REMEMBERING MY FIVE YEAR “ANNIVERSARY”
(I started writing my blog two years ago. This was my second blog. I'm repeating it this week because the message hasn't changed. If it helps one woman, it's well worth repeating.)
I was sitting in the waiting room with three other half-naked women, each of us wearing pale blue johnny robes. We were all feeling a little squirmy. The technician came out, eyeballed me and said, “Val, we need to do more scans.”
A week later I had an ultrasound mammogram. A few days after that, a biopsy. The diagnosis: Stage 2 invasive breast cancer. It was October, 2010.
Your happy little world collapses when you hear the word “cancer.” Me? Why? How? Shit. Damn. OH MY GOD.
My daughter Alex had come with me the morning of the diagnosis. She’s a Johns Hopkins-trained nurse, a mother of two, but most importantly, she’s a compassionate caretaker who, when hearing about her mother’s journey from mammo to biopsy, said, “You’re not alone, Mom. I’m with you every step of the way.”
“With over three million women battling breast cancer today,
everywhere you turn there is a mother, a daughter, a sister or
friend who’s been affected by breast cancer" Betsey Johnson
Alex asked all the questions as we sat in the surgeon’s office, along with my future oncologist and radiologist, discussing Val’s “Cancer Survivorship Care Plan.” I was mute. I could only stare at the words “Stage 2” and blink back tears.
As we left the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine, Alex said, “We’re going out to lunch and we’re gonna have some strong margaritas.”
The Maine Mall’s On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina was festooned with pink streamers and ribbons as we walked to our booth. “How did they know that I have breast cancer,” I whispered to Alex.
“Uh, Mom, I think it’s because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. These decorations are for a lot of women," she said. We sipped several tangy margaritas and came to grips with reality.
The lumpectomy a month later was successful. No chemo, just six weeks of radiation, and life returned to normal. Sort of. My “girls” looked a little different — prior to the knife, I had two droopy 68-year-old boobs but the right one is today positively post-op perky.
I had to take a daily dose of Anastrazole (a non-steroidal aromatase-inhibiting drug for treatment of breast cancer after surgery) which definitely aggravated my arthritis. And I finally stopped crying every time a cancer ad appeared on television.
“Once I overcame breast cancer I wasn’t afraid of
anything anymore.” Melissa Etheridge
Statistics don’t lie. Since 2000, the incident rate for breast cancer has been steadily decreasing. However, one in eight women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer in their life. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer. After five years the odds for recurrence are greatly reduced.
Right after my diagnosis, a friend and survivor, Louise H., left a vase of pink Bonica roses by my front door with a note that read, “How can I help.?” My brother Robert wrote a sweet letter (“You’re gonna beat this thing”) that I still treasure. My husband Bob gave me nonstop hugs. Talk about the right “medicine."
In many ways I was so lucky. I’ve spent the last five years remembering the first words my oncologist told me: “This is curable.” But we all know someone who is battling cancer today, or suffering the ravages of their cure, and they have far tougher fights than I did.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you are overdue for a mammogram, make an appointment today. If you have a friend or relative who’s going through breast cancer or is a survivor, give her a hug or a phone call. I can’t tell you how much it will mean.