Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breast Cancer

I cannot let the month of October go by without an homage of sorts to Breast Cancer, especially given that we see the pink shirts, ribbons and the awareness campaigns everywhere. As someone who knows what it is like to be diagnosed with breast cancer firsthand, I feel best able to speak from a place of knowledge and experience.

It was not a shock to hear the words from my Radiologist those 8 long years a go, that I had cancer, I simply knew already. Like many women and men diagnosed with cancer, I had a dream months before my actual diagnosis. I saw a wonderful, caring surgeon with blood on her hands look at me with soulful eyes and tell me I had cancer. Do you ever have dreams in which you are sobbing so hard that you wake with tears in your eyes? I do on occasion, and have always felt that a good deal of my insight about my life comes from moments like these. We all have this ability to tap into this part of ourselves. It is just that so many of us are caught up in the flow of life and tend to ignore the signs that tell us what we instinctively know, but are doing our best to avoid.

This dream was so vivid and came LONG before I had even been to doctor or had a biopsy. So when I woke and told my husband that I had cancer he said what any loving, caring person would say, "it was just a dream....let it go." And while for his sake and mine too, I tried, I knew deep down inside that the dream was my body's way of letting me know something was indeed wrong. 6 months and a mastectomy later I was indeed a firm believer in the power of intuition and insight.

You see, we lost my sister-in-law, my husband's sister to breast cancer 4 or so years prior to my diagnosis. She had 3 children all under 10 and I am forever grateful to her for her unbelievable strength and courage in the face of what must have been a devastating diagnosis of Stage IV cancer. Mine was not staged as it was DCIS and so microscopic in size that someone once told me it was smaller then the width of human hair. I opted for a radical procedure for my type of diagnosis. I made my decision after much careful research and consults with my doctors. Perhaps that fateful dream guided my hand in my decision. If it did, I was not conscious of this fact. All I knew was that I can live without my breast, what I cannot live with is the thought that I might not trust my instinct to know that having this procedure was right for me.

On the day of my mastectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, (the absolute best place to be for cancer care in the country, in my biased opinion of course) I was sitting in the pre surgical waiting room with another woman who was also waiting to be escorted to her surgery. (MSK has an empowering practice in their breast cancer division, that you WALK into the surgical room, not get wheeled, as a way to make you feel in control of your surgery. I loved this fact but it is not for everyone.) This woman started talking to me and I vividly recall my first thought was "oh no, I hope she does not say anything to make me second guess what I was doing." She went on to say she was 78 and this was her 4th operation for a lumpectomy, a procedure typically done for women in my situation with DCIS. She asked me why I was here and when I told her my decison, she looked me straight in the eye and said : "I wish I had done what you are brave enough to do now and at your age."

She told me that 4 operations in 30 plus years is 4 too many and that if she had it do do all over, she would have done what I was doing now. I was forever grateful to her for saying so since she so aptly voiced what I felt played into my own decision. Soon after an orderly came in calling out my first name and looking at the two of us expectantly, unsure who was his next patient. We both answered "yes?," and started to laugh when we suddenly realized we had the same name! That does not happen often as our name is one that was never in popularity nor very common. I will never forget that moment and noted it as further proof that I made the right decison and have never looked back. Ever!

Words of advice: "Do not assume since you have no personal history of breast cancer in your family that you are "safe." 80 to 90 percent of the breast cancer diagnosed comes with no formal medical history of breast cancer in the family. We had no history of breast cancer in my family. A lot of women do understand that a history of breast cancer puts you at a higher risk, but not having a history just makes you only slightly less at risk. So get those mammograms! Do not put them off.

In closing, I had wonderful woman in a cancer support group tell me years ago that "knowing you have cancer is like having the radio on all the time. Sometimes the volume is loud and sometimes it plays softer, but never the less, it is always on." And that is indeed how it is to me. I know it's on, but I don't need to listen to it all the time. That's called choice, along with lots of meditation and a healthy dose of hutzpah!


  1. I teared up reading your post as it reminded of what a difficult time it was but also what a strong person you are! I love you!

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