Lindsay Ruland: Friday the 13th

Today, we welcome Lindsay Ruland as she joins the ranks of our C4YW bloggers. Check back often to read more into her journey, as she discusses diagnosis at 25 and the trials and tribulations of treatment all while finishing school and working towards becoming an oncology nurse. Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

Friday the 13th. For most people, this is little more than a cheesy 80’s horror movie about a crazy dude in a hockey mask killing off campers at Crystal Lake. Or, a reminder to stay away from black cats and broken mirrors. For me, however, Friday the 13th took on a whole new meaning.

I’d always considered myself fairly unlucky. Bad things just seemed to follow me like a black cloud no matter how many good deeds I did to ward them off. As a result, I grew overly paranoid and superstitious, and proceeded to live a very cautious life. The long running joke in the laboratory where I worked was what medical ailment I’d be dying from each day during my shift. One day, my pancreas would be failing; the next, I would need my foot amputated because of a drug resistant, mutant rash. One day, the jokes stopped.

In December of 2011, at the age of 25, I found a lump in my right breast. It was no more than the size of a marble. Of course, the first thing I did was panic, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was the Big C.

“At your age, it’s so unlikely,” I was told, “keep an eye on it for a month and see if it goes away. It’s probably just a cyst.”

I waited and I watched and the New Year arrived. By January of 2012, the lump was still there. Not only was it still there, it had nearly doubled in size. It had grown so large, it could be seen through my skin. I forced my boyfriend to feel it, to tell me it had always been there, and that I was just being crazy, as usual. The look on his face and his silence as he felt the lump negated everything that I was secretly hoping to hear.

In February, I called one doctor’s office after another, doing my best to get a referral to be seen in the Breast Center at the hospital. I was shut down each time by each receptionist, no matter how much I pleaded my case. Who knew it would be so difficult to find a slot to be seen for a good fifteen minutes? I would just lay all my chips out on the table:

“But, I’m an employee here. I’m 25. I have a lump in my breast!” Only to hear in return, “We don’t have anything available until April or May” or “we aren’t taking new patients right now” or “voicemail.”

After hearing this for the seventh or eighth time, I broke down into tears and nearly gave up trying to be seen. At this point, the skin around my right nipple had puckered and inverted. It looked almost as though it had sunken into itself. I called one more office that was totally unaffiliated with my hospital and got an appointment with a doctor within two weeks. My 26th birthday came in March, and so did my meeting with the doctor.

“It’s probably just a cyst,” she said, “but I want you to get it checked, just to be sure. I’m going to write you a [prescription] for an ultrasound and a mammogram.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. The doctor thinks it’s just a cyst, so it can’t be cancer, I’m too much of a health freak for it to be cancer, I’m fine, I thought.

In April, I sat in the waiting room of the Women’s Imaging Center, surrounded by women who were all at least double my age. They came and went from within the examination room within five minutes. I must have been sitting out there for over an hour in that ugly pink gown that could easily swallow three of me. Finally, they called me back to that cold little room. It didn’t look good. They needed me to come back the next day for a biopsy.

I’m too young for this. I have no family history. I don’t drink or smoke or even consume caffeine. I’m a vegan. I exercise daily. I never get sick! I thought, sobbing angrily.

Because I work in the histopathology lab, my biopsy got VIP rush treatment. I saw my specimen come off the tissue processor. I saw my supervisor cut it. I also saw when she had to go back and cut it again, to run ER/PR testing on it. That’s when I realized that I had cancer. And this time, it was real. I sobbed as I scraped paraffin off of the floor, doing my best to finish my shift before meeting with the breast surgeon, who confirmed what I already knew.

Friday the 13th.

It was the luckiest day of my life, because I am still here to talk about it.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND