From the category archives:

Denial

pool reduced

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 Award for American Medical Writing.) It feels surreal to look down at the 36 pt. blue typeface against a pale yellow background and realize that I have breast cancer and the book is for me and about me. Flipping through the pages, I discover the complexity of breast cancer: There are so many different kinds, different stages, different phases, different grades, everyone with a different outcome. The outcome depends on — what? I need to figure this out.

I glance at the statistics for my cohort. Five year survival looks good: First five years 96% still alive.

Ten years looks less promising. Best case seemed to be 75% alive after 10 years.  Worst case was 54%. That is, according to my math impaired mind, 50-50: a coin toss.

Twenty years looks a bit scary: 40% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer will die from the disease. Could that really be right? But I will be 80 years old. You have to let go sometime, especially if you dread assisted living. But from what little I have gleaned from my research so far: dying from cancer is not the ideal way to depart.

I cheer myself up: pioneer women had an average life expectancy of 38 years. Women in Sudan….Women in India…Women living in all under developed countries, their numbers are dismal even now in the 21st century, a lot more dismal than my life expectancy with cancer.

I close the book and put The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer up-side down on the table beside me. I don’t want the title to stare me in the face while I am trying to relax.

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The newly discovered hard lump in my right breast does not shrink or go away. But on the plus side: it does not seem to grow bigger either.

How do I deal with it? I try not to think about it. I try not to touch it. I go as far as not to lather up that breast in the shower. I do not google “cyst” and certainly not “cancer.”  I do not tell anyone. Now and then I give the trouble spot a poke. “Yep, still there. Should schedule a mammogram.” But other more important things come in my way.

I work out at the gym more. I make a flurry of other appointments: to get a pedicure and manicure, to my dentist to bleach my teeth, to my hair-dresser for cut and high lights. I go shopping for something stylish and, I hope, “trompe-l’aeil” to wear. But I do not take two minutes to call to schedule a mammogram despite that hazelnut in the twelve o’clock position in my right breast.

My 40th high school reunion is coming up. Nobody can see fibroids, lobes & ducts, tan/yellow tissue, tumors, cysts, neoplasm, or mitotic activity inside your boobs. But they sure can see how supportive your bra is, how springy your step, how wrinkle free your face. And how not gray your hair is.

Then the letter from the Breast “Care” Center arrives:

“We remind you that you’re due for your annual mammogram. Your last one was on April 28 200X.” The phone number to call is printed in bold. I put the letter by the phone so I will “remember.” BUT I DO NOT CALL RIGHT AWAY. How crazy is that? But I am thinking: I had a mammogram a year ago, so how bad can the lump be if they did not see it then?

Most lumps are not discovered on screening mammograms. Eighty percent of women discover the tumor on their own and most wait to do anything about it.

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A Mysterious Hazelnut in My Boob

June 7, 2009

“Do you perform regular breast examinations?” This is what they always ask at my annual checkups. “Yes,” I always answer with perfect honesty. They never ask how often or how efficiently I do it. The truth is, my “self-examinations” are a series of random pokes and hopeless squeezes. It all feels so lumpy and bumpy in […]

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