and could not believe how cool and calm I appeared. She suggested that I go to a hospital nearby, and I told her I felt more comfortable waiting to hear back from my doctor's office. After all, this lump did not grow overnight and a few more hours would not matter. I continued to float through the day after sharing my discovery. I treated my situation like a matter of fact. Looking back I wonder if maybe I had memory loss about something that most people would find devastating.
My gynecologist's office called me before I left work. Unfortunately, my doctor was out of town, and I was scheduled to see her colleague on Tuesday of the following week. The waiting period for that doctor's appointment was the longest few days I had ever experienced. Over the weekend, I could not find the lump. Apparently, it was a migrating lump. I thought for a moment that I was going crazy. I knew it was there, but where did it go? This was really getting on my nerves!
Finally, after a long, stressful weekend of waiting, I met with the "substitute" gynecologist. I was extremely upset with his bedside manner. I had never seen this doctor before, and he didn't even mention his name. I learned who he was when I read the medical report later on in my treatment process. He had my chart in his hand and repeated what I had told the nurse regarding my lump discovery. He did a breast check and told me right away that the lump was cancerous. He handed me business cards of several specialists (a surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiologist) and suggested that I make an appointment with the surgeon as soon as possible.
What! I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. I wondered, Did the doctor just tell me I have breast cancer without giving me an X-ray, a sonogram, a PET scan, or a mammogram? My head was spinning. I was speechless. I felt like standing in the middle of that examination room and screaming at the top of my lungs, "What is happening?" Upon hearing this diagnosis, what I needed was an empathetic doctor, one who genuinely cared about his patient. Trust me, that was not the case.
The doctor dismissed me and quickly moved on to the next patient. I was so shocked and scared in that moment that I could not even begin to ask any questions. I felt like a lost child desperately trying to find her mother. It is an understatement to say I felt alone, insecure, and confused!
Chapter TwoFollow the Yellow brick Road
The yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz reminds me of my journey, of trying to find my way back to a place of comfort before being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through surgeries and treatment. And, yes, I am from Kansas and love The Wizard of Oz.
Like Dorothy, I faced a tornado that challenged me and tested my strength and faith. In my situation, following the yellow brick road helped me embrace my wellness and focus on healing.
My husband was just as shocked as I was about the physician's rude behavior. But Byrd is extremely positive and supportive and knew we had to move forward regardless of this negative experience. When we returned home from the appointment, I began sorting out the medical specialist cards the doctor had given me. I decided to schedule an appointment with a breast surgeon whose office was in the same professional building as my gynecologist's office. My thinking was that at least they could communicate quickly if necessary. Besides, I had very little time to research breast surgeons. So I followed the recommendation of the referring doctor in my gynecologist's absence.
The first visit with the breast surgeon was on February 14, 2008. This was a positive experience. While he wasn't warm and fuzzy, he was a sincere and caring professional who took the time to explain the procedure he would perform to identify the lump. After reviewing my mammogram results from September 2007, 2006, and 2005, he stated there appeared to be a mass in the general area that almost looked cystic. Using a sterile technique, he tried to aspirate the area, hoping to extract fluid, but he could not. The surgeon determined that the area needed to be biopsied and said that he would not be insulted if we wanted to get another opinion. He gave me a booklet on breast lumps and told me he just wanted to make sure I did not have breast cancer. I told him I would call his office if I wanted to schedule the biopsy surgery.
Quite frankly, I should have scheduled my appointment then, but I was so overwhelmed with information that I just needed to exhale. I needed a break from this whole scenario. The urgency of my situation scared me. I did not have time to research what was happening to me, but I felt I needed to because the referring doctor and breast surgeon urged me to move forward within the next few days. I was exhausted by the overload of information, and I was trying to understand that several different medical terms had the same meaning. For example, a breast conserving surgery is also known as a lumpectomy. So I needed to take a deep breath, regroup, and put everything in perspective. At this point, though, I knew I needed to move forward with the biopsy to confirm what I already knew in my heart.
A biopsy is performed when a suspicious breast lump is found by the patient, doctor, or imaging studies. This procedure takes a tissue sample to be examined under the microscope to see if cancer cells are present. There are several different types of breast biopsies. A biopsy may be done with a needle. The doctor removes a piece of breast tissue by inserting a needle through the skin into the breast. In a surgical biopsy, a surgeon uses a scalpel to cut through the skin and remove a larger piece of the suspicious breast tissue.
Excerpted from I Forgot to Cry by CLAUDEAN NIA ROBINSON Copyright © 2012 by Claudean Nia Robinson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Where to Begin?....................1
2. Follow the Yellow Brick Road....................7
3. Byrd and the Boys....................29
4. Healing with Acts of Love and Support....................38
5. Healing with Humor and Humility....................41
6. Who Needs Hair?....................47
7. Healing with Passion and Purpose....................51
8. On the Road to Healing....................54
9. Faith over Fear....................58
Tribute to Family and Friends....................61
Addendum Interview Questions....................63