Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Glad I Had That Mammogram

It’s been a week since my surgery. I feel so good as I strut in for my follow-up appointment with Dr. Philipson that I practically high-five the receptionist. Theresa, the doctor’s nurse, sticks her head out into the hallway and I zip over to give her a hug. I am all smiles and she is warm and calm as always. Maybe she seems a little sedate, in fact, but I write it off as her way.

Dave and I take a seat in the waiting room and I beam at the women who are flipping through magazines, glancing up at the approach of footsteps, fingering the clasp of a pocketbook, each with her own fear and story. In my near-giddy state as one who has made it through surgery and is healing like a champ, I want to assure them that they’ll be fine. That they’re in the best hands possible and that the anesthesia cocktail is a dream. That recuperation hurts a bit, but the medications soften the edge. And that, if their people are anything like mine, they’ll be cared for with unbounded love.

Speaking of my people, Mom and Dad are coming for the weekend. They’ll probably beat us home in fact. Phone assurances have been inadequate; they want to see me for themselves. Like Dave, Mom has said, “I wish I could do this in your place,” but she will see that I don’t need a surrogate; I’m great and she needn’t worry.

When my name is called, Dave and I hop from our seats and saunter down the corridor to Dr. Philipson’s office. I give her a hug too, but her eyes do not reflect my jubilation. We sit across from her and I don’t really follow what she is saying about “micro-invasive cells.” I’m still smiling because the significance does not register. My lymph nodes were clear. The cancer is out. What more is there?

Apparently, the pathology on the breast tissue revealed something else. Cells that could send out seedlings. Cells that require preventative action. “The good news is that a drug, Herceptin, has been made available within the last two years that targets these specific cells,” says Dr. Philipson.

Wait. She’s saying it doesn’t end here. She’s talking about chemo. Scarier than cancer. Chemo.

“You did the right thing in having the double mastectomy,” she concludes. “but I know this is not what you expected. I’m so sorry.”

I am slow to process her words. I think about what might have happened if I’d not had that mammogram. What might have happened if I’d not gone for the double. What might have happened if the medical world had not continued to paw through my breast tissue in some lab somewhere even after removal.

I could have died.

But I don’t feel relieved. I’m thinking about chemo. And I’m thinking about Mom and Dad waiting at home for me to come dancing through the back door, maybe minus a drain or two, to be doted on. Again, I must tell them hard news.

We leave the office and I call my parents by cell phone. I tell them about Herceptin – so new, so specific to my case – and remind them that all of the other good stuff still holds true – early stages and clear lymph nodes and margins.

Mom and Dad rush out of the house as our car pulls up. They are somber, but glad to hold me, to see me. To see that I’m the same, minus a few body parts.

For lunch, we sit on the back porch and pick at a platter of tuna chunks, olive tapenade, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, cheese and Italian bread. The food tastes fresh and tangy, but it’s hard to sit still. I restrain myself through the meal, then say,” I’ve gotta make a few calls.”

I fly upstairs to call Wendy. She had a double mastectomy two years ago and has been a voice of experience and comfort since I was diagnosed. She did not have chemo herself, but says, “Lea, I know many women who are going through treatments now. We still walk together; they go to work, they feel okay. There’s some fatigue, but they’re not sick. They look great. This is a disappointment, but you’re going to be fine and chemo will make sure of that.”

Okay. Good. Thanks. Breathe. Breathe.

I call Joanne.

Joanne had a double mastectomy thirteen years ago. She did have chemo. And she has a spirit that barrels through that phone line to hug me and lift me up.

“You want this, Lea. Believe me. You don’t want little cells floating around making trouble. Chemo’s so different now. You won’t throw up. I know you won’t. You’ll be tired maybe, and then you’ll be through this and you’ll be fine. You want this.”

I want this. Well, not exactly, but Wendy and Joanne have said the right things and I can breathe again. I am fortified. And I can go back to the porch and tell Dave and my parents what my two friends said and I can say it with cheer and confidence. And they will believe me as I believe Wendy and Joanne.


Anonymous said...

Once again, your writing is outstanding as you so perfectly convey your feelings in a way the reader can feel with you. What an experience you have been through, are going through, and how well you share it with others. Thank you for being you and putting a face on what is very mysterious for those of us who haven't been in your place.

Matt said...

I am mailing you and Dave a package tomorrow. I miss you both.
Be well,

Tess said...

Dear Lea,

Thank you for sharing your journey with such beauty and heart. Your words are very moving.

I thought you might appreciate this quote from Igjugarjuk, (don’t ask me to pronounce it!) who was the shaman of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada. He told European visitors that true wisdom "lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can only be reached through suffering." The quote makes me think of the desolate beauty of the northern Yukon, bleak and spellbinding.

Over time my family has benefited from Dave's radiant warmth, and so by extension we already love you. It pains us to know that you have suffered, and yet if Igjugarjuk is right, through your suffering you have given us a gift. Certainly that wisdom is manifested in your writing. Thank you for being present to the Great Loneliness, for standing in that wild, windswept place, and gracing it with your magnificent presence.

Yesterday Dave told me that you and he have lived a charmed life, but perhaps it is you and Dave who bring the charm to your lives, and ours.

With affection and prayers,

MotherZ said...

Dearest Lea,

You had the chance to save your own life and you did it - I LOVE when that happens!!!

With hugs, kisses and much love,

Marjorie said...

Lea, how fortunate that you have these wonderful friends who have experienced what you are going through and can encourage you. But then having met you just twice, your warmth and inner beauty is so obvious and that's why you have this support now.