I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2009. I kept a journal as I went through treatment. I sent it as an e-mail at different times to my "supporters", and to others who were dealing with cancer themselves, hoping it would help them with their own journey, and maybe get a kick out of it, until they were survivors, too.
Here are a few excerpts:
8-11-09 Several weeks ago I had a mammogram that was suspect, so I had to submit to more smashing and squishing, and was then told that I needed to see a surgeon to do a biopsy to check out a few abnormal cells. This was planned as a needle biopsy, which means that I, as the victim, would offer up the offending bosom, and Dr. Feelgood would stick a needle in it, draw out the errant cells, and send them for testing. When the actual moment arrived, Dr. Feelgood discovered that, in spite of all of modern technology, my uncooperative bosom would not allow the perfect place to stick me with that needle (not that he didn't try, mind you, along with all of the perfunctory mashing and squeezing in the mammogram machine); so we had to look behind door number 2 and schedule a biopsy in the operating room. In the hospital. Put to sleep.
I determined that I would sneak off and do this deed quietly, rise from my sick bed and go to choir last Wednesday night. This turned out to be a totally failed effort at any kind of deceit (I didn't even tell my sisters - major mistake); Dr. Feelgood casually mentioned that before surgery, I was to report once again to the Breast Center, where a WIRE would be inserted into the depths of my bosom, thus guiding his skillful scalpel to just the right spot. What a nightmare. My poor, pulverized, and by this time, highly public breast was presented on a small table, and two obviously masochistic nurses and Dr. Frankenstein took two hours to get the aforementioned wire placed strategically into my now very unhappy bosom.
Did I mention that with each and every attempt to get me wired, they lifted up both me and my bruised bosom and carried us to the mammogram machine, where they squeezed at several different angles hundreds times more? (I suspect they get a commission on the number of miles they put on the mammogram machine. It probably needs a tune-up now.) Finally the deed was accomplished, and lo, protruding from my own breast was one of those little flags you see next to the sprinkler heads in the yard. The bottom line is this. Dr. Feelgood his very self called me and pronounced the verdict. Breast cancer. The undeniable big "C". He thinks he got it while he was excavating last Wednesday, but will go back in to clean up the margins a bit. We will discuss "options" tomorrow morning in his office.
8-12-09 What I have is ductal carcinoma in situ. That is a very early contained, non-invasive breast cancer. Last week's surgery took care of most of the bad stuff. We're going for round two surgically tomorrow morning just to be sure and have larger, clearer margins around the site of the cancer. Dr. Feelgood says this is a best case scenario for breast cancer. No chemo is required. I will, however, have to have radiation for awhile. Chances of recurrence with this protocol are around 10% for my life time. Those are odds I'm willing to take. I'd rather do this than have a mastectomy, cut off this bad bosom and have to grow another one. Dr. Feelgood told me that having the mammogram Saved. My. Life.
9-01-09 Here's some news I didn't want to hear: I may have to have chemo. It makes me shudder. I am to see the medical oncologist on Fri. morning and I need to have, if I don't already, a living will. The only living will I have is the one that says, ".....if I don't ask for a glass of wine within a reasonable amount of time, pull the plug, roll up the hoses, and call it a day." I think I can find something a little more definitive online.
Now. Where is that bottle of Jack Daniels?? I know it's in this desk somewhere......................
9-08-09 This morning a man that I do not know drew on my cancerous bosom with a black magic marker, preparing me for radiation that will start early next week. While I lay exposed on the table, another man walked in and announced that he was an old classmate of mine from high school. Great. Just great. We had a lovely, if stilted, conversation, chatting up former school chums. I am always glad to see friends from high school, but I have always, heretofore, started these encounters with my clothes on. I expect I will have other new experiences as this process continues.
9-24-09 Day #1 of breast cancer radiation was to have been Mon. Sept 14. Well, it didn't turn out to be day number 1 after all. I was shown to a dressing room, changed into the now famous see-more gown, and then off down the hall into what will be "my" room every day. Three nice techs whose names I can't recall now, but who will be practically family by the time I'm done with this, performed a few tests, setting and resetting, x-rays, pushing, pulling, to get me in juuuust the right position. I didn't like any of it and wished I wasn't there, even though they didnt do anything. Then it was over. No zapping. Zapping started the next day.
The next day. I went to the dressing room, changed into the now famous see-more gown, and then off to my room. The 3 nice techs whose names I still dont know, pushed and pulled, set and re-set; I can't describe how it felt the first time I lay on that strange table, on my back in a rather uncomfortable position, my arms over my head, my body exposed; the techs left the area when the radiation started, and I was there all alone. One lone tear spilled out of my eye and ran down into my ear. I couldnt move, even the least little bit, to wipe away my tear. When I left the John B., I saw people arriving who were slowly pushing walkers because of weakness from chemo, or being piled into wheelchairs; some wore scarves or hats to cover their baldness, and I was immediately extremely thankful for my life, for its goodness. Thankful that I'm healthy, & able to walk. I stood up straighter & noticed that the sky was a little bluer, the greens greener.
Now that I am a seasoned veteran of cancer radiation, Ive decided two things: that each person I see at the John B. every day will get the biggest smile I have & I will speak to them. I will think of something to say that is nice or encouraging. Maybe its the only bright spot in their day, who knows. The second thing is that I will figure out all those noises that radiation machine makes. It is a huge round lens that hovers, inches from my bosom, staring. Every few seconds, it makes sounds, one noise sounds like a toilet flushing nearby, then like rushing water, interspersed with the usual mechanical clicking and humming. Then I hear a buzzer which makes me want to sit up & answer, Come in! As the big lens moves from one side of me to the other it makes a noise like old coca cola bottles being turned over on a concrete floor. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Finally, it is silent. My three nameless techs come back in, I get up from the table, cover up my bosom, yell to my high school buddy who works there, and Im outa there.
Sometimes a little bitty part of my little bitty brain wonders if I will die from this; if it will come back later and get me. I would rather go home & eat my lunch every day & read my newspaper. In spite of this, I am convinced that when the winds around us are too powerful to stand against, in the midst of the storm, the presence of the Lord is stronger than ever.
10-23-09 I'm down to the last few radiation treatments. I have 6 left. Here's the scoop: The last full breast radiation is today. Mon,. the demented souls at the John B. will begin a different plan of attack: I will receive double whammy radiation in a concentrated area in the 4" scar in my bosom for 5 days. This will be real up-close; the huge lens that has stared at my breast daily for six & a half weeks will now have a cone-shaped attachment on it that nearly, but not quite, touches me. If history is any indication, this should burn a hole right through me. If you see smoke rising from the John B. next week, it will be from my lackened, well done boob. You have never seen a bosom as toasted as the one I have now. I'm so burned that my skin will not hold the tape on the black marks they use to line me up with the machine, so they have to redo them every day. Along side of a roasted boob has been fatigue. I've never known what it is to be this tired. I have been hit -the -wall- tired. Go- to- bed- a-t 8 p.m-. tired. Fatigue has kicked..... my...... butt.
Now that I've told you what cancer did, let me tell you what cancer didn't do. Couldn't do. Cancer didn't spoil my joy. Cancer didn't keep me from giving everybody I saw at the John B. my widest smile, no matter who it was or how I felt. Cancer hasn't kept me from walking every morning at 5:30, and cancer hasn't taken laughter away. Cancer hasn't kept me from finding good and enjoying life & friends. Cancer didn't take my determination nor all of my patience. I am almost used to looking at myself in a full length mirror. Cancer has, perhaps, given more than it has taken away. It has changed my life in ways that I would not undo. I have learned to allow you to love me. Who else but God Almighty could pull off something that cool.
11-04-09 Well. Its over. Last Friday, I finished radiation for breast cancer at the John B. I took a little prize for each of my techs who have taken such good care of me these last 6½ weeks. I even learned their names. After the last session was done, all the nurses and the techs and my old high school buddy, John, came in for one last look & they gave me a diploma; I finally graduated. There were hugs and kisses all around. 6 ½ weeks. One day about three weeks ago, when I was so miserable and my poor breast was burned so badly, I said out loud, I dont think I can let them do this to me anymore. A friend quietly answered, Thats not an option, is it. More of a statement than a question, and she, of course, was right. So I kept going. And kept getting burned. And tired.
So, yeah, last Fri. was an exciting day. My loved ones cheered and I cried. I celebrated all of Friday as long as I could stay awake. Friends now say, Youre a survivor. Youre cancer free. Am I? It will be some time before I know that for sure. There are more tests in my future.
But, yes, I am a survivor. I love that word. It makes me feel strong and like I have accomplished something. I think theres a big S on my chest I have endured. The Apostle Paul said, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Me too. Paul said, be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. I gave thanks in spite of the circumstances.
Im going to live while Im living. Im a survivor.