The first time I had breast cancer, I was 30. I got my “diagnosis” on my birthday, at Sinai hospital, very matter of factly, while my ex husband, was out of town, in Silicon Valley, doing due diligence for the startup he was CTO of, to find investors. Not wanting to worry him, I had done everything on my own, from going for the #mammogram, to getting the exam with the oncologist/gyn, to the #biopsy. I was lucky, it was a very early stage form of #breastcancer and an encapsulated tumor. I had found the lump, about 3 mos before while on vacation in Europe, but I didn’t want to worry him, so I had kept it to myself. They were able to make a small incision and it was barely noticeable to the naked eye, and because of the type of cancer it was believed to be, I was spared chemotherapy. In full disclosure, I also was afraid to lose my hair, so I turned down, follow up preventative treatment. That was a mistake, but well, I’ve always been one to not learn the first time…serves me right it came back.
The second time, I was in between Dr’s, (gyn again), my brilliant Dr. from Johns Hopkins Medicine was so brilliant she had gone to Wake Forrest to do research. A triple threat Dr. Catherine Sewell, MD…was no longer here, so I called my insurance and got a reference to a Dr, who shall remain nameless, because, it didn’t go quite so well. This male, gyn, examined me and told me I was dealing with a bit of an “enlarged uterus” but that there was no need to be “hysterical” and it was probably nothing. At the time, I was struggling with having left a long term relationship of 5 years+, in haste due to feeling unsafe, and financial instability on the guys fault. I had moved my kid, in the middle of the day, with a suitcase, and no where to go, months before, as so many women have to do, because they are scared, or the person they are with is in trouble. The stress of that, of running a successful but very draining business, was getting to me. Though I had run up the Eiffel Tower in July, by end of August I was not catching my breath walking around at a neighborhood festival. By September I was unable to complete spin class…all the while, having what seemed like a constant period. By the time the GYN examined me, harshly and without much bedside manner, I was starting to be ill.
However, with the financial pressure most single mother’s have, I couldn’t risk anyone knowing I was sick, so I put on a brave face and three maxi pads daily to go work a consulting gig, while my own company continued to run without issue. With each day I was getting weaker, yet for whatever reason the GYN didn’t schedule more than an ultrasound, and this only in November. By this time, I was so weak, I was sleeping a lot, and could barely work, but not wanting to miss a consulting check, or endanger the people who worked for me’s livelihood, I kept going. My son, at the time, was barely 12…he watched all of it and didn’t complain many a night when dinner was a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and also, didn’t complain when all Mom had energy to do was watch tv together on the couch with the dog.
By December, when I finally got the appointment for the hysteroscopy, which is like a colonoscopy only this Dr didn’t think I needed anesthesia, I was in so much agony, the medical student, who assisted him, almost pleaded with him to give me a local. He didn’t. He also informed me clinically, 3 or so months after first seeing me, that we were dealing with something “potentially serious”. That was the first time the words uterine cancer were uttered. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do…the days that followed were a blur of blood tests, Dr’s appointments all over the place, and all this alone. With no family, no significant other, no friends close enough to bother, or that weren’t dealing their own issues, I chose to go it alone. Out of fear for what people might think, I decided I’d do it alone, even if at times it felt like it would kill me. It almost did.
By Christmas, after traveling with much difficulty home to Canada for what I feared was the last Christmas with my son, I cried when I gave him an IPhone filled with pictures and memories…it was an extravagant gift, one his father questioned my judgement on, but my family knew had a greater meaning. I spent many days too sick to go anywhere but the couch, where I was camping out in front of the Christmas tree…I spent hours watching my son’s head as he watched TV in the glow of the holiday lights, holding back the tears…as it all seemed so sad, and so final. I had accepted I was going to die, and though I didn’t want to do that to him, I was tired, tired of being alone, tired of fighting for a fair shake with the ex financially, with my family for real support and understanding and with folks in a city that wasn’t mine, all because I was who I was, and not who they wanted me to be. Cancer began to seem like a deliverance, and I won’t like, I almost prayed for the end, I was so so tired.
