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August 25, 2017 – Kathy LaTour
Winter Is Coming: Cancer Survivor Ponders Aging and Death
August 25, 2017 – Barbara Tako

On Enduring Medical Testing

Finding out you have an illness is quite difficult.
PUBLISHED August 21, 2017
As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
It was 1987. I was in graduate school in Iowa. I was dating a local boy, whom I was considering marrying. We were intimate, and I was a little scared because he had lived in Africa for a time and had been an IV drug user. This was at the beginning of the height of the AIDS crisis. If you know anything about AIDS, you know that living in Africa and being an IV drug user were two possible determiners of having AIDS. We both decided to get tested.

I took the test in my hometown of Akron, Ohio. I went to the health department. They drew my blood, and told me I’d have the results in about six weeks. Freak out time! Back then, if you tested positive for AIDS, it was a death sentence.

Being tested for cancer was easy compared to being tested for AIDS. With cancer testing in 2011, I knew that I had a decent chance of survival.

Long story short, I was negative for AIDS (so was my boyfriend). And I was positive for breast cancer. I had chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy to rid myself of it.

Flash forward to 2016. I had a mysterious red splotch on my right breast, the breast that had received the radiation four years ago. What I would learn was that it was cancer—angiosarcoma.

But how I learned of this cancer is a story worth telling.

My breast surgeon biopsied the red splotch. I had to wait three days to learn the results. On the third day, I hadn’t heard from anyone, so I called the hospital and asked the secretary if she knew what the results were. She promptly told me that they were negative.

Relief swept over me. I was negative. There would be no more surgery, radiation or chemo or anything else they could dream up. I was home free.

I called my friends and told them the good news. And I posted it all over Facebook that the splotch wasn’t cancerous.

The next day, I got a phone call from my surgeon.

It was 1987. I was in graduate school in Iowa. I was dating a local boy, whom I was considering marrying. We were intimate, and I was a little scared because he had lived in Africa for a time and had been an IV drug user. This was at the beginning of the height of the AIDS crisis. If you know anything about AIDS, you know that living in Africa and being an IV drug user were two possible determiners of having AIDS. We both decided to get tested.

I took the test in my hometown of Akron, Ohio. I went to the health department. They drew my blood, and told me I’d have the results in about six weeks. Freak out time! Back then, if you tested positive for AIDS, it was a death sentence.

Being tested for cancer was easy compared to being tested for AIDS. With cancer testing in 2011, I knew that I had a decent chance of survival.

Long story short, I was negative for AIDS (so was my boyfriend). And I was positive for breast cancer. I had chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy to rid myself of it.

Flash forward to 2016. I had a mysterious red splotch on my right breast, the breast that had received the radiation four years ago. What I would learn was that it was cancer—angiosarcoma.

But how I learned of this cancer is a story worth telling.

My breast surgeon biopsied the red splotch. I had to wait three days to learn the results. On the third day, I hadn’t heard from anyone, so I called the hospital and asked the secretary if she knew what the results were. She promptly told me that they were negative.

Relief swept over me. I was negative. There would be no more surgery, radiation or chemo or anything else they could dream up. I was home free.

I called my friends and told them the good news. And I posted it all over Facebook that the splotch wasn’t cancerous.

The next day, I got a phone call from my surgeon.

“It’s cancer,” she said. “It’s an angiosarcoma which you probably developed from your radiation treatments in 2012.”

“What?” I shouted. “The secretary said I was negative.”

“What secretary?”

“At the hospital.”

“Do you know who told you this? Did you get her name?”

“No.”

“We’ve got to operate. Come see me tomorrow. I’ll make time for you. Call the office.”

Oh, great, the office. Just the people I wanted to speak to. Would I recognize the culprit’s voice who had given me the wrong information? I didn’t.

I did make the appointment and have the second surgery.

It’s now 2017. I am theoretically cancer-free. Thinking back, probably one of the worst parts of cancer is the screenings to see if you’ve really got it. The waiting is terrible. But nothing like it was for waiting for AIDS results back in the day. I guess we’ve made some strides in all areas in the last 30 years.

What did I learn from all of this? Get your results from the right person—your doctor. It will save you a lot of time, embarrassment and heartache, and be glad that medicine is continually finding new cures for what ails us.
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