Towanda!

One of the nice things about having breast cancer is that for the rest of your life you visit your oncologist every year. Sort of like having a “cancer-stalking ninja” sitting on your shoulder. During my annual mammogram two weeks ago, an ‘area of concern’ was spotted in my right tit*. Biopsy was recommended.

It wasn’t a tumor, just a cluster of microcalcifications.  These are normally scattered throughout the breast and are of no concern unless they cluster.  Even if clustered, they are usually just indicative of pre-cancerous cellular abnormalities, and generally don’t evolve into invasive cancer.

Bottom line?  It was no big deal.  Even if it was bad, it wasn’t bad. 

So the biopsy was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.  Both of my children, and the two friends i told about it, offered to drive me to the appointment, but i declined.  Hopped in the jeep after lunch and drove myself to the hospital.  No big deal.  Local anesthetic is used for a stereotactic biopsy, and there is no concern about driving post-procedure. 

The stereotactic biopsy is the first approach attempted in such a case.  When the little nuggets are that small, sometimes a wire-localization surgical biopsy is required.  More extensive, still local anaesthetic, and good to avoid if possible.

Joking with the medical staff, i reminded them that these are the Model Year 2007 Bionic Twins we’re dealing with… The objective was to get something for pathology without mashing it into a thumbless mitten…  Given the size and location of the clump, the doc wasn’t sure he’d be able to get it.  The staff prepared me for several attempts, and said it might take an hour to just find it.  It took a full 90 minutes of x-ray imaging before the doc could do the core biopsy. 

That’d be 90 minutes with me lying face down on a hard table, tit through a hole, and strategically crushed between two plates.  While not painful, it wasn’t particularly comfortable.  “Don’t move!”  Right.  i stayed as still as i could.  The doctor, knowing that i was getting stiff, reached up to reassure me, placing his hand squarely on my left ass cheek.  Not sure he realized it… but i still didn’t move**.  Given that the doc was pretty sure we’d have to go back for a wire-localization, i was relieved that he was able to get a sample for pathology.

The doctor and staff said that i had been an ideal patient.  Relaxed, flexible and tolerant – with a fairly high threshold for discomfort.  Otherwise, they said, they’d have referred me for the wire-localized surgical biopsy.

When it was over, i wandered back out the the parking lot*** on a gorgeous autumn day, sucking in the fresh humidity-free air and drinking in the high-pressure blue sky.  Hopped back in my jeep. 

“i am one badass motherfucker” was the random thought that popped into my head…

When i went through the process almost three years ago, i went to all of my appointments and procedures alone.  With the random thought that flashed in my head, i finally realized why i do it this way.  It provides the illusion of power and control.  It makes me feel strong. 

The reality?  i was just as scared on that table as any other human being.  Even though my rational mind knew it wouldn’t be bad, it’s fucking scary.  So i rationalize it into a nice corner, tell myself i’m strong and in control of things and that i’m a badass motherfucker.

Always comes back to that amazing quote, uttered by Jeff Goldblum in “The Big Chill”:

Sam Weber: Nothing’s more important than sex!
Michael: Oh yeah, have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

Got the call from my oncologist last night with good news:  negative.  So no further need for cutting or cooking my perky and healthy right tit.

Once again, i want to remind all of you ladies to get your mammograms.  The microcalcifications are the size of a grain of salt, and they are distinctly visible on a digital mammogram.  Isn’t that amazing?  Sometimes they can see the fucking cancer BEFORE it’s cancer.  Yeah, it hurts to put your tit in a vise once a year.  So what? 

Excuses are like assholes – everyone’s got one.  Just go do it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Pardon the medical jargon…  i’m a self-taught professional.

** Had he been anywhere near as hot as the orthopaedic surgeon who did my knee surgery, i might have jumped him…

*** i got dressed first…

Bad to the bone

She’s right around 40 years old.  KT is an accomplished scientist, skilled program manager, and warm human being.  And she’s absolutely beautiful.  We started working together last June on a high visibility project, and found lots of things in common.  The least of which was breast cancer. 

Hers was the bad kind.  An aggressive version hit her 14 years ago while she was in her late 20’s.  She stomped on it hard – with major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  Not an easy journey, but she put it behind her – continued to work throughout her treatment. 

i didn’t know her well then, but remember being blown away by the fact that she was there… doing her job while staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. i remember seeing her in the hallways, this beautiful young woman, bald as a cue ball, wearing fabulous outfits – with matching hats and headgear.

Last month she learned that it wasn’t a pinched nerve, or a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder causing numbness and pain.  “Lesions”.  That means “tumors”.  She told me in early December because there could be some impact to the program should she face something serious.  Optimistic for good news, but realistic enough to know what “lesions on the bone” meant.

As we started a meeting in late December – KT, me and another program manager – she provided an update.  That week – following more testing – she learned that her cancer has returned.  Here’s what she said:

“There’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that my cancer is back.  The good news is that it’s only in my bones.  If it were in my organs, we’d be talking weeks.  Since it’s just in my bones, we’re talking years… It’s treatable, but not curable.”

From there?  Rational discussion of treatment plan, as well as her take on what it might mean for her part of the program.  She intends to work through, although she’ll be discussing some re-balancing of workload to remove the things that bring extra stress. 

After a brief discussion of how she’d like things handled with the rest of the team, we got down to the business at hand.  The meeting lasted about an hour, and she was actively engaged, and clearly tracking everything going on… Even some laughs.

To be in the presence of such a woman is truly humbling.  As with the BLT, you can learn so much about a person by how they deal with the nastiest shit that life hacks up.  The stuff that tests your soul.  You’re either living or you’re dying.  You have a choice.

She faced her own mortality 14 years ago, and was prepared to die.  In our prior conversation, when she learned of the “lesions”, she said “I know what my body can take.  I know much of what lies ahead.  I know that I can continue to work through chemo and radiation.” 

Now, ladies?  Get your fucking mammograms.  Cut out the excuses.  Yeah, it hurts.  Big deal.  i guarantee you it hurts a lot less than the gauntlet KT is now running.  Again…  So you’re afraid of knowing?  Get over yourself and do it for the people who love you.  No excuses.

Alien Abduction?

i need to report an abduction….  Got a call today while running errands on my lunch hour.  This conversation happened today with my ridiculously self-absorbed sister, S:

S: I need to talk to you.  This isn’t about Mom, she’s fine.  This is about me.  It’s all about me.

daisyfae (inside her head):  i’m stunned-shocked-amazed at this!  YOU?  Talking about yourself?

daisyfae (to S):  Ok.  What’s up?

S:  They found another lump in my breast.  I went in today for a Halo Breast test – have you heard of it?

daisyfae: No – what is it?

S: It’s a new way of looking for cancer – they said because of the type i had before, i’d be a good candidate, but they weren’t able to make it work.  Hurt like hell.  But that’s not why i’m calling.

daisyfae (inside her head):  Ah – here it comes!

daisyfae:  Shoot*…

S:  They also asked me about doing genetic testing for breast cancer.  Have you heard of that?

daisyfae:  Yes – i had it done last year.  Came back negative.  i thought i told everyone in the family about it.  Key thing with the breast cancer mutation – it’s not only about breast cancer, but ovarian cancer as well.  If it runs in a family, there is typically rampant cancer (30%-40% of the women) – and we don’t have that on Mom’s side.  i did the test to look on Dad’s side because his Mom died of breast cancer, he was an only child, and we just don’t know that much…

S:  That’s good news. 

daisyfae:  Do you know of history on your biological father’s side?

S:  His mother died of breast cancer, but he had a bunch of older aunts – i don’t think there were more cases.

daisyfae:  Statistically, it’s probably a low chance.  Now, will your insurance pay for the test?  It costs about $3000 and there’s only one lab in the U.S. with the license to do the testing.

S:  I’m not sure.  I’ll go back and ask before agreeing to this.

daisyfae (looking at phone number to verify this is, in fact, Sister, S): Ok.  Keep me posted – and let me know if there’s anything i can do.  Did a lot of research on this during the 3 weeks i had to wait for the results…  Genetic testing is an interesting business** and i can help you navigate some of it.

S:  OK.  Oh, and don’t tell Mom – I don’t want to worry her about this.  I don’t think it’s a big deal – I’m not afraid.  I just want to figure out how to handle all this crap without too much disruption.

daisyfae (staring at phone. considering drafting a press release):  No problem – and hey, you’re one tough little nugget!  Way to go!  Let me know what you need!

daisyfae (inside her head): […..]

* Not an optimal word choice for this sister.  She’s the one with the “concealed carry” permit.

