Friday, October 25, 2013

Hey! Stop staring at my boobs!: 7 unfortunate lessons of breast cancer

1. Everyone who knows about your breast cancer can’t help but look at your boobs. Yeah, they’re still there. And no, they don’t glow or otherwise call attention to themselves. At least, I don’t think they glow. In much the same way you’d avoid the gaze of a sworn enemy, I can’t even look at my boobs anymore.
2. Statistics don’t mean shit. My doctors thought the odds were stacked in my favor when it came to breast cancer. Well, guess who showed them! Yeah, doc, having bilateral breast cancer—especially at my age—is rare, but so is having a patient leap across the desk and jam a fork in your eye socket because you quoted her yet another God damn statistic. Or is it?
3. Insurance companies are asshats. I spend way too much time on the phone with these fuckers. They delay every procedure approval, adding undue stress and time onto every step in this already arduous process. Mitt Romney said corporations are people. If that’s the case, can I murder my insurance company?
4. It seems like everyone has had it. Congratulations! You’ve been granted access to a secret club. Suddenly, everyone starts telling you about their own or a loved one’s cancer experience. This is most disturbing when it comes from your peers. I mean, I know I’m a genetic mishap, but what the hell is going on with all the young folks with cancer?
5. Answers can be as worrisome as unknowns. To be honest, I’m not too concerned about the nine-hour surgery itself. That will be the most uninterrupted “sleep” I’ve gotten since having children. What does worry me is I’ll finally have answers. Many cancer patients crave them. I dread them. Right now, I can still pretend that it’s DEFINITELY been caught early, that it doesn’t involve the lymph nodes and it hasn’t spread. But that may not be the case, and I’ll find that out after surgery.
6. They give you clues. By “they” I mean the folks who do the tests, the radiologists and technicians. I know they’re all trained to act a certain way and say certain things, but I’m starting to get pretty good at deciphering their body language and whether or not they’re disturbed by what they see on the screen.
For example, there’s the formerly talkative mammogram technician reduced to monosyllables after your exam. The quick dodge out of the room to ask the radiologist “if he’d like additional images” or “if these images are clear enough.” The “Uh, I think I left the oven on at home. Be right back!” Actually, that last one was just about the only one I hadn’t heard. But, yeah, I know you’re in the radiologist’s office, Ms. Mammogram Technician, probably saying something like, “Holy shit! Did you see the growth on that one?!!” In a related aside, if your imaging/biopsy reports come back waaaay earlier than they said they would, you have a decent shot of being completely fucked.
7. You can’t get the cancer out of you fast enough. It what will almost seem like a total contradiction to my previous statement, the wait for surgery has been grueling. From that first abnormal mammogram to my mastectomy, it will have been almost two months of thinking about breast cancer day in and day out. Throw in worries about an ovarian cyst (and whether it was simply a cyst) and you’ve got a cocktail for heartburn, lingering headaches and constant consumption of chocolate.
I remember sitting in the breast surgeon’s office, discussing treatment options, and letting my glance fall to the couch over by the window. I could see surgical scrubs peeking out from her bag. It took all of my reserve not to scream, “Slap ‘em on and let’s rock and roll! Right here! Clear off your desk!” Every day that went by and this crap was still in my body seemed to bring me that much closer to a more advanced stage of cancer.  At least, in my mind it did. I know, logically, this had been growing for some time, and that a few weeks weren’t going to make that much of a difference. But it’s still enough to drive you bonkers. And trust me, by now, it’s a short drive.


  1. HEy Heather,
    I know you're up to your boobs in other peoples breast cancer stories, but I wanted to recommend one more to you. I read a fashion blog called Ain't No Mom Jeans. It's full of inspiring, realistic fashion ideas for those who are pregnant, nursing and have kids to chase. The author was diagnosed with DCIS over the summer and has been chronicling her journey through mastectomy, reconstruction and chemo- all while offering tips on what to wear to chemo and wig and scarf styling.
    I think you might like it.
    Jesse Cingel

    1. Awesome! Thank you, Jesse! I'll check it out. I mean, the name of the blog alone is promising... :-)