Cancer #2

Some of this is just facts.

I have two different primary cancers, one in each breast. Both are small: right side is six millimeters, left side is 1.3 centimeters. A biopsy shows cancer in the lymph nodes under my right arm. The number of women presenting with two primary cancers at the time of initial diagnosis is somewhere around 1%. I am quite special. The cancers themselves, though, are very ordinary. Hormone positive with strong receptivity for both estrogen and progesterone, HER/2 negative. These are common and therefore treatable breast cancers. We know a lot about them, says Dr. Port. We know a lot about what to do with them.

What we’ll do with them is this: I will have two lumpectomies, a sentinel node biopsy of my left arm lymph nodes, and an axillary dissection of my right arm lymph nodes. Recovery from the lumpectomies should just be a few days. I’ll wear a drain in my right arm for up to two weeks. Surgery will be May 29th. I’ll have a follow up with the surgeon on June 8th.

Can I go to Croatia? You may have to hide a small bag under a cardigan sweater. I can hide many things under my cardigan sweater.

The other option, of course, is a double mastectomy. Removing my breasts entirely is a guard against future cancers. I can’t get breast cancer if I don’t have breast tissue. Three factors are in play: a genetic mutation, bilateral breast cancer, and my age at diagnosis, which is 42. (It’s so funny to be young right when I’m starting to feel old.) When I am at my most afraid, when I was huddling over a second glass of wine in the Italian restaurant block from the hospital, crying and crying and crying, in between the PET scan and hearing the results of the PET scan, a double mastectomy makes the most sense.

I want to be done with it, with this.

But we don’t get to be done with it. We don’t get to done with this.

It’s been funny to hear people talk to me about assessing risk, about making decisions about some fantastic and imaginary future and not about my present condition (treatable and curable with a lumpectomy, says this surgeon I trust so much, longevity is the same either way). People say, You could be hit by a truck while crossing the street! That’s how we think about future threat. That already happened to me. My dad was hit by a truck while crossing the street. It’s actually true. You could be hit by a truck while crossing the street. I could be too. I could get cancer again. Or I could not get cancer again. None of the future is happening right now. Plenty of present things are.

So, I am choosing to act on what’s now, since that is all I know and all I have information about. I have been surprised at how much my bodily integrity matters to me. That hasn’t usually been what I’ve valued about me. It’s what’s in the skull, the noggin, if you were here with me now you’d see me tapping my forehead: it’s this. But it turns out it’s this body I inhabit too, a body that I am lucky to experience as a whole one as it is in itself right now. That is a gift from the universe, and one I would like to keep.

May 29th.

Leave a Reply