** i stopped short of my rant regarding the intellectual property issues relating to “Genetic Testing Patents”.  A law (Bayh-Dole Act) that was intended to speed the transition of research has, in fact, hindered many such transitions – by allowing patents for on gene identification processes.  A quagmire has evolved, and the result is reduced access to relatively straightforward testing. This slowed down research into development of a SARS vaccine, as many lawyers first had to sort out who “owned” the patents…  Baby steps. She was doing good, but not ready for this particular rant…  Sorry.  [soap box returned to cupboard under sink]

Calling Uncle Walt…

When i was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, i asked my sister, S – a 6 year breast cancer survivor – to help break the news to Mom.  Her reaction set the world record for self-absorption.  In fact, i wondered if she would simply implode*….

Earlier this week, i encountered it again.  This time, because i was pretty sure she was jacked up on anti-anxiety drugs**, and because i’ve simply crossed my tolerance threshold, i decided to be a bit more direct with her about this behavior…

Stepping out of the cath lab to allow the nursing staff to do icky medical things to Mom’s incisions, she and i sat in a waiting area.  We’d just learned that Mom will need double bypass.

S (shaking, on the verge of tears):  I can’t take this.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without her!  I’m not ready to let her go!

daisyfae: You really need to think about what Mom needs.  This isn’t about you right now.

S (working up some angry tears): You just don’t understand.  I need her.  None of you need her as much as I do.  You’ll never understand.

daisyfae: Look, we’re all circling the drain!  We can’t change the outcome, we can only affect the path.  Freaking out is not doing anything good for the path…

S: I don’t want to talk about this!  She’s not going to die!

daisyfae: Do me a favor.  Rent The Lion King.  Study the part about “the circle of life”.  Let me know what you think.

_____

* oh, if it could only happen this way!

** clearly, an insufficient dosage….

i got life…

it was a year ago that i had my second surgery.  the 6mm x 8mm cancer nugget was removed from my breast, along with one undiseased lymph node and about two pounds of breast meat that had faithfully obeyed the law of gravity for many years.

one year ago this week, my friends and i were having a drunken farewell party for the old “girls”, complete with balloons, silly gifts and enough alcohol to put an entire frat house into a coma.  Of course the doc told me not to drink before surgery, so i quit well before midnight – technically, i followed the rules!

everyone deals with these situations differently – my method was to adopt a ‘level head plus perpetual motion’ technique.  going to all medical appointments alone forced me to take good notes, and maintain a clinical approach to treament. 

to stay busy, i was at a choreography session for Bat Boy, The Musical four days after the lumpectomy, opened the show 2 weeks later, and while finishing 6 weeks of radiation, started training for a half-marathon (having never run a step in my adult life).

denial?  you betcha! 

But after 6 performances,  40 discarded pounds, a couple hundred training miles and a half-marathon under my belt, i had bulldozed my way through the year, also forcing recovery from a skewed work/life balance that had me routinely working 60+ hours per week.

what better way to celebrate the year than completely letting loose with a tribe of sweet and talented kids putting on a show in that beat up ol’ theater in a sketchy section of town?  i honestly don’t give a shit what i looked like on that stage…  and i certainly wasn’t acting tonight. the joy was genuine.

i got life

a ghost of christmas past – a tale from 2006

On December 26th, 2006, i was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Even as i got the diagnosis, i had been doing my own research, and was reasonably certain the prognosis would be good.  The challenge:  How to tell the inhabitants of The Park?

Specifically, Mom.  The rest of them? I probably wouldn’t have bothered telling any of them if not for Mom.  I was separated for 5 years, and divorced for a full 6 months before i told The Park… but this was something Mom would want to know.

First order of business – control the timing.  I scheduled our Christmas visit to The Park for the 27th from 6 pm – 10 pm.  I can do anything for four hours.

Second order of business – Pre-brief my oldest sister, S, who is a 6 year breast cancer survivor.  I though her best situated for keeping Mom from getting scared and upset.  I called S on the 26th and said “It’s going to be ok, but i’ve got a small, malignant tumor in my breast, and i want your help keeping Mom calm when i tell her”.

What happened next surprised me, even after being in and out of The Park all my life.  She started wailing and crying… “What am I going to do?  My sister has cancer? Waaaaaaaah…..”.  This went on for an hour.  I was calming her, reassuring her that i would be fine – and emphasizing that i needed her to be calm and strong to remind Mom that breast cancer can be effectively treated if you get it early…”.

She was terrified of going through it all again.  And then decided that it would be good therapy for her to assist me along the way…  “You’ve got to let me help you through this – i need to do this”.

Seriously.  I could not make this shit up.

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