Lyn's story.

As I sat waiting for my mammogram, I was reading a short story about Death coming to visit a small town. I wondered vaguely if I was inviting bad luck, then scoffed at myself for being silly. I was young, fit, healthy, and even my GP said that little lump was surely a cyst. Didn’t that clear mammogram 10 months ago prove that?

A couple of boob squishes later I was asked to go into a conference room to talk to a doctor. It still didn’t occur to me to worry. Even after the doctor gave me a list of names of oncologists, I didn’t believe it. I’m a lesbian, and I still chuckle to remember that my first thought was “I’m too butch to get breast cancer.” What strange ideas we have without even knowing we have them. Then I settled down to the real reasons I couldn’t have breast cancer: I was too young—oh I guess 55 isn’t all that young; I’m kind of fit and healthy—oh I guess that’s irrelevant; I don’t eat junk food—oh, that’s irrelevant too; I have no family history—oops, guess that’s irrelevant too. Well SHIT, I guess I’m not that different from the other 200,000 women who are diagnosed every year.

I drove home in shock, and still in disbelief to tell my partner the news. Once I told her, it started to be real to me. We had a little cry, then started to panic. It hadn’t been on the previous mammogram, does that mean it’s growing really fast and I’m doomed? Had that doctor said it was aggressive? Is that a technical term? What do we do? Maybe we should cash out our retirement funds and go to Hawaii til the money runs out. Thank god I have health insurance through my partner’s company, but will they try to bump me off now that I need it? At least we live near great health care providers—do we stay at St. Joes or go to U of M? Are we in a hurry? An MRI was scheduled for Sept 11, was that asking for it more trouble? I knew I shouldn’t have read that story about Death.

By good luck and some very compassionate scheduling, the biopsy was scheduled for the next morning. That would give us some concrete info, which would break this panic cycle and help us figure out what to do. That appointment actually brought us more than that, it brought us a nurse, herself a long-time survivor, who came and talked to us. She gave us a general overview of what treatment to expect, answered all our questions—procedural and medical, and told us her job was to make sure I wouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of surgery/chemo/radiation. Most importantly, she said to call her if I had any questions, which reassured us.

Really, my partner and I said to each other, what are you going to do? You just go through the treatment and be grateful there is a treatment for your disease.

That said, my stress level was manageable if I had information. As a former bookstore owner, I knew that Susan Loves Breast Book was highly recommended. I read it for 3 straight days. It lead me to a couple of helpful web-sites. I couldn’t learn enough. I was, and remain, awe-struck at the state of knowledge about this disease and its treatment. And grateful to all the researchers and clinicians who have applied their intellectual creativity to decoding this disease; and to the women who suffered the brutal effects of treatments that refined the understanding of what drugs and what dosages work. And how bout a big shout out to whoever developed the sentinnal node biopsy procedure. That sure beats having all your lymph nodes stripped out.

Dealing with the physical part of the treatment wasn’t really all that hard because I could make space in my daily routine for lounging around and recovering. Of course starting off fairly fit and healthy helped. Being able to take time off work and make a little healing nest at home made a big difference. And not having kids or other heavy responsibilities at home made that pretty easy.

There is one fun side effect of chemo that I really enjoyed. Starting 2 days before a treatment, I took a steroid that made food taste GREAT, and the more, the better. Many thanks to friends who joined me in those pre-chemo celebratory chow-downs, and let me clean their plates.

Which brings up the big reason that going through treatment for this disease was really not that bad. I was protected by a circle of love. Co-workers brought me dinners for 5 days after the lumpectomy, friends knit me fabulous hats and stayed over night with me when my partner had to be out of town, took me to the doctor when I couldn’t do it myself, brought me games and dvds. One artist friend even drew me a mandala. My brothers and sisters-in-law took over caretaking duties of my aged mother. But even smaller acts like sending a card, giving a call, responding to my treatment update emails meant a lot. I felt cushioned by a web of caring that made me understand that I was ok and would be fine.

My final phase of recovery came from the Ann Arbor Y and the Livestrong Foundation. This 12 week program is designed to rebuild strength and stamina in people who have gone through cancer treatment. It’s totally free to participants, and it’s fantastic. It jump-started me back into regular life. In fact I think I’m stronger and feel better than I did a year ago, pre-diagnosis. And I now have something I’ve wanted my whole life: curly hair!! It was almost worth it.