So I go to my 6 month check up with the oncologist. He’s been my doctor for years. Nice guy who gets me. I am in the exam room when a strange doctor comes in and out of my mouth flies: “Who the hell are you?” SNAP! Dr. Young-Thing proceeds to tell me he is a resident (oh crap), and that he is going to examine me. Like a deer in headlights, I say, “Like hell you are…where is Dr. S?”
I thought for sure he was going to push some hidden button for non-compliant patients. But he sits down and pulls up my chart online. Dr I-Have-Tattoos-Older Than-You proceeds to overview my ENTIRE medical history with me. We are talking 7 years.
“So you had cancer in 2005?”
I’m thinking: Noooooo, it was 2003 superstar, now get me the real doctor and do your fancy learnin’ on someone else.
“I am going to examine you–is that okay?”
To which I say, “No, not really, but I will let you see the magic that is my mastectomy!”
Oh, I was in rare form. (undoubtedly precipitated by a phone call with my parents not ten minutes earlier that mimicked Terms of Endearment–where I was ready to go Shirley MacClain on my dad’s sorry ass—”Get My Mom the medicine NOW!)
Dr Young thing: “I am feeling for your spleen, don’t find it.”
Me: “Wow, you need to study more.”
Dr. YT is fairly flustered by this point and steps out–leaving me the keys to the kingdom– My personal files online, for me to read! AHHH yeaaaaa! You know I did, kids. I sat right down and scrolled through that puppy like I was on a shopping spree at eBay. Okay, you ready…Here it is…the undeniably recorded in history and for all of UCLA and the world at large to read as a description of me as written by a my oncologist:
“This is a pleasant lady, alert and oriented x4, in no acute distress”
A resounding endorsement for Zoloft if I have ever heard one.
By then my real doctor, the author of my epitaph, comes in. I tried really hard to be “pleasant, alert, oriented x4 (not sure what the highest possible score is, but I am optimistic). Now, he has passed several of my is-this-doctor-a-dipwad litmus tests and so he is familiar with my work as a pain in the ass patient! He does his thing, and I tell him they should tell folks before they send a resident in to a patient.
He asks, “Why?”
“Because I had cancer, have no boobs, and a right to choose who looks at the train wreck that I call a body, reads my history, and for that matter is in the same room with me.”
I think I lost points for “pleasant lady…”
But then I look up at Dr Young Thing, and see his name tag. “Dr. Krishna” to which I said, “man, not much pressure with that name, huh?” They both started laughing so I think I got some points back for pleasantness.
The best…and I did this for all of you…is when I left. I saw yet another Dr. Young Thing standing in the back office. He was beyond GORGEOUS! I said to the whole staff, “I will have him as my resident next time, thanks”. Could have heard a pin drop…
Love to all of you pleasant, alert, and oriented x4 women out there who are only occasionally in acute distress…
Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and wondered what was lurking underneath you…eying your body…sizing you up to see if you would make a tasty meal? That’s what I call the breast cancer “shark attack syndrome.”
I liken the physical and psychological impact of a double mastectomy to a shark attack. It happens quickly and violently. In a matter of minutes you are struck hard and parts of your body are carried away into a vast ocean by a predator much bigger than you. It isn’t personal. The attack is random. You are left alive but amputated–stunned and with a life long fear of the water.
People who know about my diagnosis gawked at my chest like an accident scene on the freeway. Family, friends…they can’t help themselves from looking. I chose not to have reconstruction due to the lengthy recovery…an infant and a toddler don’t lend themselves to extensive plastic surgery. My daughter was 8 months old and my son was 3 years when I had the surgery, not exactly the age where I could be out of commission.
I don’t wear the prosthetics I bought…they constantly remind me I am amputated, and the first time I took yoga one of them fell out! My beloved yoga teacher said, “Just take them out, honey.” I never looked back.
The journey through a breast cancer diagnosis with two small children was so very hard. I searched for the words to tell my son…
”The Doctor found a lump in mommy’s breast that isn’t good for her body and he has to take it out.”
Thanks to my son’s school and my amazing husband, we got him through it…but he STILL talks about it and recently asked, “Mommy, why don’t you have boobies?” At that point I realized my beautiful daughter would grow up never knowing her mother’s body to look “normal.” She only knows the scars. That is the day my heart broke forever. As if depression didn’t make me feel inadequate enough, now I felt like a carnie act. Come on down and meet the lady who was attacked by sharks!
I will never truly recover from knowing what I look like and what I represent to my children. But I am here to be their mom and truly thankful. Thank god I had it checked. The mammogram showed no abnormalities! If I had just had the mammogram I would have faced a diagnosis of invasive cancer and perhaps required chemotherapy or radiation. As of now, they tell me I am “cured.”
And I found it myself.
Not a minute in the day goes by that I don’t worry that it will return and take me from my children. Every woman who has had breast cancer knows exactly what I’m talking about. Every cold, every headache, every stiff muscle, still scares me into thinking I am still out there in that ocean—defenseless to another shark attack. What part of my body will they take next time?
I saw my mother lose her breast early in life. The same month I was diagnosed, she was diagnosed with Stage IV colo-rectal cancer. I watched the sharks circle her for six years, taking feet of colon, and eventually her life.
But it isn’t a pity party. I am glad I got cancer. It was a hell of a lot easier to deal with than postpartum depression, than life-long depression, than the cancer that is depression. And it got me immediately in touch with impermanence, and subsequently, my spiritual practice.
If I were thrown back into the dark ocean again and a recurrence reared it’s ugly head, I have my faith to thank for curing me of my fear of sharks.
If you read my profile, you already know that I’m married 23 years with 2 teenagers; a daughter, almost 20 and son just turned 16. Four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, went through a double masectomy, chemo, radiation and reconstruction. I was in remission up until 3 months ago when it was discovered that the breast cancer has returned, in the lining of my stomach, treatable, not curable (1% chance).
This is not to be mistaken for stomach cancer – confusing right?
Needless to say I went through the depression, anger and shock all over again. Only this time it was harder. The optimistic goal of beating it wasn’t as easy to grasp because it had already returned once.
My meds have been changed, my doctor’s visits are more frequent and the side effects more intense. Hotter flashes, sleepless nights and mood swings. I am not always the easy-going, jovial Queen that used to rule this Kingdom. No, I often become that dragon you referred to in the Bands write-up. But I allow myself to breath some fire, release some anger, then I straighten my tiara and return to my throne surrounded by my adoring and supportive family, my riches, my strength, my motivation.
I could fall in the moat tomorrow and get gobbled up by… well whatever lives in moats. I’m not going to let this Cancer defeat me and takeover my Kingdom…
I know I will have bad days but I also know that I will get through them with a little help from my army (my friends and family) …
Today was one of those bad days and then, suddenly, you appeared!
The Band Back Together Project. Thank you for being here.