While I certainly don’t understand the reason that everything happens, I do believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are no coincidences. Life is too immensely beautiful and messy for it to be random. This morning, I experienced one of those moments.
This weekend, I have struggled emotionally with the fears and uncertainty that breast cancer has introduced to my psyche. As I was doing laundry, my mind wandered, and I found myself thinking about how I ended up here. These thoughts were still swirling in my mind when I received a sweet message from one of my college friends. Lisa is such a kind person who has a heart of gold, and her sweet smile and disposition belie a strength that I don’t know if she is even aware of herself. Part of her message suggested that I share how the breast cancer was detected, in the hopes that others could benefit from it. While I am choosing not to disclose some of the specifics of my diagnosis and treatment at this time, I thought that Lisa’s idea was a great one. If one person can benefit from my experience, it will make it more bearable for me to deal with this.
This chapter of my story began with my annual mammogram during Breast Cancer Awareness month, of all months. I do not take my health lightly, as I embrace preventative measures and am an educated consumer/patient, but I admit that I was cocky when it came to breast cancer. This cavalier attitude came from the fact that I lack the usual risk factors for breast cancer. I do not have a family history of breast cancer. I do not smoke. I do not drink excessively. I exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and have a fairly well-balanced diet. I breastfed both of my daughters until they were a year old. I have regular mammograms, and overall, I am, or was, very healthy. As my surgeon explained though, I do have two of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer, after all. I have breasts, which puts me and everyone else, men and women, at risk.
After my mammogram, I met with the doctor, who showed me the films of my breasts. Before she said a word, I saw a dark mass on my left breast, and my stomach sank. About five years ago, I had two cysts biopsied, and they were benign. This time, though, I instinctively knew that this was not the case. Because I have dense, fibrocystic breasts, she ordered an ultrasound and a digital mammogram for the following week, but those did nothing to alleviate her concern or mine. As the ultrasound technician marked the mass, again, I knew good news would not follow, and I was right, when I desperately wanted to be wrong.
Two weeks after that initial mammogram, the doctor aspirated a cyst and biopsied the mass, and afterward, she left me with the encouraging words that 75% of these masses are benign. Her call the next day informed me that my mass was not among the 75%, as she said, “I’m sorry. You have breast cancer.” I was both shocked and not shocked all at the same time, and I still am.
I will never know how I got into this club, but I do know that I am going to fight like hell to get out of it and hope that no-one else joins it. I wish that I could share the secret of how not to get breast cancer, but I cannot, neither can anyone else. There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks coming out of the woodwork to speculate on how I could have prevented this and/or how I should treat this, but the reality is there is not one definitive or right way to predict, prevent, or treat this.
What I do know from my initiation into this club is that my annual mammogram gets the credit for detecting the shit in my tit, as my person aptly describes it. Neither my doctor nor I could feel the mass, and I had no physical symptoms of this ticking time bomb beneath my skin. Without that mammogram, I still wouldn’t know the mass existed. While I sometimes believe that ignorance is bliss, in this case, I know that it is a matter of life and death.
I understand that I am very fortunate to have healthcare coverage that pays for annual mammograms and other preventative screenings, and it is my fervent hope that affordable healthcare and coverage for preventative measures become a reality for everyone everywhere. It is also my hope that if you have been postponing any preventative health screenings that you schedule an appointment immediately. If you think that you don’t have time to do so, trust me, treating a disease takes much more time and money than preventative measures do.
So, that’s how I got here. I hope that the path I am embarking on leads me to being healed completely and as quickly as possible. Like I told my person when I called to share the news that changed my life, “I don’t have time for this.” I really don’t, as I have lots more to do in my life and with my life that does not involve cancer.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story