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Breaking the News

My name is Allison Ruddick, I’m a stay-at-home cancer patient and live in New York City with my fiance. I was diagnosed with stage III Colorectal Cancer at age 31. I’ve had two recurrences and have run the gamut of treatment, from body-altering surgeries to radiation and chemotherapy. I’m currently just living with some cancer cells hanging out and treating them as needed.

In my head, it all happens in slow motion.

I’m curled up on the exam table the doctor finishes her exam. “OK, you can sit up,” she says. I assume the requested position but the look I see on her face as she takes off the gloves is much different than the relaxed one that she was wearing earlier. “OK, so before I go any further, I want you to know that rectal cancer is very responsive to treatment…” she says.

At this point, things get a little hazy. To me, it’s not my real life. She didn’t just tell me I had cancer, she told a character that is playing me. She’s still talking in the background, but all I hear is a series of murmurs like the teacher in Charlie Brown.

“…so I want you to come back for a colonoscopy as soon as possible. I’ll come in early to perform it for you, if necessary…”

I felt the tears start to well up in my eyes. Here, she stops and looks at me. “Are you OK?” she says. She hands me a box of tissues and then slowly moves towards the door.

She grabs the door handle and reaches up to hit a large button adjacent to the door jam. I’m pretty sure she was silently calling for backup: “I JUST DROPPED THE BOOOOOMB!! SOMEONE COME IN AND CLEAN UP!!!”

And there I was. A girl and her cancer. Alone in a doctor’s office with the complete Hall & Oates musical catalog serving as the soundtrack to the scene. I shifted a bit on the table and the familiar uncomfortable feeling that I’ve had for months came back. Only, this time, I knew it was a tumor. I felt my cancer.

When I woke from my colonoscopy with confirmation that it was, in fact, cancer, I was half expecting them to send me on my way with a handbook titled "So,You Have Cancer" with a list of things that I needed to do next. It didn’t work that way.

I didn’t even know how to tell people. This wasn’t exactly something you just casually brought up in conversation, “I love those shoes! Oh, by the way, I have cancer.” I’m incredibly awkward as it is.

I texted my closest friends and asked them to come over. My mom went out and bought snacks and beer. They brought games and coloring books and I just blurted it out. Was it weird that I essentially threw an “I Have Cancer” party? Well...yeah. It’s not exactly a happy occasion. There were tears, but there were also a lot of laughs and for that, I was thankful. I was surrounded by people who were fully capable of softening the blow. I highly recommend it.

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