My breast lump is tiny and pokey. It measures 0.6 x 0.3 x 0.2 cm, a circumscribed tumor nodule with a parallel orientation at the 11:00 position, approximately 9 cm from the nipple. Reading over the interim print report, I could only smile about the coincidence of my scheduled 11:00 AM Monday surgery and the position of the nodule. It sounds better to call it a nodule than a tumor.
“Why did this happen to me?” I wondered aloud. What did “doing everything” to prevent cancer really mean? There are days I skipped sun screen. I don’t exercise as much and as hard as I should. And, oh yeah, I live in a highly polluted urban area of the United States, but I eat healthy and try and keep my stress to a minimum.
Two weeks before I discovered the lump, I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about breast cancer along with the pop culture of advertising it over the last ten years. It began with a disclosure that the author was a breast cancer survivor, so I naturally thought it would be a positive article on the strides in breast cancer that science and the Komen organization has made over the last few years. Not exactly the case. The article talked about the flaws of Komen recommending mammograms as a way to prevent breast cancer. While Komen, along with the American Cancer Society are credited with raising the profile of the disease, encouraging women to speak about their experience and transforming “victims” into “survivors,” the Komen pink-ribbon culture has become less about eradication of breast cancer than self-perpetuation: maintaining the visibility of the disease and keeping the funds rolling in.
For the last ten years, I have felt a certain disgust in seeing how the pink-ribbon culture has narrowed our awareness of what is being done in research to prevent breast cancer: Pink ribbons on high-rise buildings, pink garbage trucks, pink gloves and pink spike shoes on football players, pink stockings, and pink ballet shoes—its relentless marketing has made the pink ribbon one of the most recognized logos of our time. It has come to symbolize both fear of the disease and the hope it can be defeated.
One hundred and eight American women die of breast cancer each day. Some can live for a decade or more with metastatic disease, the median life span is 26 months. I don’t want to be part of the statistics.
On the Friday before my scheduled surgery, I walked over to the breast center to request the radiologist report. I wanted to study it over the weekend, find a weak link in it, a mistake, something that might lead me to discover some inconsistency in the results. I opened the door to find six ladies with large pink ribbons in their hair. They stood around a table set for a party: a cake as the center piece with bright pink frosting, cupcakes with pink and white sprinkles, pink plastic forks and pink napkins, and purple punch with a pink ribbon painted on the glass pitcher.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“We are having a mammogram party,” a lady told me in between bites of cake.
After signing the release consent, the receptionist handed me my ultra sound report. I said goodbye to the giggling women just as one of them was called into an exam room. I wished them luck and left.
I didn’t quite understand the concept of the party. It was a sort of celebration before the mammogram study. I couldn’t believe they were resorting to “parties” at the breast center, but then again I had nothing to celebrate yet.
May 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm
really like your sensitive, emotional writing—–Warren Watson
April 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm
I had a chest mass called a thymoma, stage two. After it was removed the incorrect way, I would begin to study this dilemma in depth. It’s an indolent tumor but if it’s not removed with wide margins (en bloc) it can recur, any time. I was ill counseled, but with ernest and great intentions. I had a vats, a very small incision and close approach. The slick surgeon, after a seven hour surgery, would “high-five” me. “got it all, in one piece” he said. But three days later, micro had a slighter different opinion. hmmmm.
“Well”, they said. “the tumor has penetrated the capsule wall” That fact created about a twenty percent chance of recurrence, which of course is bad. This percentage would have been 1% with wide en-block surgery. They recommended radiation. Radiation oncology said this,
“I’m so excited. I’ve figured out a way to only burn 20% of the lung parenchyma!” With my life-long crappy lungs that didn’t seem like reason to rent the Taj Mahal, for a party.
I would begin an anxiety filled journey to understand this tumor, and to find someone to tell me, “maybe you don’t need radiation”. Let’s just say it was a medical journey involving MD Anderson where the gurus’ nurse practitioner would respond to my one-more-question phone call this way:
“You have to understand, Dr. Linn is a very busy man and he spent a considerable amount of time with you already. No, you can’t talk to him again. But if you want, you can set up another appnt with him next month!” Of course that wasn’t possible.
Seven years and counting. I don’t know if I made a correct or incorrect decision not having radiation. I get too many cat scans!
I always am a pretty empathic doc, but this journey was illuminating. One searches for help and answers at a time of terrible stress and confusion. If this stuff occurs to a sophisticated MD, I can’t even imagine what its like for others.
April 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm
Love the uniqueness of your blog. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. I’m excited to follow your blog. Can’t wait to read more about you and your journey.