My Great Grandmothers on my father’s side both died young from breast cancer. Same town (Grass Valley, California), same hospital, same doctor, and in the end, different sides of the cemetery. (Catholic versus the Protestants, you know). Wouldn’t that kind of make you wonder about the water? But people didn’t think about it like that in 1920’s and 30’s. They didn’t even say the word cancer. I think they thought if they said the word out loud, it would invite Murphy to the party. Honestly, it was like a dirty word in those days. It’s not as scary now.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer last June, the day before my 10th wedding anniversary and 4 days before my 52nd birthday. It sucked. I was outside and the doctor who had performed my biopsy called. I remember throwing questions at her that were way too premature (margins, grades, etc.) and she had no answers for me. At one point she got a little bitchy with me and said, “Cancer is cancer!” Thanks, Dr. Lui, for your lovely bedside manner. But seriously, I did have 10 (count ’em) tumors. That breast had to go, and the other one, too, because they were a serious pain-in-the-ass.
I wanted it to be a memory for my 9-year-old son. I didn’t want him looking back and thinking I was a whiner, or worse, get scared. So once in a while I’d crack a boob joke. One time he said, “Mom, where exactly are your boobs now?” and I replied, “In the basement at Kaiser” and he said, “Really, why?” And I said, “They have to chop them up to look at the cells, like my egg slicer.” He kind of laughed, and that was what he needed. I realize now that is what we all needed: to make light of it while we need to be strong. You can be weak later, when it doesn’t matter.
I immersed myself in research, and based on my particular cancer (stage 1, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, or ILC) my surgeon (who had already removed my gall bladder the year before) removed both breasts and two lymph nodes for sentinel biopsy. Another surgeon removed my ovaries last October. I am pretty much estrogen free. Which hurts like hell, to be honest. I feel like a little old lady, my joints hurt so bad! (Cue in Irish side: “Quit yer belly aching! You could be dead in the ground!”). Like my Great Grandmothers.
One of my oldest friends told me the other day that I make jokes about serious things (like breast cancer, my mom dying, etc.) before I’m ready for other people to laugh. I mislead people into thinking that I’m ready to laugh at the most serious of subjects. I suppose I try to make things funny, because I’m concerned about other people being too sad. That works out wonderfully well for the other people, not so much for me.
So I am sharing because I finally cried.