- Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis. Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing.
I was 40. It was my first mammogram. They never said, “Hey, looks good! The radiologist will send the report in a few days.” In retrospect, I think I knew then. My husband, Bernie (a plastic surgeon who has treated over a thousand women like me) looked at my films before the radiologist ever called. I had a diagnosis of invasive cancer by the end of that week: stage 1, high grade, scary family history, but no damning genes. My maternal grandmother had had a radical mastectomy at my age; one of her sisters died from breast cancer before age 40. Mom and her twin sister always assumed it would be one of them. It wasn’t. It was me.
- What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your cancer?
Probably we’ve all gotten the “Well, at least you got a boob job out of this! Ha ha ha! I hate my boobs. I would LOVE to have them done! Amiright?” But maybe not many of us have gotten this from her own primary care doctor.
- What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?
It’s the Facebook memes that drive me bonkers. The single heart emoji posted as a status IS AN AFFRONT TO ALL WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD BREAST CANCER. The latest one was a classic cut-and-paster message claiming that it was Breast Cancer Prevention Week, which was four months ago, and I’m not really sure is a thing. These often are accompanied by private messages to “feel your boobies” which is wildly insensitive when delivered to women who no longer have them. Otherwise lovely, supportive friends feel bullied to post these things and pass them along or… what… they don’t care about cancer? I wonder who starts these.
- What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?
First, another truth about those fucking memes: they can be a jarring reminder. Occasionally, we’ll have entirely cancer-free moments. Maybe we’re still in jammies and didn’t shower so haven’t revisited our scars; maybe we haven’t taken the Tamoxifen yet and are still doing the normal things normal people do, like yelling at children that the bus is coming or cutting crusts off of sandwiches. Then… WHAM. Your fucking heart emoji. Oh yeah, cancer. Thanks for the reminder. We live with it on our minds and bodies every single day and have all of October to endure. Unless that heart is a link to donating money toward metastatic disease research, it isn’t doing a single thing for us but providing a bit of posttraumatic stress.
Most people also do not realize that there is no “remission” for breast cancer, only NED (no evidence of disease). Asking us if we are “in remission” or “all good now” or if it’s “all over” forces us to lie to you, or get into uncomfortable discussions about how we’re secretly sure this is the thing that is going to kill us. I know what you mean when you sort of quietly ask, “How are you?” And when I say, “Fine, thank you so much,” we’re good. When you ask a breast cancer veteran if it’s “all over,” we assume you need it to be “over” and that really isn’t about us, at all.
- If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?
I worry about it all of the time, but in the past five years I’ve had only one, true freak-out that landed me in the scanner. I’m fine. I tell myself I’m fine. I remind myself of the statistics for Stage 1 and how grandma lived to 83 after her radical mastectomy and how long some of us are living with Stage 4 disease. But it’s the pink ribbon monster under the bed.
- Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question.
It has made me a different person, for sure. I already assumed I was pretty awesome before The Diagnosis. I think I care about little things even less than I did before. Just last week a gaggle of teen boys had a wrestling match in my guest bedroom and ran the doorknob right through the drywall. And I thought, “It’s just a wall.” I honestly could not muster any feeling other than, “ugh, boys.” Sometimes I think cancer contributed to that kind of nonchalance about non-life-threatening things like holes in walls.
- What is your favorite cancer book?
For sure, Hester Hill Schnipper’s After Breast Cancer. It was like food to me in the aftermath of chemo and surgery. I just kept reading and nodding. I still cannot believe how lucky I am that I could sit on her couch and bask in her wisdom during the scariest times.
- Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?
All of you: the cancer veterans. The blogging strangers and friends from real life who have walked this road—I call us the Shitty Sorority– you ladies are a life line. But in the day to day, it’s Steve, my writing partner and testicular cancer veteran who I text with, “Can you believe these fucking memes are going around again?” And he gets it.
- How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?
I follow quite a few. Nancy’s has always spoken to me because she heralds science and refuses to give into the Cancer Made Me a Better Person trope. Terri Coutee is doing fabulous work with her diepcfoundation.org and her Facebook group that connects patients with each other and really fabulous microsurgeons. And like many of you, I bet, I still miss Lisa Bonchek Adams.
- Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?
You bet your ass I do. Just writing answers to these prompts is advocacy. Also, I will talk to ANYONE who is going through this. I was a surgical resident many moons ago, and my husband is a world expert in breast reconstruction. We know stuff. I’m happy to share information. Even more importantly, especially in the wee hours, I can text, “I’m here. I get it.”