All the world’s a story

Hiya, peeps!

As some of you know, I had a mastectomy in February, 2012. I lost a breast and some lymph nodes. I was lucky. The cancer that was found was more a pre-cancer, staged at 0 because it was completely contained within the milk ducts of my breast. It’s called DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ (sy-too). Unfortunately, it was diffuse throughout my breast and a lumpectomy wasn’t going to take care of it. On the plus side, I didn’t have to have radiation or chemo.

I’ve been pretty open about this situation and some of the things the journey since has entailed. You can find some of that here, here, here, and here.

So every year, about this time, I have to get a mammogram on my remaining breast. Which invariably stresses me out beyond belief. I’m in a higher risk group for an invasive cancer, now, thanks to the cooties I had in my no-longer-extant breast. Every check-up thus freaks me the *%&# out. I try not to let it get to me, but it does.

There are always a lot of other women at the facility who are going through the same thing. And we all wear hospital gowns that are basically the same color, the same shapeless tent-like form that tie in the front. We all share the commonality of the gown. All kinds of women. All ages, shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds.

Another equalizer. The fabulous hospital gown. source

Because breast cancer doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from. It is a great equalizer, and you realize that fact, when you’re sitting in the waiting room as the radiologist goes over the results of your mammogram. All these women — some of whom you might never have given the time of day to before your yearly checkup — become your allies, and for a little while, your best support network. Your best freaking friends.

I met one of my best friends this past week in the waiting room. I liked her immediately because she was wearing boots. Flat-heeled roper boots that looked like she wore them a lot. She must have known I was nervous because she started talking to me. She was very calm and it helped, to chat. One of the volunteers showed up and reminded us all that there was coffee, juice, and snacks if we wanted them. I asked for a margarita and that made everybody laugh. Defused some of the tension that I and others were feeling, because the waiting room in a mammogram facility isn’t full of dancing unicorns and rainbows.

Sixteen years, my new best friend told me. That’s how long it had been since she lost her breast and lymph nodes and every year since she gets checked. She was an old hand at this. Unfazed, it seemed, with the kind of wisdom that comes with living through a hell of a lot more.

She had. She told me that soon after she’d had reconstructive surgery on her breast, she was in a devastating car accident. It broke all kinds of bones from her ribcage to her femurs. All kinds of things broke. She said she was so broken that her doctors didn’t think she’d walk again. She was bedridden for 9 months and then in a wheelchair for a year. But, she said, she knew she’d walk. She had to. She wanted to make sure because one, she was going to live and two, she’d walk because she wanted to raise her young son.

Damn, I thought. That’s why she can sit here in this waiting room with the wisdom of many lifetimes. She’s lived a few.

I asked her about her pain level and she said she’s always in physical pain, but moving around helps. I suggested acupuncture and tai chi, that there were studies that demonstrated both can help with pain management. I do them to help manage my depression and to help me meditate. She may not feel results right away, I said, but it was worth a try. She seemed open to the suggestion. I hope she does it and it helps.

At that point, she got her all clear and she stood and she smiled at me and said that it’ll be okay and then she was gone, following the tech farther into the bowels of the treatment center to check in with her surgeon (same one I had) before she left, another mammogram done, another watermark for her.

I sat for a while, feeling a little calmer, even though I had to have an ultrasound after she left. That’s what happens when you have a history of boobie cooties. Everything is suspect and they poke and prod and examine and screen and analyze and poke and prod some more. But I thought about that woman while I was getting the ultrasound, and what she’d been through and it helped that she’d been so warm and welcoming and shared that bit of herself to a stranger who really needed some reassurance.

She was my best friend, if only for an hour. But I’ll carry her story with me, now, along with mine, and all the others I’m fortunate enough to be privy to. That’s something I’ve learned over the years. We all have stories. And you might think yours don’t matter, or that they’re not exciting or interesting or worth sharing.

They are.

You might not see how much your story matters to someone, but in the act of sharing it, you’re giving a gift.

Happy Friday, all. Take care of yourselves and each other. You’re the only you we’ve got.

Yeah, you might not get these in a mammogram facility, but by golly, you will at Women and Words!
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33 thoughts on “All the world’s a story

  1. Dear Andi,
    Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. It is these stories that make our lives rich and capture the best of what happens between people …
    Interesting that, when we are open to life (often at our most vulnerable times, it seems), there are no strangers, only other people who have the same fears, hopes, and experiences that we have …
    Lynn

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  2. So many thanks, Andi, for this blog. The only thing it is missing is a tissue. My heartfelt gratitude at your sharing of your story. My mother had breast cancer and won’t talk about it. I hope your friend is there when she goes for her mammogram next time.

