Saturday, August 25, 2012

Waypoint 300 and The Picasso Breast

This is Blog #300 since that first one on January 7, 2011. I knew it would be next when I published 299 and contemplated whether it would be business as usual with Thursdays Out or even my reflections on the Olympics

I made a collection of photos some while ago that I called "The Picasso Breast" because when I look in the mirror at the slightly geometric shape of my breast resulting from a lumpectomy, I always refer to it as my Picasso Breast. See? Something like this, I thought, that I could display from my collection.

Another waypoint at the same crossroads as 300 made this the right time to haul out the collection. They gave me a new oncologist last week. Except for the occasional substitute, He has been my oncologist since February of 2009. He was the part of my team that continued with the follow-up and I have great confidence in him.

He has left. She has replaced him. She comes with good credentials. My friend with the worst breast cancer of all sings her praises. Still, this change was not any idea of mine and I'll need to adjust.
The following examples of Picasso Breast come from various sources on the Internet and portray works by Pablo Picasso.

I got a call-back on a November, 2004, mammogram to take a look at something suspicious. Fear punched me in the gut and radiated outward throughout my body from there. In my mind I had received a death sentence, just like my first-ever awareness of breast cancer -- back when the word "breast" was embarrassing to utter -- at age 10, when my Bluebird leader, the mother of a friend, a young mother, died. Died.

After a digital look (the first digital mammo I think I'd had) at my left breast, everything turned out to be okay, but it took until February -- three months later -- to get the word.

I had another mammo with a call-back a couple of years later, which I met with less panic, and got prompt feedback that everything was okay. Friends were having the same thing happen to them. We decided that in this lawsuit-happy society, this was just CYA for the doctors and hospital.

Still, I knew women who were whispered about in somber tones that they had breast cancer, and I might see them out occasionally, their headscarves covering the baldness of chemo, brave-faced. I'd be hesitant to ask how they were doing. Was that too private a question? If I didn't see them for a while, I'd be afraid to ask. I've been widowed twice and knew the awkward situation when someone asks after your spouse and you must provide the news of his death.

After several clear mammos, I was pretty blasé about a call-back for one in early November of 2008, with the repeat being done 10 days later. My doctor wanted to see me when he got the results. He said the radiologist wanted to do a needle biopsy. That was scheduled for the next week. Just after the biopsy, Sister-in-Law and I headed off to Yosemite for a four-day vacation at the Ahwahnee Hotel as previously planned. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Ahwahnee, it's a really big deal, and we only can go because we get a really good deal just for keeping the rooms occupied in the low season.

A call from the doctor came the day we arrived home. You have breast cancer. That was when other tests and the round of appointments with those who would become my team began: the surgeon, the radiation oncologist, the regular oncologist, and also my gynecologist. Sister, who is a nurse, accompanied me on most visits, for technical, emotional and clerical support.

My surgeon, a dynamic young woman, ordered a double-breasted MRI (Sister insisted it's called "bi-lateral") and a check on ovary health. Goodbye hormones, hello hot flashes. Things looked good at that point. The cancer was small, detected early, the prognosis excellent. I might be a candidate for MammoSite radiation, a procedure considerably less grueling than regular radiation,  not to mention the radiation oncologist was uniformly reported to be very nice to look at. (True.)

Now I was one of those women whom people would whisper about, would hear I'd been diagnosed with cancer, would be hesitant to ask. There were relatives who'd want to know, as would close friends. There were friends a little further removed who might be interested. I didn't want dribbles of information to get out that would get distorted in the manner of the telephone game. And I didn't really mind that people would know. So before I even had surgery or knew the outcome, I sent an email out to all I thought would be interested or concerned and proposed that I would keep all who wanted to be up-to-date.

I wrote eight updates to the initial email, covering the the breast surgery in January, and ovary surgery and radiation treatment in February. Yes, I qualified for Mammosite, a five-day targeted radiation treatment. I called it my Radiation Vacation since I spent my time between two treatments a day seeing all the big movies of the season, something that's hard to do anywhere near my little town.

After radiation, my radiation oncologist told me I didn't have cancer any more. But I don't trust cancer, and I'm too superstitious to call myself a Cancer Survivor. I've seen that shit come back and kick too many people in the teeth.

This blog isn't the saga of my breast cancer, however. Oddly, it's partly about my trip to France for the Writing from the Heart Workshop in October, 2010. Five of us spent five days with teacher and writer Janet Hulstrand in Essoyes, France, digging within ourselves and learning to share without being afraid of exposing our innermost thoughts and fears. We explored what we wanted from our writing and how that influenced the kind of writing we want to do.

Although I'd wanted to write novels all my life, and had completed one (RE-JEC-TED) and almost finished another, I found I'm past the time in life when I still want to do that. I don't need to write for the money, so I really can Write from the Heart. There are several bloggers -- well, maybe it's many -- who write about their daily lives, and that may be their only commonality. I enjoy reading these stories of their lives and want to do that, too. I marvel that some people tell me they enjoy my meanderings. Reflecting back, rereading the emails I sent to my friends during my treatments, they were in most respects, blogs. A harbinger.

All my mammograms have been okay to date -- and I've had lots of them -- since the lumpectomy and radiation. My "chemo" is a five-year course of an aromatase inhibitor -- at least I think that's what it is. That leaves about a year-and-a-half to go. It turns out I'm not a person who needs to know all the technical stuff. That's what my team is for. I hope She, the new oncologist, turns out to be a good member of the team.

Okay, let me close (or start to close) with a story on Sister. My surgeon sent her out to buy me a bra with fasteners down the front so I'd be able to manage  a tube that is part of the MammoSite procedure on my own during Radiation Vacation. She came back with this:

It doesn't fasten down the front, but it was a considerable morale booster once I didn't need a front-closer any more.

I couldn't decide which Picasso Breast best portrays mine, but I offer this:

Dora Maar with Cat

Because, as you know, I love cats. (I know. It's a challenge to discern the cat. But I'm going by the title.)

I'm in the midst of getting ready for a trip, with many other non-related things to do before I can go, so I make no promises that I'll see you soon. I hope at least I'll see you on the trip, but the certainty of WiFi is, well, uncertain.


  1. lee, you're strong, brave and you continue to inspire me. enjoy your next adventure! where are you off too?

    1. Thank you, Lisa. The quilters tour is in September this year, the one I go to almost annually, largely in May. Patchwork Européen is being held in four small villages in Alsace, which is what this year's trip was scheduled to take advantage of.

  2. Great Blog. What did you do about the bra opening in the front? Did I ignore that request?

    1. I think that particular feature just didn't impress itself on your memory. I found one at Target or Wal-Mart somewhere around town there.

  3. Lee, you are such a strong, independent and brave woman. Perhaps having survived things that would flatten some people, make us dare to be honest. I can't imagine that you would accept anything but the truth in your writing. This is a great piece. Maybe you should consider writing your memoir. This would make a great chapter!

    I've missed you while I've been on hiatus. I see you're planning another trip. Will have to catch up on all of your adventures.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Renee. I did read an excellent book on memoir. I think it's listed on my "Books I Actually Finished Reading" page, but I'm afraid to check in case I lose this window. It's an excellent book on the topic. I feel that blogging is something of a continuing memoir. :-)

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