Hmm: me, the lawyer who used to work for a hospital, who preferred not to undertake any elective surgeries (as hospitals are full of germs), acquiesced. Yes, after thinking and praying about it, watching and talking to many friends who had breast reduction surgery, I finally decided to do it.
After a successful surgery, and on my follow up visit, the surgeon said, “I need you to sit down as I have something to tell you that I’ve never had to say before.” Right away, I could tell something was up and immediately stated, “I know you are not about to tell me I have breast cancer.” But that’s exactly what she told me – that in her career she never had this happen before. But, the pathologist examined the tissue that was removed and they found breast cancer. I left the office in a foggy daze. Everything was a blur. I made it to my car and drove home. My mind was racing. How could this be? We don’t have a family history of breast cancer. OMG, I wasn’t ready. I just celebrated my 50th birthday in February, had my pre-arranged breast reduction a few weeks after starting my new job in March, and then “boom” – the dreaded diagnosis. Again, how could this be? I was faithful about getting my mammogram albeit less so about self-examinations. My breasts were still healing from the reduction so all I could do was begin the journey – the hunt for the most knowledgeable breast surgeon and oncologist I could find. In June and July I met with many doctors. What type of breast cancer do I have? What are my options? I did this research in secret as I did not want to freak out my husband and my 11-year-old daughter. I distinctly remember trying to downplay the breast cancer diagnosis. I told my husband: “I could get two-for-one: a tummy tuck where the fat in my stomach is used to recreate breasts if I had a double mastectomy.” He looked bewildered and said, “Only my wife would look at this as a good two-for-one,” as the tears rolled down his face. Then, while we were on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I found some alone time to tell my daughter about my diagnosis and potential options. The tears instantly streamed down her face. That was it. I couldn’t have my husband and child inundated with questions and have folks getting them worried. So as I still muddled over the various options to deal with the removal of cancer from my breasts, I downplayed it and kept my journey quiet. I just wanted to get through it – whatever “it” was going to be. I didn’t want to be pitied and I didn’t want folks to keep asking my husband or child, “How is your wife/mom doing? How are you doing?” I knew for them it would be too intrusive and overwhelming.
Now, of course my mom and best friends knew and they prayed for me and listened to me as I debated my options. I was indecisive. Which doctor should I believe? Who should I trust with my life? Finally, I had to go with the one who basically let me know, “I’m the expert. I’ve seen this over and over. Your type of breast cancer is as low risk as possible.” She highly recommended that I not undergo the mastectomy. Since the pathology report showed Stage 1 and a very small size, and the additional screenings didn’t reveal any more lumps, bumps, etc., I prayed and prayed over the 2 options and asked God to direct me. In the end, I
had radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells. My new job was so good to me. They told me to do what I had to do and don’t worry about work. I prioritize my health. I put all of my radiation treatments on my work calendar like it was a business meeting. I got a handicap sticker so I could park close to my office door to get in and out for treatments. I chose to drive from work in Shelton to a site in Hamden instead of the one in New Haven as the likelihood was high that I would bump into someone I knew. I needed to do this quietly. I needed peace, not a lot of questions, just prayer.
So if you talk to any of my close friends or sorority sisters, they’ll tell you they thought I was a bit off my rocker. We would have lunch, be at a meeting, at church, a conference or somewhere and then I would say something like, “Oh, I have breast cancer, but I’m good.” That statement was generally accompanied by a smile and/or laugh – no warning, out of the blue, just sharing my story in my way. To this day, folks still say to me, “I never knew you had breast cancer.” Trust me, I’m very open and don’t mind talking about it. I just needed to get through the radiation treatments, BRCA test and the follow-up mammograms and MRIs without a lot of fanfare or commotion. In fact, I do know that my survival has given others with breast cancer diagnoses hope. And we need hope! It’s also good to know that you can survive and later thrive.
Truthfully, since I was close to family friends and sorority sisters that had battled breast cancer and lost their fights, I felt guilty. Yes, I felt guilty that all I had to endure was a few months of radiation – no chemo, no hair loss, no mastectomy. As a Christian, I’ve settled on the fact that God’s plan It’s God’s plan. But every time a friend, a friend’s wife, a mother, is diagnosed I hold my breath. I pray for them. I pray they have supportive family, friends, church members, co-workers, good doctors and faith to carry them through their journey.
This past June, I shed tears over my young mentee’s loss from this disease. But I smile that another friend listening to my story decided to get her overdue mammogram after a two-year break. And yes, this friend was also diagnosed with breast cancer. I thank God that I was able to lead her to doctors, console her, talk to her husband and children and just hold her hand through the process. So my sisters, check your breasts! Make it a point to have your annual mammogram. And reach out as there are many who will listen, cry and guide you through your journey. I will reach my 6-year mark of being cancer free in September 2021 and will always continue to support Sisters’ Journey!