Summer Session

I picked when I’m teaching next summer based upon when I might need to get a double mastectomy.

That’s one of those sentences that I never imagined typing.

Getting over cancer isn’t like getting over a cold. It’s unfortunately not that simple.

I pride myself on my ability to keep stress about “What ifs?” to a minimum. Life is filled with unknowns, and I’m not about to limit what makes me happy in the present because of a distant possibility in the future.

My health situation doesn’t fit neatly in that box, though.

The nurses suggested that I keep my medi-port in for at least a year.

My breast surgeon said that I’m a strong candidate for a double mastectomy given my health history, my mother’s health history and the fact that I can’t tolerate hormonal therapy. Getting a preventative mastectomy in the non-cancerous left breast would reduce my risk of breast cancer to 5%. Getting a mastectomy in the right breast where there was cancer would reduce my risk in half to somewhere between 10-15% of recurrence within five years.

From a cosmetic perspective, the breast surgeon noted that my breast were saggy. (Hey, big naturals aren't known for being perky.)

The breast surgeon recommended that we talk about mastectomies next year.

The subtext of the surgeon and nurses’ comments:

Let’s wait a year to see if your cancer returns or not.

I don’t like to assume what people are saying without asking them directly. When I inquired with my breast surgeon if that was where she was coming from, she nodded.

Me: You realize that you and the oncologist's office are on the same page, but everyone is assuming that I would do chemo again if this returns. I can't say that definitively. [My surgeon looks at me with wide eyes.] We'll cross that bridge if — God forbid — we need to.

I’m not about to approach my life any differently than I have in the past. (Well, at least with respect to my health…) Aside from my biopsy in July, I don't allow myself to give much energy to the thought that my cancer will return.

However, I do need to be cognizant of the fact that there is a strong chance that I’ll need several surgeries next year. I’d rather teach my class early in the summer and then have the flexibility to deal with this issue in July and August.

There’s a fine line between not stressing about “What ifs?” and being prepared for the “What is likely to be.” I’m straddling that line like it is a pommel horse. I try to allow myself a few minutes to feel angry, sad and confused, and then I let it go until the next time those feelings hit.

The next time you meet someone who has beat cancer, you might consider asking how he or she is really doing. Until that person has reached the five-year cancer free mark, the answer might surprise you.

Are you making any plans now for 2012? What things do you expect to occur in the coming year?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *