Two months ago, I went in for a routine mammogram.
Six weeks ago, I learned that I needed a follow-up mammogram because of suspicious “microcalcifications.”
A month ago, I learned that I needed a “stereotactic core biopsy.”
Nine days ago, I had the biopsy. Before the “procedure,” I asked to see the films. The “suspicious” tiny bits of calcium looked like a few grains of salt sprinkled on my breast tissue. They took four samples out of my left breast.
Six days ago, I learned I had breast cancer. Apparently, two of the biopsy samples showed “ductal carcinoma in situ.” Translation: cancer in the milk ducts that has not gone anywhere else. Docs assure me that this is the easiest cancer to treat. They call it “Stage O.” Sounds very aeronautic to me.
Two samples showed “invasive ductal carcinoma.” Translation: cancer that’s starting to have legs and go places. Apparently, 80 percent of women who get breast cancer, get invasive ductal carcinoma. Docs tell me that my cancer doesn’t see to be very well-traveled yet. I hope they’re correct.
I’m not going to use this blog to chronicle all the things that you would expect. Yes, my friends, family and clergy came out of the woodwork, offering ears, future casseroles and babysitting, shoulders to cry on. Yes, you are inducted instantly into a sisterhood of breast cancer survivors who are amazingly generous with time and information. All these people humble me, and I thank God for them. Yes, it’s both comforting and exhausting that so many people seem to care. Yes, hearing that you have cancer is terrifying. Yes, explaining you have cancer to your 9-year-old daughter is heart-wrenching. Yes, a cancer diagnosis turns on a fire hose of information, much of it conflicting, that you have to calm down enough to process. Yes, having cancer is damned inconvenient. We’re moving to California in a month! But you would know all that without reading this blog.
Here are a few things that I want to say that you may not have heard about cancer:
1) Cancer makes you learn to love the military industrial complex. I am certain that the technology used to take those grains of calcium out of my left breast is based on the same technology that we’re using to bomb insurgents in Afghanistan. Imagine a few grains of salt represented in two dimensions. Then imagine a technologist and a radiologist finding those grains of salt inside a three-dimensional 36B breast. In that context, my breast is as big as all of Helmand province! And they hit those grains of salt, and they sucked them out. My pathology report resulted from this adventure. Think of lying on a plastic table and suspending your breast into a plastic “target zone.” Now, that’s a Glamour “don’t.” Lie there ninety minutes while they compress your breast and shoot needles into it. Thank God for opiate anesthetics. So after all this, the report comes. I can’t imagine that military reports read very differently. Just one line will give you some idea: “A scout film and subsequent pre-fire stereotactic films show the target within the operating window.” I never, EVER, thought I would say this, but thank you Dick Cheney.
2) When you’re public about your breast cancer diagnosis, you attract a bit of the nutball fringe. I’ve had several people try to friend me on Facebook just because they’ve heard of my “health status.” I have no idea who these people are. I am sure they are well-meaning, but don’t they have better things to do that keyword search Facebook for “breast cancer”? Also, can people really believe that just not eating protein will cure cancer? Or that “positive thinking” will wish your cancer away?
3) It is possible to be TOO public about your breast cancer diagnosis. We’ve been very open with my daughter, Erin. As I was waiting to put her on a plane to Nantucket yesterday, we started chatting with a nice Mom from Connecticut and her kids. My daughter blurted out: “My Mom has breast cancer!” I thought the Connecticut Mom’s eyeballs were going to pop out of her head. So sorry, Connecticut Mom. I’ve spoken to my daughter about not telling every NYC bus driver about my diagnosis.
We go to NYU to meet with a surgeon this afternoon. I am so happy at the prospect of DOING something.