Were it not for my son, my gorgeous boy, my man child, my bhudda boy, as I call him, I don’t think I would have held on. Suffice to say upon return to Baltimore, things went from bad to worse, and I literally almost died. 9 blood transfusions to stabilize me enough to get the operation that would require more transfusions and a surgeon’s will, to keep me alive, as by that time the cancer was so bad, they essentially removed all but my organs to cut as much of it out. This is being written by a dead woman, as the surgeon who saved me with the operation told me no other person would have made it, given the odds. He also told me that clearly God didn’t think it was time for me to go to meet him, so whatever I had to do, I better get busy doing it.
After that, followed a difficult recovery, that took months, and following that a major depression that left me suicidal and with a fragile mental state. Today I suffer from anxiety and if it rains too much, I quickly develop symptoms of #SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Thanks to Dr. Terri Murtha, and her team at Psych Wellness NP, LLC, I live a mostly normal life, though now I have to take #adhd meds (ironically just like my son, who has had to take them since he was about 8 years old). I’m not out of the woods, as after having brain scans and fearing brain cancer, and having breathing issues and fearing lunch cancer, seems I’ve once again got issues in the breast area. However, Dr. Michael Schultz, at St Josephs Medical Center is the best, and once before, he warned me that too much caffeine could cause lumps, or blocked lymph nodes so unless he says I’m really sick, I’m going to choose to do like my friend Wim Hof, The Iceman says and think positive.
Cancer is a bitch. It killed my friend Donna Jacobson, my friend Barbee from Pennsylvania, and right now, it’s doing a number on my father in law in France, and my son’s friend in Annapolis. It’s frightened my work colleague and soul sister Karen, and gotten to my friend Steve, another work colleague. It’s pretty much affected, or affecting many people I know, either directly or by association. It’s a really crummy disease and it doesn’t let you die with much dignity…other than the one you keep for yourself. That’s why I’m asking all families, moms, kids, teenagers, and grandparents to consider doing two things. One, repost this social media meme, and put a link to this post- the more people get tested preventatively, the greater chance we have of catching cancer, breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, early. Early detection ups the odds for recovery…which is better than the alternative.
The other thing I’d ask you to consider doing this October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is to support a breast cancer organization of your choosing. It can be huge like the American Cancer Society, there’s a great raffle going on at Mercedes of Annapolis, or if you like, something more active like the Ride Across Maryland. You can also consider giving to an organization that actually supports breast cancer awareness and services for men, because believe it or not, men can get breast cancer too.
According to the Cancer Society…
Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). Men have these ducts and glands, too, even though they aren’t normally functional. There are also types of breast cancer that start in other types of breast cells, but these are less common.
Although many types of breast cancer can cause a lump in the breast, not all do. There are other symptoms of breast cancer you should watch for and report to a health care provider.
It’s also important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancer (malignant). Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life threatening. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care provider to determine whether it is benign or malignant (cancer) and whether it might impact your future cancer risk.
To read more about breast cancer, click here. For a guide on how to conduct a proper self exam, click here. If you can’t afford to be tested, The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides breastand cervical cancer early detection testing to low-income, underserved, under-insured, and uninsured women in the US. Uninsured women who are diagnosed with cancer through the NBCCEDP can usually get treatment through their state’s Medicaid program.
For a list of reputable charities that deal with breast cancer, or any cancer, please consult Guidestar.org, or NetworkforGood.com. If you really want to support your favorite charity, consider getting a specially branded and designated credit card, through Charity Charge.
Charity Charge’s founder, Stephen Garten, is a Baltimore, Maryland native, who’s father succumbed to cancer at the age of 53 too young. To learn more about this visionary young man, with the heart of a lion, and the gentleness of a lamb, read his founder’s story here.
Early detection is what can prevent the needless death of many of our loved ones. Please, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids. After all, they and the others who get left behind when people die of cancer, are the ones we should really feel sad about. #LOVEYOURKIDBCA18 – Please and thank you. We are #bettertogether, #helpUS, #helpHER, #helpHIM, #helpTHEM so no more children or parents have to bury their loved ones too soon.
We’ve organized a play list on YouTube that speaks to this issue…to listen, click here.