Have you found a place in the universe that is distinctly ‘yours’? A place that you go to now and then and just KNOW you are where you belong? Living on Long Island (an island off of New York City), that place for me has always been Fire Island. Life slows down, nature takes on a whole new meaning. Your heart and breathing fall into the rhythm of the ocean’s waves you can hear just over that sand dune. I now have found another place where I seem to belong…a place that has slipped on like a pair of shoes that were made for me by some cosmic shoe maker knowing I had a ball to attend. But this is the world of cancer advocacy, certainly not a place I ever expected to travel!
I am lucky to have been born the eternal optimist…the glass is always half full of champagne in my book. When life hands me lemons, darn it, I’m gonna find a way to make an enticing lemonade, set up a stand, and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause! Which is what makes what I have to share with you all the more difficult—because there simply is no way to put a happy spin on it. Still, I wish three years ago (or five or ten) someone had shared the ugly truth with me, so I wouldn’t have been rambling around this big ‘ol world with what I now think of as false innocence.
Anyone living in the U.S. has been inundated with the month of pink for umpteen years. I, too, fell for buying anything with a pink ribbon…hey, I wanted to help the fight! My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer while in her 50s…had fought through chemo and radiation…had been rendered ‘cancer free’ after the five year mark. She ultimately succumbed to esophageal cancer ten years after, but for all intents and purposes she was a breast cancer survivor.
Given her history, I went regularly for mammograms AND sonograms (adding the second in at my own request, willing to pay for it if insurance wouldn’t pick it up). I was not so delusional that I thought I would escape the magic wand’s wave of breast cancer—but surely I would catch it early, struggle through treatment, and be rendered a ‘survivor’ as well. Something happened on the way to the mammogram machine, a bit of information slipped through the cracks. There are breast cancers that are so insidious that they can be undetectable by mammogram OR sonogram. Huh? Nobody told me that when I was buying into all of those battle cries for early detection!
So, at the tender age of 44, when my world was spinning at a rate that was barely tolerable, I was told I had late stage metastatic breast cancer. Not only had I contracted breast cancer that had gone by undetectable for Lord knows how long—but the ugly invader had spread throughout my bones. An early (very, very inadvisable) plunge into the web world of all that is dark in medical history indicated I had eighteen months to live. Yikes…had I missed something? I am a woman of above average intelligence…I went back over every step I had taken in the prior ten years…nope, no one had indicated I need be worried as long as I showed up for those mammograms. It’s interesting to note, the cancer I have STILL doesn’t show on mammograms OR sonograms. While I embrace the early detection battle cry and plead with everyone I know to have regular mammograms, I want all women to know, it’s not fool proof—it’s not a guarantee. It’s the best we have and you should avail yourself to ANYTHING that will aid in early detection, but it is no guarantee.