From the monthly archives:

June 2009

Lucy Q from the Breast Care Center calls one week after their radiologist informed me that I have breast cancer.

“How are you sweetie?” She sounds young and perky. “Sorry I did not call you earlier, I have been on vacation.” She pauses and I expect her to tell me about her vacation.

“How are you doing?”

“Fine I guess.”

“Just wanted to see what is happening.” Her choice of words was those of a college girl checking on Friday afternoon with a girlfriend. “Any frat parties to attend? ”

“Have you picked a surgeon?”

“I have.  At the Medical School.”

“Oh no, not the Medical School, we don’t want to loose you!” Maybe realizing her unfortunate choice of words, she quickly adds: “Oh, it is very good place, but we would like to keep you here at our breast-care center.”

She launches into her marketing spiel (reading from the teleprompter?) Largest breast-care center in the Southeast, etc.

“Please reconsider,” she pleads.  “We have two excellent surgeons with wide-open schedules that would be the best for you. We want what was best for you. “

They have an open surgery schedule with two expensive surgeons twiddling their thumbs. I imagine it would also be advantageous for them, should I choose to come there.

“My plates are already at the Medical School.”

“No problem. I can work miracles and get them back. Just call me in the morning and we will set it up.  We have two surgeons I want you to see: Dr. L. and Dr. R. , both with wide-open schedules.”

Her tone, her perkiness, her sale’s pitch leaves me feeling empty. But I write down her phone number.

“Call me in the morning.” She promises to put a “care package” in the very next day. “Look at everything carefully.”

Susie Q. sounds like of a kindergarten teacher with her cheerful tone and her simple instructions.

I never call her back.

The care package arrives ten days later and turns out to be quite informative and useful. A friend with a surgeon husband tells me Dr. R. actually has a good reputation, but he is a general surgeon, not specialized in breast surgery and reconstruction.

When you look for a surgeon you want someone who has, if possible, done hundreds of the kind of procedure you are about to have.

Anyway, I have formed a mental block against the Breast Care Center. It took them ten years to discover my cancer. I have no plans to ever return there — not even for a mammogram. Especially not for a mammogram.

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Friday afternoon. I drive back to the Breast Care Center for the fourth time in less than a month to retrieve my mammograms. I need to give them to my surgeon when I see him.

Again, I ruminate  over the hopeless, pointless, and completely unanswerable question: Why did they not find my lump last year, before it grew to 1.5 cm?  Why have annual mammograms when 80% of all lumps are found by the women themselves (or by their partners)? Why at least not have diagnostic mammograms with more views?

The staff is neutral whens I ask for my x-rays, although they must know that I am now a cancer patient. Why else would I pick them up?

This is what I need: Calm indifference, no looks of pity. No sideways glances. I don’t want them to be kind. Any acknowledgment of the seriousness of my diagnosis would worry me. Did they train the staff to be neutral? Or did it come with experience? Fatigue? Did it come naturally to them after awhile, like unseeing fish eyes in the subway system where you learn not to “look?”

I wait 45 minutes for my plates because I was supposed to have called 24 hours in advance. How could I have known? It occurs to me that a breast imaging center should give women a pamphlet , or at least a one-pager, describing the steps to take in the unfortunate event that they have cancer.

During my wait, I think: At least now I won’t have to deal with Alzheimers’.

Then lightening strikes.

One does not preclude the other. I can get both cancer and Alzheimers, if I linger long enough. My supposedly slow-growing cancer, kept in check by, perhaps, Tamoxofin and/or chemo, will keep my body alive until my mind is attacked by plaques.

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Announcing to Extended Family: Onset of Anxiety

June 29, 2009

Sunday dinner with extended family: Sister- and brother-in-law celebrating the return of a lost son. He is now home after two years in Japan, teaching and one year in Vietnam, doing what? We are about to find out. Luke is sensitive, intelligent, and well-informed, I can’t wait to hear about his Asian adventures. Yet on […]

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How to Lie with Statistics – or Just Ignore Them.

June 27, 2009

A perfect day to hang out in our wonderful pool, the one extravagant purchase we do not regret. It is large and deep, filled with cool turquoise,  mildly salty, water, soothing to both body and soul. My friend Cecilia comes over and gives me “The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer.” (Winner of the Ross Kushner […]

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Are My Cells Undifferentiated?

June 27, 2009

Three days have passed since my diagnosis. When office work slows down, I feel panicky and restless. I debate whether to leave the office, but instead I turn to Google and type in “ductal invasive carcinoma” and “undifferentiated cells.” It turns out to be extremely bad news. Undifferentiated cells are abnormal looking cells that have […]

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My First–And Last–Visit with Dr. Morte, Part II

June 26, 2009

“What are undifferentiated cells?” I ask my new gynecologist, Dr. Morte, as he reluctantly stumbles through my pathology report. Undifferentiated cells sound pretty good to me. If cancer cells are no different from normal cells in my body, would that not be a good sign? “You have to ask your oncologist. I don’t know the […]

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One Breast Cancer Cell

June 23, 2009

When your tumor reaches 1 cm, you have 1 billion of these cells in your body. Image Courtesy of National Cancer Institute

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My First–And Last–Visit with Dr. Morte, Part I

June 21, 2009

Doctor Morte, my new gynecologist, looks ascetic, with a largish, oval head on a thin neck stem. Thick accent. Is he Persian? I cannot place the accent, and it bothers me. I used to be good at identifying foreign accents and nationalities. He sits on a chair across from the awful examination table with the […]

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My Blue Journal

June 21, 2009

At lunch before my doctor’s appointment, Marie gives me a care package: one of the presents is a blue vinyl journal with a cheerful green flap to close under a pink loop (I do not connect the pink loop with the pink cancer bow. Somehow I am still able to ignore the pink breast cancer […]

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A Bittersweet Lunch

June 21, 2009

Before my scheduled check-up with my new gynecologist, I have lunch at my friend Marie’s invitation. She picks Anise, one of my favorite lunch places, one with so many memories of earlier, happier, days when Marie and I both had sons and our sons were both in the International School, a few hundred yards away. […]

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