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    1. Some women (and men who go through it) don’t talk about their experiences with breast cancer. It’s not something I talk about every day, but I do like to discuss it now and again because it is part of my story and my journey and if anybody can get something out of it, then good. Some people are totally comfortable not discussing it, and that’s fine. Maybe your mom, when she goes for her follow-ups, meets lots of best friends in the mammogram facility and that’s where she talks about it. 🙂

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  3. I always enjoy your blogs, but this one touched a chord…not cancer for me, but a clotting disorder. I take Warfarin and must have a weekly blood test to determine my blood level- – too thin and I could bleed to death- – too thick means more clots. Is it a pain to go every Thurs. for this test- – yes, but do I ever complain- – no. It keeps me alive and life is good, as my favorite t-shirts say. Thanks for sharing your story. I know it will bring comfort to many. As my mom always tells me, “Jacky, don’t complain. It could always be something so much worse.” At times, it doesn’t seem that way, but when I think about it, she’s right. As long as you keep writing, I will keep reading!

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  4. Thank you Andi for sharing your story, thank you all for reading, sharing and caring.
    In my mind I’m writing an answer to communicate myself. Oh well.

    Womenandwords 🙂

    For the moment:
    I had a wonderful day today. Sharing truly delicious food with a dear friend I met duringTai Chi week in Tuscany only last year in May. We had lessons during 5 years before that and we connected last May in Italy.

    Delightful lunch today: truffles prepared in many different ways. It was delicous and her gift. I’m so grateful.On our way back in the train we ended up in a “Silence Coupe”. Another story.

    In two months it’s my turn to be creative 🙂

    I had my check-up here in the Netherlands almost 2 weeks ago. I was diagnozed Januari 2013 and had my surgery on Valentines day. (I finally got my years right :-))

    All’s well in the moment 🙂

    Lots of love and thank you for being ‘out there’.

    Linda

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  5. Not fun time, sitting in waiting rooms of specialists, passing exams and waiting for results, but it’s getting easier with every good result. I don’t like to talk about my lumpectomy and mastectomy four years later, but it is necessary to keep optimistic. My second time happened when I was in deep funk after my baby brother unexpectedly died and my mom got a brain stroke. State of your mind is a huge factor.

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  6. Heartfelt blog…you and your new BF for an hour gave the rest of us such a sense of hope and a far greater knowledge on what it must take to more than survive those most difficult of times. Thank you Andi…this was one of your best.

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  7. I had the same thing, but it wasn’t as big so I had a lumpectomy first, but more tests revealed it was a vicious cancer and would return in 2 to 3 years so 6 weeks later I was in for a mastectomy, no more right breast. I wouldn’t have a reconstruction, still don’t really know why, it was when they mentioned a possibility of nerve damage in the arm and I thought sooner have my arm. That was 2005, 12 months later they found cancerous cells in the womb lining and I went in for a radical hysterectomy. The two were not connected but the hot flushes every 30 minutes stopped me wearing my prosthetic because I couldn’t stand anything on. To this day I do not wear a prosthetic unless I’m getting dressed up, messes up the buttons on the blouse/shirt. It is surprising how many people do not notice. I don’t care anyway I’m still here and feeling good. So take a good book with you while you wait for that vicious machine to check you out and think to yourself, it only takes half the time it would for other women to get theirs done. Lots of love to you and keep up the writing xx

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I’m so glad you weathered the storm.

      I did not have reconstruction, either, and I do wear a prosthesis. One of the things I had to deal with after my mastectomy was shoulder issues on the mastectomy side. Removing all that tissue changes the way things attach in your musculature, so I had to do some physical therapy to re-work that shoulder and get it to re-establish itself in a way that worked. I do the exercises on both sides, for balance!

      I do have nerve damage. That is, I can’t feel anything on the pectoral where my breast was. I can detect pressure, but I can’t detect hot or cold. I have regained sensation in my armpit, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back on my pectoral. ::shrug:: It is what it is. 🙂

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      1. My surgeon cut some nerve nodes together with lymph nodes in my armpit, so I had some nerve damage as well. Twelve years later after THAT operation I hardly recognise where it was. No reconstruction either. Prosthesis, I guess, are usualy made too heavy. Women don’t wear all the weight of their breasts on their shoulders!

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  8. One of my golf buddies has had two mastectomies, seven years apart, and her attitude is amazing! About a year after her second mastectomy, she got a notice from our hospital for her yearly mammogram. Her reply to them ” do you think they grow back?” She is a warrier!!! Stay well!

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  9. Wonderful post. 🙂 There are so many inspiring people in the world. They’re not all on display (as in public figures) but they’re all worth just as much when you hear their stories. This post has inspired me with my issues, so thank you.

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