I don’t talk much about the “reality” of having cancer. It’s not the same for everyone. I had it twice, once for each breast and each was unrelated to the other. It was relatively minor for me other than the drugs and the surgery, but I never faced death. I knew mine would remit. The lymph nodes were not attacked, the tumors were on the small side and not aggressive. The bigger one in my right breast was the size of a small lemon and the other was half that 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 having the tumors removed and leaving the rest of the breast intact.

I had highly cystic breasts. Figuring out what might be cancer and what was “benign” would be very difficult. I had the mastectomies.

To keep the hours of surgery down, I had two surgeons working, one on each side, then two plastic surgeons creating “new” fake breasts. A previous hospital had told me they couldn’t have 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.

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 after my doctor forgot to send me for a mammogram, I grew the second.

Breast cancer is about as common for women as prostate cancer is for men. There’s a theory that if you live long enough, you will get it. Men get breast cancer too, by the way. It often gets missed. Men 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.

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 not working well.

It has been thirteen years since the original surgery. I have no sign of regrowth, but that doesn’t 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.

What’s the moral? Be nice. You just don’t know what’s coming around the corner for you — or anyone else.

For anyone struggling with cancer or heart disease, within the realm of reason, follow your doctor’s orders. If you don’t feel the treatment you are getting is working, speak up. Sometimes medications make you so sick, so you have change them. If you don’t tell your doctor, he or she may not realize things aren’t going well. When they ask how you feel, tell them. They need to hear from you. Sometimes small things which might not seem important may be more important than you realize.

None of us want pity, but all of us want support, sympathy, and kindness. As a friend, if you don’t know what to say, you aren’t alone. Serious illness often leaves us speechless. Mostly, be there. Listen, try to not be too grim. Don’t act like it’s “no big deal.” It IS a big deal. Your job as a friend is to figure out what your friend needs, what will make her less troubled.

Mostly, BE there. Even if you have nothing to say, be there.

Categories: #Health, Medical, You can't make this stuff up, Anecdote, Hospital

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Ahh fuck! Sucks, don’t it.


  2. Thanks for this thoughtful information, Marilyn.


  3. what a wild ride for you on so many levels, Marilyn. Congratulations on managing to get through. And yes, your advice on telling the truth on how you’re feeling is very important. I used to tell my patients that my mind reading skills were not all that good, and if they didn’t tell me something, it reduced the odds of my being useful to them. Also excellent advice on seeking an experienced surgeon if you’re going to have a “big deal” surgery–experience in the provider and in the hospital really makes a difference. And for all of us: Listen and be kind!


    • I finally got a doctor who actually WANTS to know the details, not just the general idea. I refused the first surgeon. She had a dozen surgeries, but she knew everything. I went to Fallon, which is the Dana-Farber Women’s hospital in Boston. They didn’t know everything. I got sympathy and CHOICES. And they had done hundreds — maybe thousands — of surgeries. The head surgeons — one was the surgical oncologist and the other the plastic surgeon — were even better than I imagined. No matter how inconvenient, it makes a HUGE difference to find the best possible doctor for whatever you need done.

      AND we ALL need to listen, both patients and doctors and everyone else giving and receiving medical services. Too many doctors don’t listen — and far too many patients are getting their information from the internet. They know too much of the wrong stuff!


  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences. The more people do that, the more information others have to support and help them if/when needed.


    • My parents weren’t big on sharing medical information. Now that they are long gone, I’m having to try to figure out a lot of things I could have known had someone just told me. So I try to share. I hope it helps someone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mine were the same. If a doctor asks me if there’s any history of X or Y in the family I have no idea unless they themselves had it, and even then I’m sure there’s some things they never mentioned.


        • My parents — I’m speculating because I don’t know and it’s too late to ask — didn’t want to scare us. I’m pretty sure my mother in particular didn’t want us to know the details because it might bring bad vibes. But there are a lot of things I wish I knew. I can just take a “best guess.”

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve certainly been through the mill Marilyn, so to speak. Thanks for sharing, and for your practical insights.


  6. You have given very good advice Marilyn. Thank you


  7. I agree that we should open up more and say how we’re feeling. Pot luck whether anyone is listening though… I speak from experience!


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