The Six Year Audit – Post Cancer


I’ve recently celebrated my 6th year

“cancer-free” anniversary.

For background, you can read my posts during my treatment and the recovery. It’s been an amazing journey, for sure. I’m humbled and a bit sheepish to even say I am a cancer-survivor for I did not have to endure chemo or radiation treatments. However, I do believe I can help others who have been given a cancer diagnosis, because I understand the shock and all the stages that accompany it. I also had a rough reconstruction process which included infections, a defective implant and 5 surgeries.

Anniversaries are a great time for reflection. Looking back, am I stronger now? Less materialistic? Grateful? Kinder? I believe I am. I know I’ve made a concerted effort to be those things. I definitely know the importance of living with presence and that is why I’ve been writing about that so much in my blog. Today is the only day we know we have. Yesterday is over. Tomorrow has yet to arrive. So cliche, but true!

I am blessed to have a healthy, wonderful family and a career I love. I have an opportunity – every day – to think, be creative, and write.

For all my women friends out there (those I have met and those I have yet to meet) – for you who are handling a personal struggle challenge: you can do it. You can and you will overcome. Take it one day at a time.









What’s on the Menu?

I’m asked how the girls are taking the impending surgery. Here are their words:

June 12, 2010

-My mom is having surgery on Tuesday. I’m a little bit frightend but mommy said she would be alright. So, Ava and I have made a little menu for my mom with all different food and drinks when she’s in her bed. Her friends and our relletivs are coming over and helping us. I’m going to miss mommy. But when she’s up and around were going to play lots of board games and do math puzzles .My mom has done so much for me in the past that I’m not going to realy be used to all these people being with me.

Josie 🙂

June 12, 2010

My mom is having surgery on Tuesday.

I gave her my zu zu pet  so she could  press the nose  and it would make a noise so we could come running to her. We made a menu for her so she could pick what food she wanted. If  needed anything  more she would tell us.  There was coffee on the menu.  Diet coke, water, and  many other things. I feel a little scared because my mom is having surgery. But my mom is always brave.  I will have quit violin for a  little while.  But till my mom gets better we have to go back to violin.


I am grateful for the amazing outpouring of love, support and encouragement I am receiving from friends and family near and far, and from complete strangers I have met online via friends. It makes me want to be a better person.

I’m asked,”What do you think you are supposed to learn here?” Although I believe everything happens for a reason, I don’t think I have led a life of unhealthy habits I need to ameliorate, nor have I sustained any toxic relationships. I don’t think this is a wake up call, because there is no place in my life where I need to realign my actions to suit my goals. I do, however, feel a renewed sense of appreciation for people in general, for the importance of health and responsibility. I always considered myself to be a strong person, but  I’m having my mom sew a giant “S” on a blue nylon shirt after my recovery. Willey is making the cape.

On Friday, I had a 9am appointment with my plastic surgeon and a “check engine” light came on in my car.  My first thought was, “On top of everything….my classes, and my surgery … my car now?”  I was in Scottsdale and wondered if it was safe to drive. I completed my appointment (they took the “before” pictures and had me sign papers acknowledging all the risks of surgery, including infection, asymmetry, the need for more surgery, etc.).  Suddenly, I felt as if I was  being challenged. Someone or something was testing me to see when I would break. I will not break!

So I go home, find a mechanic with great reviews online, pack Josie’s swimsuit and towel, go to the mechanic, learn I have to go to a different mechanic sometime next week (it’s probably the o2 sensor), pick up the girls from summer school, drop Josie off to her playdate, have a date with Ava at the mall, go home, make dinner, get ready to go out with some friends and chat with the husband before I leave.  I had a wonderful evening talking and laughing with a group of strong, beautiful women.

I’m ready.

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”  John Lennon

Better Safe Than Sorry

On Tuesday, March 9, I took the day off to take the girls to the dentist. Later in the day, I went to a routine mammogram. With homework, violin lessons, work, my classes for my graduate program, it’s hard to fit these medical appointments in our busy schedule. I decided it had to be done. While making my mammogram appointment, I realized I forgot to go in 2009. My very first mammogram was on January 5, 2008.  The appointments were fairly routine: Josie had no cavities, Ava had two small ones and my mammogram went off without a hitch.

I got a call the next day. They needed me to return to get a better picture of my left breast. I was greatly annoyed. Why can’t these technicians do an accurate job? They obviously missed  a position or didn’t calibrate it correctly or something. I can’t take another day off do this! I am a teacher. When I am absent from my job, I have to make several phone calls, complete paperwork and make lesson plans.

March 19th: I go in immediately after work. I am told during my exam that there are two slightly suspicious calcium deposits in my left breast. They want a better look. By end of evening, I learn that cancers begin this way, although 80% of the time, it’s benign.  Of course, I believe, mine is benign. Such needless drama, really.

The technician takes a look at the screen when we are through. Silence. “The doctor would like to discuss these results with you.” After I’m dressed, she takes me to another room. It’s dark and cold. I wait for a very long time. This can’t be good. Finally, a tall, handsome man with kind eyes enters the room and sits. He tells me that he thought long and hard about recommending a biopsy, but he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he let it go. There is a suspicious abnormality in two places. This news sounds like it is addressed to someone else. Biopsy? Doesn’t cancer naturally follow?  He mentions needles, possible surgery, but start with a needle. OK, I nod. I will do it. No problem, better safe than sorry.

As I leave, I feel a slight pit in my stomach. This will take more time out of my schedule. This will cause my parents worry.

April 5: I take a half day to go get a stereotactic mammogram and (hopefully) stereotactic biopsy. This is when a long needle is pushed into your breast and the mass is retrieved. “The mammo is weird, you lay on a table on your stomach. There is a cutout for your breasts. It’s creepy,” a friend tells me.  “But it’s easy. The needle is huge,” (she spaces her hands about a foot apart, I feel faint), “just ice it for a couple hours after wards.”

Instructions for the stereotactic mammogram: No perfumes, no jewelry, no deodorant. This should only take 20 minutes, the technician informs me.

The mammogram is painful. I lay on my tummy on a hard table. As promised, there is an oval cutout for my chest. Medal paddles squeeze my breast from different angles.  The female technician squeezes my breast so tight with the medal paddles I literally cannot breathe. “Hold still!” I am told over and over again, position after different position.

One hour later, a discouraged technician apologizes. She’s sorry, but she just can’t get it to work. I will need a surgical biopsy.

Report: “Multiple positions were attempted and either the breast thickness is insufficient for the stereotactic device or the target cannot be positioned within the biopsy device.”

I call Willey in tears. I can’t believe this. It’s escalating – this situation – I can’t believe I actually have to have surgery!

My OB/GYN calls me and recommends a surgeon. My friends and co-workers suggest names. Recommended doctors either don’t do surgical biopsies anymore or no longer do them unless you are diagnosed with cancer. I go to my OB/GYN’s surgeon.

He is a tall, serious man with glasses who tells me step by step what will occur, what to expect. He does not crack a smile, not even once. His demeanor is 100% clinical. I believe he is completely competent, even if lacking in warmth. He tells me “due to the size” of my breast (read: small), the biopsy may leave my breast disfigured.  Yes, he used that word. Disfigured. He will try to make only one incision, but the two masses are on opposite sides. He may have to make two incisions. One of the deposits is located so far it’s next to my chest wall. I chose to go alone to this meeting. It might have been better if Willey had come along. Before surgery, I will need to get a wire localization done. This is because the deposits are so small, the surgeon needs a guide to find them. Another mammogram is required. They will locate the deposits, insert a needles and two wires for each “mass” and then I will make my way to the hospital for the surgery. I start to feel squeamish.

I have always been small chested. It bothered me for a very long time. Our society equates beauty with bosoms. Plastic surgery is a popular option, even for people who can’t afford it. I felt inferior in this department through those tough teenage years and into my young adulthood. But after breastfeeding two children, I have had a new found respect for my body. It works. It’s strong. Two beautiful lives emerged from it and my (small) chest somehow found a way to feed those two babies. I have, late in life, come to appreciate my body, flaws and all. And now, it was going to be disfigured. I cried in my car on the way home and washed my face before picking the girls up from school.

I call my sister and express my frustration and my fears about the “disfigurement.” Better to be safe than sorry, Caroline. You can always  look at fixing things later with cosmetic surgery. She is right, of course. I hate it when my baby sister is right.

Next post: Staging and Aging