“It’s firstname.lastname@example.org,” I told her.
I repeated the address, to make sure she knew not to spell out the ‘fifty.’
“It’s Better after 5-0” I said.
I hesitated, but couldn’t help myself. “Isn’t that ironic?” I asked.
I wasn’t expecting an answer.
Just when I thought I might be running out of things to write about, God blessed me with a whole new topic that will keep me busy writing for weeks, perhaps years: Breast cancer. Thank you very much, God, I needed that…like a hole in the head, as my dad used to say.
I was “officially” diagnosed on May 1 with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, and with my “markers,” it’s a very treatable, non-aggressive form of breast cancer. In that way, I am very lucky.
I’ve now told my kids, brothers, sisters-in-law, mother-in-law, and a few good friends. Unfortunately, many of my friends and relatives will be reading about it for the first time here. I don’t know if I should apologize for that– this is new territory for me. I simply can’t be on the phone any more, telling the story again…and again…and again. It’s exhausting.
It’s the story of a lump. Actually, it was more like a hard area on the right side of my right breast. I’m not stupid (though now I’m thinking, “maybe not so smart”) and I’m not generally “in denial,” but honestly, cancer was the last thing on my mind. In fact, I wasn’t sure that I felt something- sometimes I felt a hard area there; sometimes I didn’t. I felt (and continue to feel) healthy, strong, powerful, young. I was building up my pecs at weight classes. I had a mammogram coming up in a few weeks, so I waited.
At my mammogram, I told both the technician and the doctor that I was concerned about something in my right breast. They took the pictures.
“You have nothing to worry about,” the doctor told me with utmost confidence while looking at the pictures, then again as I said goodbye.
I didn’t notice that no one bothered to touch my breast to feel what I felt. Nor did I ask them to feel it, nor did I insist on an ultrasound.
I like good news. Who doesn’t?
“Phew,” I said.
And as I walked my happy walk to my car, I thought, “I have some mighty strong pecs.”
Turns out, I have the kind of cancer that doesn’t show up on a mammogram.
Only a few weeks later, at my annual physical, my PCP checked my breasts.
“I don’t like what I feel in your right breast,” he said.
“I didn’t either,” I said, assuring him that I was fine, reminding him about the results of my recent mammogram. “It’s my recently developed pecs,” I told him with a smile.
“That’s not where your pecs are,” he informed me, with no return smile. He insisted I get an ultra sound.
And the next thing I knew, I was outside my husband’s office in my car, crying my eyes out. “I have breast cancer, I just know it.” I told him through sobs as he joined me in my car.
I had seen the big black cloud on the ultrasound, I had heard the tone in the technician’s voice as she said, “let’s just get the radiologist in here to take a look,” as she clicked away, defining the outline of the dark cloud.
But at that point I hadn’t even had a biopsy, so I didn’t really know. I just felt it. All of a sudden, my right breast felt heavy, and it hurt.
“You are going to be ok,” my husband reassured me that day.
“Don’t you tell me that!” I yelled at him. “When we’re out in a storm, and I am scared shitless, and you tell me that we are going to be ok, I need to be able to believe you, or I will totally FREAK OUT!”
This is not a metaphor. He is literally the captain of our ship, and I need to be able to trust him in bad weather.
“No News, is NO NEWS,” my best friend told me as I was waiting for the results of my core biopsy, and I repeated that to myself like a mantra.
But No News is Simply Sucky. You simply fear the worst.
On a sunny Tuesday in April, the initial results of the biopsy came back, and I heard it was cancer as I sat on a bench in Harvard Square, having just finished lunch with my eldest daughter.
But they couldn’t tell me more- like what kind, how aggressive, etc. And then the days dragged on, and it became Friday and they still couldn’t tell me more.
“Don’t you dare tell me, ‘You have cancer, have a nice weekend!’” I yelled at the office manager of my PCP, when they still did not have the full results of the biopsy on Friday morning.
Now, many weeks later, I know I have a pretty good kind of cancer- slow growing, non aggressive. “You’re not going to die from this,” my oncologist told me. And I totally believe him. Though I still need a few more tests to figure out “the plan.”
Which leaves me with the question, “Can it be better after 50 with breast cancer?”
I’m not sure. I imagine that will be the topic of many future posts. But, at this point, I know a few things. I know that no one is exempt from hardship, and if you are lucky enough to have something like this happen after 50 (as opposed to earlier- versus not at all), I think we are equipped to handle this pretty well.
I intend to use my maturity (oh yes, I have some), confidence, perspective, and sense of humor to get through this.
I know that I won’t let cancer define me.
I know that I will have to learn patience, something I have always been short of.
I know that this summer, I will appreciate those sunsets, the wind at my face, the sound of the water lapping at the side of the boat, with a deeper sense of awe.
I know that humor is the best medicine, but when that doesn’t work, there will be drugs. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get a medical marijuana certificate…now there’s a silver lining…
There is no doubt in my mind I will do cancer well, very well indeed. I’m going to get an A. You will see.