From the category archives:

Family & Friends

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Dr. Guru meets with my family in the waiting room. Big grin, face mask dangling around his neck, arms raised, two fingers on each hand formed into the V for victory signs.  No cancer in frozen lymph node section. So far everyone agrees. Big wide margins. Some  heard only “wide” margins, but not “big wide” margins. One thought he said only “good margins.”  Another does not recall anything about margins.

Whatever he said, everyone is jubilant. The cancer “episode” is over.  The drive home takes 20 minutes. We stop to fill a prescription: a small brown plastic container filled with — Wow — FIFTY Percocet!   Good bye pain I don’t have. Hello euphoria.

In the living room, the mantel above the fire place is filled with flower arrangements. Calla lilies, Gerber daisies, roses of all kinds, delphiniums, chrysanthemums,  hydrangeas, and freesias fill the air with their perfume, lots of get well cards.

Our family lounges in the sofas and chairs around the large coffee table. Snacks and munchies are brought in .  After all, it is dinner time. Wine is poured for everyone but me. (I get water. One indication that all is not fully back to normal.)  A couple of neighbors stop buy. The phone rings. A friend brings over a water melon salad and a chicken salad. My sister in law brings a bag of fresh bagels from Goldberg’s  along with various spreads. The atmosphere is that of a festive wake.

Normally, during casual family gatherings or Sunday dinners, people arrive late or leave early. Some excuse themselves to check emails, or make cell phone calls, turn on the TV  to catch the last few minutes of some game, or sneak away to play billiards downstairs. All signs of a certain restlessness, an eagerness to escape the tight family noose. Not today.

Like on  Christmas Eve, everyone remains seated: content and mellow, we bask in the glow of  togetherness.  I feel their warmth and concern, happiness about the outcome.  We even play a few hands of my favorite card game in a concession to my status as Queen for a Day. (Although they don’t let me win.)

At 11 PM, I go upstairs to prepare for bed. I am not particularly tired and I feel no discomfort. Dutifully I swallow a Percocet because my husband reminds me of the nurse’s wisdom: “Take them before you start to hurt. It is easier to prevent pain than to chase it away. ” Plus who wants to hear “I told you so” should I wake up wreathing in pain.

When I roll over on my side, I feel a tighness, tenderness, in my swollen, bruised  breast. A pleasant reminder that I still have that breast,  and that it is now tumor free. Post operative treatment options are completely off my radar screen as I drift off to a night of uninterupted, dreamless sleep.

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Breast cancer excision

Thursday, I only have one thing on my mind, one thought circling my brain like a  hungry wolf.  I want to go under Dr. Guru’s scalpel, I need for him to get rid of my nasty, ugly tumor. Now.

Not a word from Dr. Guru’s office.  Not a word about the MRI results.  Not a word about a surgery date. Yet another week-end of uncertainty looms before me.

I can only assume now that my surgery will not be on Tuesday. Annoyed at being in limbo, I call Dr. Guru’s office. His assistant, Joy, has left although it is only 4.15 P.M.  Of course, I left my own office at 1.15 P.M., three hours earlier than Joy left hers. But I am not an oncologist or surgeon. My job is only about money, not about  life or death, not about anxiety and worry.  And my territory is Europe where 1 P.M. Eastern standard time means 6-7 P.M. : Happy hour in London and Paris.

Yet there is an upside to breast cancer: people care more than I could have imagined. Six friends call me in the evening to ask about my MRI result and about a surgery date. They, too, get huffy and annoyed when they hear that I don’t know.

One friend, who calls me from Sweden  to check up on me, says:”We love you!”  before she hangs up. We have been friends for more than 40 years. She has shown me in a million different ways how much she and her whole family cares, but for the first time she says:  We love you.

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No Self-Pity, Just Curiosity.

July 3, 2009

I am reading in the garden, pool side, when I notice the gathering clouds and hear the rumble in the distance, so I dart inside the house to lie down on the living room sofa. My husband is already napping upstairs. Claps of thunder before rain begins to drum against the tall windows as I drift […]

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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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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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Grasping for a Cork in the Stormy Internet Sea

June 20, 2009

My friends Cecilia and Marie email me names of surgeons and oncologists. All of them are affiliated with the hospital closest to me. But this hospital is in a feud with Blue Cross Blue Shield, my insurance company. The news is all over the local papers. Given the insurance issue and Dr. Guru’s excellent CV, […]

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Finding an Oncology Surgeon on a Late-Summer Friday Afternoon

June 20, 2009

On my drive home from the office mulling over my new diagnosis, I try to think of names of doctors I can ask. My friend B’s husband is a vascular surgeon, he ought to know. But they have left for some medical conference on Corsica. My friend Elise’s husband Dan is a doctor. He teaches […]

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In a Moment of Crisis: Looking to Friends.

June 20, 2009

Thirty minutes earlier, I was told I have breast cancer. It is at moments like this you turn to your friends. I throw myself on the phone to call Marie and Cecilia. Normally, I don’t like to talk about anything personal on my office phone. I am in an office landscape and everyone hears and […]

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