“Everything in life is luck.” — Donald Trump
The fear came in increments. First the call about needing a second mammogram… “Just routine,” the voice assured me.
But it wasn’t. The radiologist ordered an on-the-spot ultrasound, so I knew we’d upped the ante. I watched the two ultrasound techs calibrate the spot they saw.
A few days later was the needle biopsy. Anyone who’s been to Jiffy Lube, where a car is put on a lift, and the tech sits underneath, draining the oil, will recognize this scenario. First, I was strapped face down onto a table, the breast in question dangling through a hole. My neck and back silently screamed “Let me go!” while I waited for the doctor to arrive. When he did, I could barely see him, my face smooshed into the gurney. The hydraulics hoisted me ceiling-ward, and the doc slid his chair underneath to plunge in the needle. Did it hurt? Hell, yeah! But it was quick. Finally, I was released from bondage, trussed in a tight wrap, and sent home to await the results.
Days later, we were headed to our favorite waterside spot in Florida when my phone rang. Yep, cancer. The word banged around my brain even while the doctor told me it was small, probably just a lumpectomy, probably no chemo… but yes, I had cancer. I had cancer. I cried, my husband cried. We hugged, and then bucked up, sipped pina coladas and watched the boats skim along the intercoastal. I dreaded calling the family, but I knew they were waiting. My daughter sobbed. My son, the analytical one, went on line, did his research, and assured us all, as the doctor had, that this was just a blip on the screen of my life.
The next couple weeks meant consultations with an oncologist and a surgeon, pre-op EKG and MRI. I felt like a tumor with a person attached as an afterthought. I dutifully listened, followed directions, and worked on smiling.
After sleepless nights filled with “what-ifs”, it was Halloween – lumpectomy day. Pre-op meant more unpleasantness, but nurses kept me mellow with some magic stuff in an IV. Meanwhile, my husband and daughter tagged along each step of the way, with nothing to ease their nerves. Our biggest concern: Had cancer invaded my lymph nodes, requiring chemo? Post- op, I was immediately alert enough to ask the question, and blubbered when I heard the answer I’d hoped for. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, my husband and daughter shed their own tears of relief. Since no one hangs around in a hospital very long these days, I was home by the time the trick-or-treaters began ringing the doorbell.
After a couple of weeks, I joined other cancer patients in the radiation waiting room. I had hair; some of them did not. My treatments were two-a-days for a week; theirs, once-a-days for a month. Wearing our little smocks, we watched morning TV, chitchatted about Oprah, and waited for our turns. First, there was the pro forma CAT scan to be sure my port hadn’t wiggled out of place. I was slid into the metal casing and gazed at a beachy scene, palm tree and sunshine, taped to the ceiling while the machinery did its thing.
Then, my turn for radiation. The doc and technician led me into the chamber – a place right out of an old Flash Gordon episode. They hooked me up. Then I chose the day’s music– Harry Connick? Natalie Cole? Barry Manilow? Someone pushed the on button, then skedaddled to avoid radiation’s risks. I lie there humming along to Old Blue Eyes while the cell-killer zinged through my chest.
By early December, the ordeal was over.
My diagnosis was Breast Cancer Lite– no mastectomy, no chemo, no bald head. But even Cancer Lite isn’t a great time.
October, when my news came, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – when the world is awash in perky pink. NFL players wear pink shoes, major leaguers swing pink bats. Pink paper towels, pink yogurt cups, pink M and M’s, pink Everready triple A batteries called out to me while I shopped, “Breast Cancer! Breast Cancer! You have Breast Cancer!” just in case I had forgotten.
Now, seven years have gone by, and once again, it’s October. No cures for breast cancer yet, and pink still runs rampant. Everyone is trying to “save the tatas!” Macy’s posts ads for breast cancer pink “Fight Like a Girl” workout tops and “Warrior” yoga hoodies. Every NFL team sells its own version of pink team wear, for “awareness”, but guess what? Only a smidge of the profits help breast cancer research and the rest lines the NFL’s coffers.
I think of my friend Denise, no fan of October’s avalanche of pink. She sailed through a mastectomy — no chemo required. A couple years later, cancer invaded her bones, and she endured several bouts of chemo and joked about avoiding pink ribbons. Next, a tumor attacked her brain; this was her death sentence. Was she not “fighting like a girl?” Wasn’t she “warrior” enough? Ridiculous. Her death was not about her courage or her grace; she had plenty of both. It was about an ugly, cruel, evil disease.
I bristle at the obit page cliché “lost a courageous battle with cancer.” Battle? ”Battle” implies a loser, a failure, a less able combatant — one lacking the strength, the determination to vanquish the enemy. Cancer doesn’t fight fair, no matter how hard one wars against it. Of course a positive attitude is a good thing, but it’s not a cure.
I’ve never worn any pink survivor button like a badge of honor, or slapped a survivor sticker on my car’s bumper. I’ve been no braver or no more optimistic than those who ”lose the battle.” A warrior? A fighter? No. I’m just luckier than so many others who don’t get the good news I did.