No Foolin’ It’s Breast Cancer

By Molly MacDonald

Four years ago on April 1, (yeah yeah yeah, I know what day that is)  I had just completed a presentation at the New York City offices of Major League Baseball.   Afterwards, feeling slightly content with myself, a small smile crossing my face and a hopeful “YES  I nailed it, ” I made a quick stop at the Union Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station for some Oyster Stew and a carryout of the world’s best chocolate mousse to enjoy on the plane ride home.

I was about to begin a new job and hoped to land Major League Baseball as my first big client.

The interim week between leaving one job and starting another seemed the perfect time to take care of all those annual pesky health necessitities.  Teeth cleaned and x-rayed:√  Annual physical with pap smear and breast exam:√  Mammogram: √  Nothing to worry about for another year:√√√.

Until the phone rang in my home office and the caller ID spelled out Wm. Beaumont Hospital . . . . . I cautiously picked it up to hear an all too cheerful and perky voice begin chatting away about the suspicious spots on my mammogram, probably nothing more than benign calcifications, but they wanted to take a second set of films.

Fast forward a week and I have had a biopsy and am on Park Avenue feeling pretty perky myself, except for the nagging knowledge that my phone might ring alerting me of the results.

I am in a cab on my way to LaGuardia when of all things, my cell phone rings . . .

It was my obgyn whose opening statement was, Where are you?” “In a cab on my way to the airport.”  “Could you come into my office to see me first thing Monday morning? ”

“NO, no, no , no,no,no  you, you tell me right now.  It’s bad news right?  Wrong?  I have breast cancer, right?  Don’t hold back, just give me the news.  I am okay.  I can take it.”

And so this woman, about my age, who delivered all five of my children, became the bearer of bad news that ususally begins with (if the bearer displays any senstivity at all)  “I’m sorry.   You  have breast cancer.”

My mind began to fog over, almost like that fake fog they pump onstage for a dream scene sequence, and she was saying something like she was so surprised and it was DCIS, but they had to do surgery and find out if there is lymph node involvement and she is so sorry and do I want to come into the office on Monday. . . . .?????

And I am thinking, be brave, don’t cry, I need a drink . . . . and I begin to open the styrofoam container of chocolate mousse rifling through the white paper bag for the plastic spoon, hoping the mousse will be able to bypass the lump forming in my throat, before I choke to death and don’t have the chance to tell my husband, ‘I HAVE BREAST CANCER!!!!!!!”

Frankly I don’t remember saying much after that except thanking her,  yes, SAYING THANK YOU——–WHO SAYS THANK YOU WHEN YOU GET A BREAST CANCER OR ANY KIND OF CANCER DIAGNOSIS !!! But I was taught to be polite above all else and so I said in my strongest, I am woman, watch me roar voice, “Thank-you.”

While standing in line to go through security I am frantically dialing my husband to tell him what I have just learned and the tears begin to come and my face is feeling warm as they spill down falling into my tub of chocolate mousse which I am eating between stifling sobs.

He says, like he always does when I am upset, “Honey, just come home. Come home.”  And I am thinking, “Well where the hell else am I going to go but home . . . . I am boarding  a plane for God sakes, I am coming  home so that I can meet with the surgeon and find out I am going to lose my breast (s) and who knows what else and What the hell is DCIS anyway?”

Boarding the plane, I am visibly upset and seated between two men.  My sobs have subsided to general weeping and the men are uncomfortable.  It is general knowledge that a crying woman makes a man squirm, particularly if the crying woman is wedged between them in second class on the rush hour flight out of New York after a long week at the office.   The man on my right ignores me and opens a book burying his face between the pages of a small paper back.  Nice try, I am thinking.  While the man on my left, turns and asks, “Is anything wrong?”

DUH, is anything wrong?  Is he wondering,” Did I break- up with my boyfriend, maybe some guy I met on match.com, because I am clearly too old for the bar scene;  or Did my mother die?, or something happen to one of my children?  Or maybe, just maybe, I lost my job,” after all it’s Friday and everyone knows Friday is the day you get fired, if you are going to get fired at all.  They never do that kind of stuff on say, Monday or Tuesday.

And I turn to him and aplogize, because once again, I am trying to be polite and I am feeling guilty for what I am about to lay on him so just like my doctor I start out with, “I’m sorry. And then I say,” I just learned I have breast cancer.”

“Oh,” he bows his head shifting the left and speaks softly to the woman across the aisle from him. The next thing I know he unbuckles his seat belt and they switch seats.

Now let me just pause right here and tell you  that while men generally like, well okay love breasts, think about breasts, like looking at pictures of breasts, not to mention fondling them, burying their head between them and other things, what they DO NOT LIKE is thinking about breasts and cancer.   Together.

So, of course he removed himself from the situation so as I suppose not to wonder the remaining part of the flight, and we had not even taken off, which one was it, while slyly surveying my bustscape.

The woman talks to me in a gentle tone, sympathizing and letting me cry while eating my chocolate mousse.  And I arrive in Detroit somehow believing, “I will be okay.”

I meet my husband, we have a drink (and yes, I am now fully aware of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, which frankly I find like putting salt on the wound—-first they take off your breast and then they take away your wine!).

Just like the day Kennedy was shot, or if you are too young to remember that day, when the Towers fell at the World Trade Center, receiving a cancer diagnosis, is one of those memorable lifetime events. I am not implying that this a good memory.  But it is a memory nontheless.  Not one you necessarily commemorate in a scrapbook, but one that stays with you.

One you can recite aloud for years, should anyone ask, “How did you find out,” and you begin to tell your story.

What’s your story?  Where were you when you heard the news?  Was the doctor sympathetic or coldly direct?  How did you react?

Telling your story is an important part of healing.

It is how we move on.

At The Pink Fund, we listen to stories every day, from women, their friends, their family, a social worker or patient advocate who is trying to get some help.

Sometimes all we can do is listen because we do not have any money.  Other times we feel privileged to be able to pay a bill.

And during those times, when listening is all we have to offer, the caller gets off the phone with the sense, that somehow, “I will be okay.”

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