Diagnosis The first…


The first needle is long, but no worse than the dentists,
a small prick in an unaccustomed place. Rat-tat!
Rat-tat! The biopsy sounds like the beat of a distant
drum, or, more sharply, a staple-gun, extracting
rather than inserting. Two days later, the breast
still aches and the results are in. Surprising. She
was so young. Is. Is, of course. At forty-three,
on the young side for this, but not outside the bounds.

The last lump we were sure was cancer:
benign uterine fibroids, only fertility-threatening.
Spurring a spiral of panic, months of weeping
about children not yet had. Perhaps responsible
for our finally having children at all. The pointed
impetus, the reminder that we dont actually have
all the time in the world. The odds are with us,
this time. Only one out of twenty wont make it.
We have been lucky so far. Rat-tat. Rat-tat.


Cancer Log, 1

So, I had a routine mammogram a few weeks ago; they found a suspicious mass and had me come back for a more thorough screening mammogram. They followed it up that same day with an ultrasound, and soon after, with a biopsy. The biopsy found breast cancer.

The prognosis is quite hopeful, we think. Nothing is certain yet  were waiting on some hormone results and an upcoming MRI on Friday, so that the oncologists can do their assessment. Im meeting with them next week, at which point I should learn definitively what stage its at.

But that said, my best guess, based on what we know so far, is that its early stage 2. Thats very good, as these things go. That group now has a 95% five-year survival rate. (Thats a confusing phrase  it means that after five years, theyre still fine, and many of those people go on to live a long life afterwards, and even eventually die from things that arent cancer.)

And as friends have pointed out to me, in that 5% who dont make it, there are people who are already sick with other things, who may have compromised immune systems, who have other factors like alcoholism and drug addiction, who may be non-compliant with their medications, etc. and so on. So the odds are likely even better; there has been a tremendous amount of research into breast cancer, and they have gotten very good at treating it lately.

That said, it is, of course, a bit stunning. I fully expected the biopsy results to come back negative; I am somewhat young for this, and we have no history of cancer in our family, as far as I know. The next several months are likely to be somewhat rough, although I dont know yet what my specific protocol will entail. Probably lumpectomy and radiation, possibly more radical surgery and/or chemo.

I have a truly tremendous support network, a family full of knowledgeable doctors, and my department is being terrific about this as well. I plan to continue teaching every day I feel well enough to, and theyll bring in people to cover when I cant. My plan is pretty much to go on as close to normal as possible. Ive been through three major surgeries already (two c-sections, one breast reduction, which, incidentally, should have nothing to do with the development of cancer), and I already know that my body tends to heal well and quickly from surgery. We're in fine financial shape, with good insurance coverage. My life is in a very stable and happy place generally, and I have so many strong factors in my favor  it feels a bit weird to say this, but I cant think of anyone I know in a better position to deal with this.

I plan to write about this, probably a lot, and be very transparent about the process. One great thing about being an artist is that when terrible things happen to you, you have a little voice in the back of your head saying, Well, at least this will be good for my art! The main way Ive dealt with every difficult thing in my life is by writing about it, so I dont see any reason to stop now. I dont think the conversations going to be all-cancer, all the time; among other things, Im still deeply involved in the SF novel Im writing.

Okay, I think thats about it. If you have questions, do feel free to ask, but I may not get to the answers for a while, or possibly, not at all. Ive been telling close friends and family, and one thing Ive found is that it does take time and energy to respond properly to well wishes. If I dont get back to you, please know that your thoughts are read and appreciated. Thanks, folks.

3 thoughts on “Diagnosis The first…”

  1. Oh, my dearest Mary Anne!

    May it all go as well as possible, and may you be transparent when that’s right for you and not when that’s right for you, and may everyone around you find the strength they need for you and for themselves.

    I am thinking of you.

  2. I am offering all the emotional support I can, from this distance, Mary Anne. It must be quite a shock. I remember when my physician thought I had bone cancer, in 1963. I was fortunate. May you be just as fortunate in times to come.

  3. Invasive breast cancer will strike 1 in 8 American women. Cancer is a difficult, scary word and it makes us face our own mortality. But it’s really just another damn thing to get through in life, one step at a time. You can do it.

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