There’s no good way to say this. I have breast cancer. Again.
What can I say – I’ve always been an overachiever.
I’ve put off writing this for weeks now, trying to figure out some clever way to start it. I can’t. Because there’s nothing clever about this.
Just days after the ninth anniversary of my first breast cancer surgery, my annual mammogram popped up on my calendar.
I went to St. Elizabeth’s new Cancer Center, and even took a picture of the lobby because it’s so beautiful.
I thought, I’ll post this to remind people to schedule their mammograms. Lots of people put them off during COVID, you know.
But something told me not to.
I even took this selfie in the super-flattering hospital gown before getting the mammogram. Again, something told me not to share it. I had a feeling something was amiss. And I was right.
After my 3D mammogram, I was waiting for the go-ahead to get out of there when I was called back in. Something looked suspicious. Actually, a couple of things looked suspicious. Again, I’m an overachiever.
We scheduled biopsies for late June. On July 1, we got the news.
My husband and I were ushered into a small room with a box of tissues on the table. That’s when we knew.
Here we go again.
Since then, my car basically drives itself to the Cancer Center. Genetic testing, blood draws, plastic surgeons, breast surgeons, nurse navigators, bra fitters. I joked that if I had a “cancer appointment” punch card, I’d be getting a free visit by now. No one laughed.
Initially, I thought going through breast cancer a second time would be like having a second child. You generally know what to expect, and you’re prepared for it.
I was wrong. There’s nothing – not even that feeling in my gut – that would prepare me to hear that I had breast cancer a second time. This time around, my daughters are old enough to grasp the situation. Surgery will be more extensive. Recovery will be more difficult, physically and emotionally.
But I’m hanging on to my sanity – even if it’s by the thinnest of threads – because of one thing: it was caught early. The radiologist said the cancer didn’t show on my mammogram from just 12 months ago. Some insurance companies are now pushing for two years between mammograms. There are doctors suggesting to wait until you’re 50 before you get your first. I’m in my 40s and I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer twice – with no family history and no genetic issues. There’s no reason I should be here. But here I am.
And when you get that voice in your head telling you that something’s amiss – listen to it.
I’m sharing my news because I’ll be gone for several weeks, but more importantly: because women need to take control of their own health. And sometimes, we need a reminder to do it. The day of my diagnosis, a nurse navigator told me that 12 other women found out they had cancer that same day. At one hospital. It’s likely not an increased incidence of cancer, but the result of people putting off their mammograms during the pandemic.
People always ask what they can do in situations like these. It’s simple: schedule a mammogram. And make sure every woman in your life does the same. That’s it.
In addition to being an overachiever, I’m also a notorious planner and list-maker. There’s a note on my phone labeled “mastectomy prep.” I have sections for things to do, things to buy, things to gather. There is no section for things to freak out about.
And I will do my best to keep it that way.