“One night after my mastectomy, I went for a walk in Central Park, and there was this mob of people blocking the road. I thought, ‘Oh, great, now I’m stuck!’ but then I suddenly realized that it is was a breast cancer walk.” Hoda Kotb

Yesterday, October 1st, was the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And while I am aware that many people are sick of the pink products that line the shelves and clog their emails, the walks, the runs, the swims, it is important to look past whatever gets in our way of continuing to take breast cancer seriously … very seriously.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released the latest statistics on breast cancer on August 20, 2015 Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is —

  • The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
  • The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
  • The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

I kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness Month by having a breast MRI.  I’ve had one every year since I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2007.  I wasn’t particularly concerned or nervous, I’m used to this protocol. I hadn’t found a lump.  My annual mammogram was fine. This was just a routine test for me. Of course, an MRI is significant not only because it takes some time and costs a bunch of money but because it picks up things that a mammogram might miss. Nonetheless, off I went, stopping at a hipster café to pay four bucks for a cup of coffee and check my Facebook page before heading into the oncology clinic.

When I reached the front door of the clinic,  a young women opened the door for me, chiding me for carrying my computer while carrying a cup of coffee. “A recipe for disaster”, she joked and asked if I was heading to IBM, having no idea how funny that really was.   “Nope,” I answered, “ off to see the oncologist.” She stopped in her tracks and told me she had “just beat cancer”  and pointed to her abdomen. Without skipping a beat she told me to stay positive. Her brother had been negative when he had cancer and had not survived. She had stayed positive and here she was. I listened. She asked me if I was sick. I responded by letting her know that I was ok right now and that I understood what she was talking about, I was a therapist, I work with people who have cancer. She wanted to talk to me some more, wanted to tell her story.  But I needed to get to my appointment so we wished each other the best and parted.

The next step was paper work and waiting. Again, nothing out of the ordinary here. I was called in, the tech put in my IV and off I went to the tube clutching the flapping front of  my lovely, oversized gown. No biggie. Then it’s time to roll into the tube, face down, arms stretched out in front of me, little rubber “panic” bulb in my left hand.

Things are going ok. I’m meditating and visualizing like always. But then the contrast solution comes through my IV and things go south fast. I begin to feel pain on my right side, the neuropathy I have due to chemotherapy flares up like a fire spreading through my body and I begin to feel nauseous. The noise goes on and on. I have to be still, I cannot move. I am working overtime to relax, to not freak out. Each moment is an eternity. At one point I think I will start screaming. I want to scream but I cannot make noise, cannot move. This has never happened before. The pain increases. My feet are tingling, my hands are swelling. I breathe deep, I cannot wait for this to be over. I  realize that if I vomit I am, at least, face down over the holes where my breasts are dangling.  I struggle to stay quiet.

And then it is finally over. The young technician releases me and is horrified at how I look when I roll over and off the table. It’s not my finest hour but it’s over …  until next year.

Like the young women at the door to the clinic, like you, I have a story, too. Guess today it was my turn to talk. Thanks for listening.  I’d love to hear your story, too.

Be well …