Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t Ignore the Lump.

Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t ignore the lump.

Each year when I go for my annual mammogram, I get a little nervous. Some breast cancer survivors find follow-up tests very distressing, but I always feel better after being checked. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away, especially when that problem is cancer.

If you’ve had breast cancer, you know people like to share their own close calls.

“I had a lump once,” they’ll say. “I was really worried, but it turned out to be nothing.”

Those are the good stories.

We also hear the other, not good stories. At least one person has told me “If I’d gone to the doctor when I first found my lump, my cancer wouldn’t have been so advanced by the time it was treated.”

The most heartbreaking of all was the man who said, “If my wife had gone to the doctor right away, she’d probably still be alive.”

You may be thinking I made that last one up.

I wish you were right.

So, here’s Cancer Lesson #72, repeated because it’s so important: Don’t ignore the lump, no matter where it is or how small.

If I’d ignored mine, I’d still have cancer, just more widespread and, oh yeah, more likely to kill me.

Thanks. I’ll take that mammogram.


Cancer Lesson #58: Cancer Reminds Us We’re Going to Die

Cancer Lesson #58: Cancer reminds us we’re going to die.

Let me say upfront, if having cancer made you a better person, I’m glad.  And if you can view the disease as a “blessing,” well you’re certainly more evolved than I’ll ever be.

I’m three years out now (and counting every moment with gratitude), and my conclusion about having had cancer is this: What cancer does is remind us — rather forcefully — that we’re going to die.

Perhaps for some, this has the effect of making them a better person.
For others, not so much.

I only know how this knowledge has affected me.
For one thing, I’m a lot less patient when people waste my time — not exactly a “better person” kind of attribute.
On the other hand, if I want to take time from what I “should” be doing to do something I want to do, well, guess which wins?
I’m more likely to try things I might not have in the past. I’m also more able to say, “No, I’m not going to try that because I don’t want to.”
Each day, I am more grateful my mom is still with us, sassy as ever at age eighty-four.
At the same time, I grow ever more concerned about my friends who are still in treatment, and yet so thankful to have them as part of my life.

I’m more grateful overall, better able to pull myself back from daily stress by reminding myself of my mantra, “Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” (And the second part is negotiable.)

We’re all going to die.  And that eventuality is statistically more likely to come sooner for those of us who have had cancer or are in treatment for it.
Or not.
People die every day in completely unexpected ways.

The challenge is learning to live every day.
Cancer has taught me to try.


Cancer Lesson #4: Performing a biopsy is as easy as spearing a grape with a strand of uncooked spaghetti.

Cancer Lesson #4: Performing a biopsy is as easy as spearing a grape with a strand of uncooked spaghetti.

Three days after my mammogram and ultrasound, Dr. S (an oncological breast surgeon) and I reviewed the results. They revealed not one lump but three.

My previously sanguine attitude took a nose-dive. One lump hadn’t scared me; three lumps did.

Still, Dr. S assured me that the masses – as the medical profession prefers to call them – were probably innocuous.

I didn’t believe her, focusing instead on trying to calculate the odds. Did having three raise my 20% chance of having cancer to 60%? If so, did that mean there was a 60% chance they were all cancerous, or 20% chance each, adding up to a total of 60%?  For the first time in my life, I wished I’d paid more attention in statistics class at college.

And yet, I played it cool, telling my husband only that I’d found a lump that required a biopsy. Feeling the need to explain my sudden increased use of sick time, I also told my boss.

Five days later, I laid down on the table, confident I knew what would happen. The radiologist would insert a needle to draw out tissue from my breast, kind of like the core samples geologists take from the earth.

I was wrong. It turns out a woman’s breast bears little relationship to the ground we walk on.

Prod, prod, poke, jab, pull! Jab, poke, prod, tug! It didn’t hurt, but as I watched the movement of that needle on the screen, I knew I’d be sore when the anesthesia wore off.