Thursday, March 1, 2012

Life-Threatening Simplicity (3.1.2012)

When I was going through treatment for breast cancer in 2010, my life was utter simplicity. Having a life-threatening disease would appear to be one of the most complex issues one would ever face. And on the medical side, there were certainly a wide range of complicated issues. For example, after the biopsy which confirmed my initial diagnosis, I needed to have two lumpectomies. Before each lumpectomy, my surgeon (a female who was, in a word, fabulous) would present my case to The Cancer Committee. The Cancer Committee was a hospital-wide group of physicians of all specialties who came together weekly to confer on selected cases. Kind of a cancer brain-trust.

When my surgeon first told me about presenting me at The Cancer Committee, it made me feel special. I thought it was slightly humorous, the idea of a group of physicians looking at my naked MRIs and pathology results under the cover of a “Patient X” designation. Then I became alarmed. As any one will tell you who has had the experience, when you have breast cancer or any other kind of cancer, special is not really a category you want to fall into. You want to be considered middle-of-the-road, boring, average and run-of-the-mill. Exotic or rare are not categories you want anything to do with when you have cancer.
Me and Sam and The Wig

Once she had reassured me that I was truly a special person, but did not have a rare form of cancer, she explained that she had presented my case twice because I was at an early stage and there was still some uncertainty related to whether or not the first surgery had provided clean margins (meaning: they got it all out with room to spare). And whether or not there was something to be gained by a second lumpectomy. And whether or not – if I had dirty margins (similar to a dirty martini) – radiation would take care of them instead of needing a second surgery.  
So, you can see from all this that the business of having breast cancer is hardly the essence of simplicity. But there is some truth to what I say.
After my diagnosis, it became clear to me very quickly that I had just one thing to do in life. And that one thing was to get better. Everything in my life that did not involve surviving or being Sam's Mom for the next 50 years, got put aside. Things that I would normally worry about compulsively like dieting, working-out, the wrinkles on my forehead, the cellulite on my tush or reading the calorie counts on packages after I've already eaten the contents, became less important. I found a singular drive to focus on the essentials of getting better. And part of that was the natural result of feeling bad from the chemo and having to take one day, every day, at a time and hope for the best.
My friends and my family, who I feel I have never adequately thanked, came together to drive me, feed me, sit with me, listen to me, cook for me, hold me, laugh with me and support me during my year of treatment. They are still there for me and I hope I can always be there for them. The simplicity of accepting love and support from people who care about you when you most need it, is the simplest of equations. And during it all, I had just one thing to do: get better. It couldn’t have been any simpler.
[Author’s Note: I was diagnosed with Stage II DCIS in February 2010. After 20 weeks of chemo and several surgeries, I have been completely cancer-free since October 2010 and pretty much all surgically put back together if you don't look too closely.]   

14 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post! Testimony to the life lessons adversity has to offer. And I'm very glad you let us know you're cancer free!

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  2. Thank you, Laurie! Happy to be able to tell the story...:-)

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  3. Well written and insightful. I'm sure you're all the wiser due o your ordeal, as much as you probably would have preferred to skip it all. But there's a life wisdom that resonates here for us all.

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    1. Thanks Sandra! And true: it's nice to learn something when you're in the middle of a dog fight, but we can all do without it to begin with...lol

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  4. Thank you for sharing this with us!

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    1. Hi Claudia! I saw your blog today -- what a beautiful apple pie. You are making me want to cook something...thanks for reading!

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  5. Simple will keep you calm, denine. Nice post.

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    1. I have to remember that. Being Italian and from NYC, I get caught- up sometimes...LOL. Thanks!

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  6. It is so true that illness clears away all the clutter from our lives. I have never faced life-threatening illness, just chronic pain, but your post touches my heart all the same. Thank you for sharing. Beautifully rendered.

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  7. Thanks Tara, I really appreciate that. At least my experience --generally speaking-- had a beginning middle and an end. I'm sure chronic pain is not for sissies. Will have to check your blog and see if you've written about that...?

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  8. You're right Denine, I can TOTALLY relate. I was also am"special" cancer case and survival, motherhood, etc was always in the forefront of my mind. We both are so fortunate to have supportive family and friends! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It makes such a difference, doesn't it? And I am your new "journey buddy", Anna. :-) Keep me posted...

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  9. What a wonderful, life-affirming post. Beautiful.

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