LIFE, DEATH, CANCER, AND DIGNITY

I don’t talk much about the “reality” of having cancer. It’s not the same for everyone and my cases (two, one for each breast and each different from the other) were relatively mild. The lymph nodes were not attacked, the tumors were (relatively speaking) small. The bigger one in my right breast was the size of a small lemon and the other was half the size. I was assured they were slow-growing but at the same time, I was also warned that it only took a single wandering cell to make it grow somewhere else — probably my lungs.

I had a choice between two complete mastectomies or just having the tumors removed. But I had highly cystic breasts. Figuring out what might be cancer and what was “benign” was going to be very difficult for everyone, especially me. I went with the mastectomies.

To keep the hours of surgery down, I had two surgeons working, one on each side, then two plastic surgeons. A previous hospital had told me they couldn’t give me implants because I had so much scarring from earlier surgeries. I went to a better hospital with more experienced doctors. Seek out the best, most-experienced surgeons you can find. Try to find one who has done hundreds of surgeries like yours. This is not the time to give a newbie her first opportunity. And find a surgeon who listens.

Prefer women. They understand. They have the same parts you do.

Dana-Farber Cancer Hospital (local outlet)

The odds of my getting cancer in both breasts at the same time were staggeringly small. I pointed out that I probably didn’t get them at the same time. I had one and over the years when my doctor forgot to send me for a mammogram, I grew the second. Even though my mother had died from metastasized breast cancer, neither of the tumors was genetically linked. There are lots of genetic linkage involved, but they only know a few of them and insurance will only pay for one test. Pick your tumor. It’s the cancer lotto. Men don’t get our connection to breasts. They see them as a removable piece to get rid of a tumor, not our connection to our womanhood. Where we nursed our babies.

Breast cancer is frighteningly common. There’s a theory that if you live long enough and your were born female, you will get it. Men get it too, by the way and it often gets missed. They aren’t trained to feel for lumps.

When I woke up from surgery, I already had two breast implants in place. This was an act of extraordinary generosity by my plastic surgeon and her associate. Usually they wait for the original surgery to heal, but they felt I needed to be able to look at myself and know I was still a woman. I am deeply grateful. With all the other madness you are going through with cancer, it is good to have surgeons who are also concerned with how you feel about your body and are willing to help.

They don’t keep you long in American hospitals. There’s a rumor that it’s because insurance companies don’t want to pay the money, but the true reason is that there are so many diseases in hospitals that the moment they can get you out of there, they send you home. I’m not talking about poverty stricken hospitals out in the country, but top-notch research and surgical facilities. They want you to leave healthier than when you arrived — and that means getting you out as fast as possible. Also, the odds of your getting edible food are better at home — even if it comes out of a can.

Honestly, I don’t remember much. I know I was in pain, but I was taking so many drugs, my brain was very blunt.

It has been ten years since the original surgery. I have no sign of regrowth, but that doesn’t really mean much. Because of the heart surgery and my metal pacemaker, I can’t have another MRI, so it could have spread. My grandparents, on my mother’s side, both died of pancreatic cancer as did my brother. Just because you’ve had one kind of cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get another. My first husband had kidney cancer, but died of heart disease. It’s all a game of craps. Some of us get everything yet we live on for many years. Others seem completely healthy, get one bout of pneumonia and die.

Moral? Be nice to everyone. You just don’t know what’s coming around the next corner.

So for anyone struggling with cancer or heart disease now, do the best you can. Within the realm of reason, follow your doctor’s orders, but if you don’t feel that the treatment you are on is working for you, speak up. Sometimes medications make you so sick, you have to stop taking them. If you don’t tell them, they may not realize things aren’t going well. When they ask how you feel, tell them. Icky and unpleasant as it is, they need to know and sometimes, small things that don’t seem important to you may be much more important than you realize.

None of us want pity, but all of us want support, sympathy, and kindness. If you don’t know what to say to a sick friend, you aren’t alone. Potentially lethal disease tends to leave us speechless.



Categories: Anecdote, Health, Hospital, Medical, medical history, testing, You can't make this stuff up

Tags: , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. Of death I have no fear.
    It’s the torture I’m not fond of.

    Like

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Marilyn… Lots of great tips for al of us. ❤ Sharing…

    Like

    • There are a lot of people who are not feeling well or are outrightly ill, so it seemed a good time to just tell people that yes, it’s sucks being sick … but we do the best we can and if we are a little lucky, we survive — if not forever (and anyway, life isn’t forever), then at least for a long time.

      Like

  3. I just got home from 6 days in the hospital and the food was wonderful LOL Especially breakfast with made to order omelets…but the toast was just awful…

    Like

  4. thank you for sharing your very open and honest story. gratitude for your very thoughtful and caring docs/caregivers.

    Like

  5. You’re right about hospitals Marilyn, it’s almost the last place you want to be when you’re sick.
    Leslie

    Like

  6. Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing your experiences with cancer and other illnesses. There seem to be a few sick people currently in the blogging world. I’ve wondered if there is a link with all this Covid-19 stress and worry and the spike in sickness and ill health.

    Like

  7. You are more than a survivor, Marilyn. You are a courageous soul! Few others are as candid. Thank you!

    Like

    • I know a few really sick people right now. I wrote for them because I survived. It doesn’t mean everyone survives, but it’s good to know that some do and often for a long time, too. Surviving isn’t courageous, but it does require a kind of steadfast durability which can be very trying, especially if you don’t want to whimper all the time.

      Like

    • Surviving has many rough days. I write sometimes for the everyone who is in that tunnel and needs to get through it and see light again. It can be rough going and it’s easy to tuck it somewhere in your brain and never think about it, but every now and again — when there are so many people struggling to just keep going — I pull out the memories and talk about them. It’s easier to NOT talk about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Cancer does have its mysterious ways. I had a cancerous kidney removed. Now, I have suspicious visitors in one lung, but since I won’t have them fooling around in there, I choose to just treat it with diet. We shall see. You’re right. We never know what is going on with anyone’s body, and kindness is the key .

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    • I know that I’m done with surgery. What will be, will be. I often think the hospitalization and surgery is as bad as the disease itself, especially when we are older, tireder. I don’t think I’d make it through another long stay in the hospital. So I’m with you. What will be will be. This isn’t the modern way, but for some of us, we’ve had all we can take.

      Like

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