2017 has been a hell of a year. In my journal, I flippantly wrote, ‘2017 the year I lost the Bij and my boob.’ It was only 50% true. I still have my breast.
It all started after the Women’s March in January. Eight or ten friends walked to the march. The crowds were massive, and the group I went with wanted to move from the place we’ve been standing in for more than an hour. The easiest way was over a wall. There was a nine-year old in our group so I gave her a leg up. The rest of the group jokingly took the ‘assist’ as well.
The next day or so my right breast was sore. I attributed the soreness to someone accidently kicking my breast. In the shower, my breast was red and when I touched the sore spot I could feel a lump.
Nahid accompanied me as I walked into the Burbank Breast Care with the utter confidence of knowing that my lump is the same as the ones my sisters, Martha and Barbara had gotten biopsied—a lump but not cancerous.
I knew nothing about breast cancer except that my maternal grandfather had it, along with all his sisters. I knew, up until February 20, 2017 at 12:54 pm that I had dense breasts, dense cancer free breasts. Had. Now my right breast contained a cancerous tumor at twelve o’clock.
When I heard the words, ‘ductal carcinoma’ a strange state took over my being, an invisible cloak enveloped me and removed me from my very existence. I walked but my feet didn’t quite hit the ground. I didn’t know what to do with that information. I didn’t know who to share it with. I was numb. I was, I don’t have words for what I was because I had never felt this state before. I wasn’t scared of the disease I was scared of saying it out loud because if I said “I have cancer” to anyone, the disease would manifest into an invading force that I didn’t want to recognize, give life to, deal with.
I had to let people know. I called my sister, Barb I think first, but I’m not really sure of the order of things. I started the conversation with small talk and then, and there’s no easy way to share this information than to say, “I went to the doctors and I have breast cancer.” It was when I shared my diagnosis that my cancer became real. The protective mask was shattered. I was scared. I continued to call my family, Martha, Michael, Bea, Robert, Nahid, Katy, Jessica. As I shared, my disease it became more and more real.
My breasts have always been a part of me, nothing special, simply there. Being one of three sisters we all have our assets. Barbara’s beautiful skin, sexy body, Martha’s cute butt and hot bod. I had good boobs and great legs. My breasts were there. Much as my foot was there. Simply part of the whole of my body. Yet I couldn’t fathom that one of my breasts contained a cancerous tumor, an invading force. I still can’t.
My operation was on Friday, March 31st. I was accompanied to the hospital by my sisters Martha and Barbara and Nahid. Any nerves that I had while I waited for my turn to ‘go under the knife’ diminished because of the cacophony of conversation and joking distraction that filled the room. My sisters are quite attractive and the mostly Asian nursing staff were surprised to see a room full of people and my sisters’ blonde beauty. My friend Katy joined a bit later and immediately picked up the raucous vibe. Katy wanted to see if the hospital bed could be raced around the hospital to break up the monotony. Nahid for her part, smiled, at times laughed, but knew this was no laughing matter—there were questions to ask, treatments to discuss. I knew damn well that her backpack contained many pages of questions, follow up questions and a selection of treatments. Cancer is not a joking matter. Yet, I remember laughing a lot, not because it was fun laying on a hospital bed with a blue hair net and hospital gown, but because, well, laughter really soothed my nerves, while Nahid’s presence brought a caring calm. The combo worked for me.
Then they wheeled me out to the operating room. Alone. Silence. Stomach flutter. Dr. Consenza told me I was going into the room…a mask was placed over my face.
I awoke somewhere else more stoned than I’ve ever been in my life. Nahid was by my side with a very concerned, determined face, laced with a ‘thank god you made it’ smile. She wanted to talk to the surgeon. Alas, the surgeon was busy operating on other people, but Nahid was determined to get a play by play, a plan for the future.
I hadn’t been in a hospital since I was ten, never had an operation, never was under anesthesia. Never thought I’d have breast cancer. Lung, yes from years of smoking, but breast? Never.
I was finally allowed home. Still very high and extremely hungry. Marth and Barb had gone shopping, Nahid brought dinner and I was ordered to the couch. I remember being high. Being hungry. Laughing. Watching my sisters as they drank red wine, ate pizza. As they both looked at their phones at the exact same moment they decided I could have some ginger ale…if I drank it slowly…have some soup, if I chewed the rice and broth really well. Their tone and intonation was familiar, their mother voices. The sound of care, laced with worry and so much love.
That night all three of us slept in the same bed, just like we did on Christmas eve when we were kids. Of course, now we are adults and have our sleeping quirks…Barb is a no cuddle person, minimal touch; Marth’s a spooner, like me. I was so grateful that I could spoon because it meant that I could rest my right arm on her side, my breast and under arm were thick with bandages, achy. It was very tight in my standard double bed. And much like Christmas eve we giggled until we fell asleep. All night long I kept singing to myself, ‘Marth to the left of me, Barbara to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with them.’ I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
We shopped for oversized shirts to hide my drainage cup, my bandages, my fear.
My sisters returned to New Jersey. I went to work that Monday after resting all day Sunday.
Before my next appointment my mind raced through all the possible outcomes—Stage 1? 2? 3? 4?
I had a panic attack on the way to work. In a very uncharacteristic move, I reached out, called Katy and told her that I was spinning out of control and could she talk to me? She asked if I was safe. ‘Yes I’ve pulled over.’ With that assurance Katy told me about her horses, her dog, work sucked and that her friend Amy was going to start a non-profit and call it ‘Tempura House’ for lightly battered women. I burst out laughing. I laughed and began to breathe again. The combo chased the panic demons away. This is only one example of long distant hugs that helped me along this process.
I returned to Dr. Consenza for a follow up and to remove my drainage apparatus. He told me that I had caught the cancer early, Stage 1. They removed 11 lymph nodes, all were cancer free. I had to call everyone with the good news. I was shouting. I hugged Nahid who was there with me. Left Martha a message. Face timed Barb. Showed her the scar, machine gunned her everything he said.
Katy came over, Nahid brought bubbly and we toasted to a cancer free me.
I am the luckiest fucking person in the world.
Barbara and Martha call often. It is agreed that besides the cancer thing, it was one of the best weekends ever.
And as it turns out it was.
I was treated by a remarkable staff at Hollywood Presbyterian, Burbank Breast Care Center, surgeon Dr. Consenza, Dr. Al-Jazayrly my oncologist, and Glendale Cancer Treatment Center where I soon start my radiation treatments.
Oh, and another fantastic outcome of my partial mastectomy, besides all the care and love I received, was that my right breast is now pulled up to where it was twenty years ago, almost perky.
I am one very lucky person.