After my Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1997, we went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital for a second opinion. As we waited in the lobby, we couldn't help but notice that one out of every third or fourth person in the waiting room:
Was bald from chemotherapy;
Had jaundice (a yellow complexion) from liver failure;
Had a large, visible tumor; and/or
Was missing a limb.
Quite a few of these patients were children, which only added to the horrifying image. As she looked around the room, my Mom brought her perfectly manicured fingers to her ears and clutched her carat diamond studs. She closed her eyes, shaking her head back and forth, as she said:
I'm too vain for this. I'm too vain for this.
An hour later, the oncologist informed my Mom that she wasn't a candidate for any treatment. In a manner void of all compassion, he told her:
Make an appointment for two months from now, and if you're still alive, we'll see you then. (And, yes, the doctor really said that.)
Two months later to the week, my Mom passed away.
Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, I've tried not to compare my cancer to my Mom's. Her cancer wasn't caught until stage four, whereas mine was caught at stage one. I have breast cancer, which is very treatable when caught early. My Mom had cancer of unknown primary, which is rarely treatable. She did not survive cancer, and I know I will survive it.
On Tuesday, I went to Sibley Hospital for my breast cancer surgery. Because it's me and I attract the type of guys that I do, my man and I proceeded to have a relationship discussion via text for two hours while I was at the hospital. (If I could've taken my cell phone into the operating room, I would have. And, we probably would have continued to bicker at each other the entire time. I'll definitely be writing all about this in future posts!)
The surgery involved removing the two cancerous areas and two lymph nodes. As surgeries go, it wasn't that bad, and I'm recouping nicely. I'm thrilled to report that there's no cancer in my lymph nodes. That means that the cancer is confined to the right breast, and that it's not stage two. [Insert happy dance here.]
But, after speaking with the doctor today, there's some news that's not so good. When the doctor removed the cancerous areas, she also removed some healthy tissue or a "margin." The margin needs to be a certain distance from the cancerous area to ensure that all the bad cells have been taken and reduce the risk of recurrence. When the pathology report came back, it showed that one margin was smaller than it needed to be. So, I need to go back into the hospital this month for another surgery to remove more breast tissue. [Insert frustrated face here.]
But wait, there's more! The pathology report also showed that the tumor is medium-grade, which means that it's more aggressive than the biopsy had previously indicated. When the doctor told me this today, I immediately started to cry, as I asked:
So, that means that it's almost definite that I need to have chemo?
Doctor: Yes. You're 37, and we need to be conservative and treat this aggressively. I want you to adopt, to model…
Me [interrupting her]: I know. Just the agent wanted a tall redhead, not a tall bald head. [Pause.] I'm just sad out of vanity.
Doctor: I would be sad, too. I wouldn't want to lose my hair either.
Me [exhaling]: But, you're right. I'll do whatever I need to do to kick this so I can be around for my little girl and do all the things that I want to do with my life for decades to come.
The logical side of my brain knows that I will beat this and that chemotherapy is the strongest treatment available to prevent a recurrence. But, that doesn't mean that the thought of chemo is easy for me.
My hair is my signature. Have you seen it recently?
And, there's a 99% chance that I'm going to lose all of it! I don't want to hear any of the following right now:
It'll grow back;
You can get a wig; or
It'll be okay.
I'll be fine in the end, but for lack of a more eloquent expression, this sucks. I'm allowing myself to cry and be as angry as I want to be this weekend, and then I'm letting it go. I haven't lost my hair yet, and until I do, I'm going to make sure that it looks especially fabulous!
And, when I get the official word as to my treatment schedule, I will lose my hair in a way that promotes awareness for breast cancer and raises money for research. There will also be a Happy Hour thrown in because that's just how I roll ;).
As I reflect on the day's events and what lies ahead, I realize:
I am my mother's daughter. I'm too vain for this.
I am my mother's daughter. I will use my experiences to help other women and causes I believe in.
I am my mother's daughter. I will come out of this stronger, and when I adopt, I will teach my daughter all that my mom taught me.
PS I'm off to get ready for my man. It's me. I won't let cancer keep me down for long! xoxo