We were supposed to leave for five weeks in Italy on July 29 -- four of those weeks would be spent at an artists' colony housed in a castle in Umbria where I was hoping to finish my new book. A castle! Sound too good to be true? Uh huh…
A visit to the radiologist on June 12 for a routine ultrasound (dense breast tissue) led to a core biopsy. Not that I didn't try to jump off the table and tell Dr. S I'd have the biopsy at another time because I had a really busy summer coming up. Oh, yeah--I actually did that, saying I'd discuss it with my GYN and get back to her. She convinced me, in her very quiet way, that my GYN would tell me to have the biopsy. Now.
The biopsy report was a shock. Isn't it always? What do you do? Where do you go? I'm an emotional person. I'd read Betty Rollin's book, First You Cry, long ago - but for whatever reason I didn't cry. I choked up that first day, but the tears didn’t flow. This is neither good nor bad. It just surprised me. Instead, I sprang into action. Okay, I thought -- let's gather all the info, talk with both my primary care docs in NY. Talk with friends who've been through this. Ask for recommendations. Get a list of breast surgeons. Get this done. Taking charge (or thinking I was taking charge) made me feel better.
I have small breasts (a la Margaret Simon). A-cups? The breast surgeon asked at our first meeting. She nailed it. I told her the exercises didn't work for me. Not sure she got my attempt at a joke. Like Margaret I used to think bigger was better. But my dense, small breasts aged well. They stayed perky while other body parts sagged. I'd become quite fond of them. Still, the idea of mastectomy wasn't a difficult emotional decision for me (again, these are very personal reactions and decisions). Maybe because my breasts have never defined my sexuality. Who knows?
During those six weeks, with the docs’ blessing, we were able to go to Nantucket where we’d rented a house for two weeks. Tiger Eyes was screening at the film festival and all our kids had plans to visit. It was a great two weeks. I got in plenty of beach time, we played Pounce every night, and most importantly, we all enjoyed our time together. During one thunderstorm (I’m phobic about lightning and thunder – have been as long as I can remember) we were in the car and the kids were concerned about me. I said, Hey, I have breast cancer. What’s a little lightning and thunder? (I’d like to tell you I’m no longer phobic but I’d be lying.)
I'm not afraid of surgery. Maybe I should be. Anesthesia can be dangerous but I'd had a hysterectomy seventeen years ago (cervical cancer caused by HPV). We didn't know it was cervical cancer before the surgery but we knew something was going on. Caught it just in time, extensive but still in situ. No other treatment necessary. Another story for another time. If I had a young daughter or son I'd talk to their docs about having the vaccine to protect them from getting or giving HPV. If only there was a vaccine to protect us from breast cancer we'd be lined up -- wouldn't we?
My friends who've had breast cancer have been so helpful and supportive I can never thank them enough. They got me through this. They were my inspiration. If we can do it, you can do it! They were right. And I got off easy. The cancer hadn't spread anywhere. I don’t need chemo which is a whole other ballgame. (I'm considering taking a daily med but haven't yet made up my mind.) Also, I’m older, which is very different from being diagnosed when you’re young.