What is cancer

Blowing into town after a cross country drive, having your surgeon call and move up your appointment so that all the prep work can get done in time.

Meeting your surgeon and being glad that she seems so smart and so kind.

Realizing that you really are going to have surgery the day after Labor Day, that they are going to cut a piece of your breast out, and that there are no guarantees and that they won’t really know what going on until the operation, and not really until the pathology work comes back afterward.

Having trouble sleeping once the reality sets in. Worrying that your husband is worrying. Feeling bone tired, but not being able to rest.

Spending almost an entire day doing prep appointments: giving blood so that they can test my liver function, how fast my blood clots and those sorts of things.

Going to three different offices at UCSF and each time filling out the same “litany of misery” form, i.e. checking “no” on the boxes next to an endless number of other ailments that could afflict me. It almost makes me grateful to “only” have cancer.

Having a chest x-ray, and another mammogram. Apparently those marker clips they placed after all those biopsies can shift. Really, there are no guarantees. Nothing stays the same. We’re all settled on shifting sands.

Marveling at how good a 9-year-old can be as she accompanies you to all these appointments (we couldn’t find a babysitter), really good, until the last 45 minutes.

Being tired, tired to my bones. You know you’re tired when you look forward to surgery as a rest.

Getting up early to write this blog post. Being conscious without coffee. Show up for surgery in two hours. Fingers crossed.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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4 Responses to What is cancer

  1. Eric B says:


    Here’s to successful surgery and a clean bill of health afterwards! Keeping you in my thoughts…

  2. Susan Albrecht says:

    Heather and Pete–I’ve been following your blog and am sending good thoughts your way today and always.–Susan

  3. Catherine says:

    I hope you’re out and all is well. Thinking of you. xo

  4. Debbie Deane says:

    Thinking of you so much!!

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