Dearest Amy Schumer,
I’m coming to Montreal to see you on Friday, February 17th and I wanted to tell you that I’m going to need you to make an exceptionally funny show for me and the thousands of people who will also be attending your show. I mean, I know that you are hysterical all the time, but like- FOR REALS– on Friday, I’m gonna need you to bring it. I know I’m being an annoyingly demanding fan, but let me tell you where I’m coming from, because I really need a good laugh.
A year and a half ago, at the ripe young age of 35, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer. You may not know this, but there is no cure for Stage IV Breast Cancer. It suuuuuucks. Big time. Quick rundown of what I’ve been through thus far: I had chemo, then had my ovaries removed and now I’m on maintenance medication which comes in a trapper keeper type container and is labeled “cytotoxic material.” It’s probably fine, Amy, don’t you think?
I was managing my terminal illness and doing my best to make a positive impact on the world around me, and then two weeks ago, I had an appointment with my good ole’ breast surgeon who I like to call “the Breast Guru.” I pointed out a few changes I had noticed in my breast, since I basically have been doing daily self breast exams for a year and a half. The Breast Guru was very worried that the changes in my breast indicated new tumor growth, so she sent me to get a mammogram. This was not too big of a deal for me. I’d had a mammogram in October of 2015, so I knew what to expect. I’m used to scanxiety, since I have CT Scans every 3- 4 months and I get my results immediately, so that was helpful. The Breast Guru thought that the alternative to new tumor growth was that I was experiencing symptoms of Lymphedema, which is swelling caused by lymphatic system blockage.
Well Amy, it wasn’t Lymphedema, but the Breast Guru thought maybe we should gather more information. After considering a breast MRI- which is an MRI where you lay face down on a table and let your breasts dangle below you for 45 minutes while listening to the soothing bangs, ticks and jackhammer sounds produced by the giant machine- the Breast Guru decided to bring my case to the TUMOR BOARD. This is a Board in which bunches of doctors you don’t know talk about you and your body, and don’t take notes, so you know you aren’t getting the full story (“cause no one else is in the room where it happens, the room where it happens, the room where it happens”) and then make decisions about your course of treatment. Cool.
The Tumor Board suggested, after looking at AAAALLLLL my imaging from the beginning until now, that there is definitely progression in the breast tumor, that a breast MRI would not provide additional details and that it would behoove me to obtain additional imaging of the rest of my body in order to ensure that there is not additional tumor growth elsewhere. Amy, I know what you are thinking: “It’s just a precaution.” Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. Except when the dark side shines through.
The dark side is motherfucking dark as hell. It’s grocery store parking lot rage and “I’m gonna cut you if you say the wrong thing” and of course, nothing will go right. It’s piled with “you’ll never move into that house you want and you don’t deserve to be happy and you don’t have time for that.” Sometimes the dark side makes me think that I should have gone with a different doctor and I must not care enough about staying alive if I can’t cut out sugar and what about Rick Simpson? And then I explode with tears and screams and maybe I even throw up a little and then I put myself back together because my kids will be home soon and I have to make them dinner.
I’m not saying that DID happen, I’m just saying it COULD.
The week leading up to seeing you in Montreal consists of the following:
First, a brain MRI. That’s right, brain. Because I think it makes sense to look at my entire body and make sure there is no cancer progression anywhere. Have you ever had a brain MRI? It’s what I imagine lying in a closed coffin would be like. Doctors ask me all these questions like if IEDs have ever exploded in my face, or if I have a pacemaker or piercings, or tattoos (this one I answered yes to because like you, I rock the tramp stamp pretty fricken hard). I had already answered all of these question over the phone on Friday, but apparently those answers were not legitimate. Then, they made me take off all of my clothes and wear scrubs. I got to lay on a board with a cage on my head and a rearview mirror at eye level so I could peek out and be sure that nothing weird was going on outside the tomb I was in. Like, for instance, maybe the zombie apocalypse would start while I was trapped inside the MRI. I could not move, turn my head or scratch the itch on the back of my neck. They gave me earplugs and headphones, which they told me was for any Pandora station I wanted, except they are liars because the music kept cutting out and eventually I gave up asking for them to turn it back on and just focused on my deep breathing. This was the deepest breathing I have ever experienced. Of course, I forgot my anti-anxiety medication and the guy at the front desk said they didn’t have any medication there that they could give me. No medication at the hospital- that sounds legitimate.
After 45 minutes of listening to what seemed like a building being destroyed next to my head and not being able to protect myself when the bricks could have started falling on my face, I was free to go. And not to worry, those pictures of my brain will be processed and ready for review by my doctor in 3- 5 days. I should sleep fine. I got dressed and deposited the hospital scrubs in the bin labeled “soiled linens.” Soiled linens? It’s not like I shat all over them.
Next up will be a PET Scan. I will not be allowed to do vigorous exercise and was instructed to just “be a couch potato” the day before the scan. Now, some people might be excited about this but not me! During these anxious times, the only thing that keeps me sane and full of endorphins is a good workout. So telling me to couch potato it up is like saying, “I think it would be best if you sat in a ball and rocked back and forth for the next 24 hours!” Can I at least have some medication with that?
Then, I was instructed to not have any food or drink for 6 hours before my 2 hour 9:30 AM scan. Cool. That should be fine. It’s probably best that my mom offered to go with me because she made it through my teen years. Did I mention the dark side? Oh I did. I basically live on coffee, particularly when I’m not sleeping. So this should go well. However, once that is over, I will be done with the testing. For now, and will only have to wait for my results for one day.
Here’s the thing, Amy, once I get those results, I’ll be hopping in my minivan to drive me and 5 of my friends to Montreal to see you. Those results could say that they see no progression of the disease anywhere else in my body. This, in a manner of speaking would be good news because it would mean that my medication is still working, for the most part, and we just have to deal with the local progression- which could mean a quick mastectomy, maybe a little radiation. Or the results could be that the cancer is progressing in the rest of my body and a total change in treatment is warranted, in which case I have no idea what to expect.
What I do know is despite the completely warranted mental breakdown I am clearly having, my body feels good. The other thing I know is that laughter is quite literally, the best medicine. So Amy, for the fucking love of goddess, I’m ready to laugh my ass off, so PLEASE make it your best show ever.
See you on the bright side,
Maggie Van Duyn (*pronounced dine, not dunn)
P.S. You may not be able to hear us or see us from the stage because we’ll be in the back. No, I mean like super far back. (Section 321-Row DD-Seats 1-6, to be exact)
P.P.S. If you want to keep up with the results of my scans, please follow me at maggiesbrightside.org