1986 - it's cancer


I had a strange, painful itching in my right breast in the upper, outer (breast cancer talk) quadrant, and I am so grateful for that very unusual symptom because it's the reason I found the lump in my breast at age 37. I never did breast self exam and never even considered breast cancer. I don't even know what made me joke with my obstetrician that I had breast cancer when I took my daughter Kirtley in for her one-year, well-baby check-up that first week of October. Come on, this was only a year or so after October was named breast cancer awareness month and way before pink ribbons showed up on everything from blenders to yogurt. Breast cancer did not grace the cover of every magazine and no one talked about it.My doc was even casual as she felt the lump, saying it was mushy and probably fibrocystic, and I was too young to get breast cancer. But she suggested that I get a mammogram even though I was under the base line age at 37 and had no breast cancer in my family. We all stroked out.I admit that I had that nagging pull that prompted me to go the next day for a mammogram. I think we call it women's intuition. From then on I never doubted it. I get a strong feeling about an action and I do it then – I don't wait. Of course, now I know that women's intuition is an angel with a big stick hitting me on the back of the head. The mammogram showed so clearly that I had breast cancer that a few years later when I described it to a breast surgeon she said I had a "janitor's mammogram." "What's that?" I asked her. "That's when we can put it up on the light box, call in the janitor and he takes one look at it and says it's breast cancer."The call came on a Friday afternoon from the doctor who had delivered my daughter only 12 months earlier. She began with the news that my mammogram came back "highly suspicious." "What does that mean?" I asked her. As she explained, I was watching my daughter reach for chairs as she "walked" her way around the kitchen table. At each chair she looked at me with that baby look of understanding that she knew I would be there if she fell. But would I? "It means you probably have breast cancer," said the voice on the other end of the phone. No one, unless you have heard those words or words similar can understand the term "gripped by fear." After hanging up with instructions about what to do next, the journalist in me kicked in and Kirtley and I went to the bookstore. I don't know what women do today with the reams of material available, because I can remember being overwhelmed by the few books available. And this was without the Internet. So the next three days were spent on the phone, getting recommendations for surgeons and oncologists and telling friends and family. It's a blur. By the end of the year, I had had a lumpectomy and then a mastectomy when my surgeon could not get clear margins. I began chemotherapy with drugs still used today but seldom as first line treatment. 5FU, Cytoxan and instead of Adriamycin, I was on a clinical trial for Epirubicin, which was supposed to be less cardiotoxic.I didn't have a clue what any of it meant. I just hoped my oncologist liked me and wanted to keep me alive.I did find out what it was like to throw up for 24 hours at a time since I predated any of the drugs used now to stop nausea and vomiting.And I was gaining weight. More tomorrow on how I addressed THAT with my oncologist.

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