In late June of 1995, I went for my yearly gynecological exam. I was 43 years old and not too concerned about much regarding my physical health. I exercised and ate fairly well, and I had no particular questions for my gynecologist. This examination was purely routine.
Or so I thought.
It went kind of like this. Me sitting on the examination table with nothing on but a white paper bag-of-sorts, my gynecologist asking if anything had changed in the past year. Nope. Him talking away during the Pap Smear and snapping off his gloves in a very happy, positive way once it was over. Good. On to the breast exam. OK. Him doing the once-over thing, talking the entire time. OK. Then him knitting his brow and going back to one spot on the lower left side of my left breast. Hmmmmm. Then silence and going back again to the same spot. PLEASE, NO. Him stopping and telling me he’d be back with someone else to check out the possibility of a tiny lump. My heart stopped.
Within what seemed a second, another physician was standing over me, his hands feeling… pressing… feeling. My gynecologist pointed to the lower left side of my left breast and then they both were silent. The other physician felt something, too. Then off to get an x-ray. Everything, then, became a shadowy blur. I got dressed and was escorted into another room where the 2 physicians talked about the tiny lump… and a biopsy… soon… and I remember thinking, wishing Barry was there… I wanted to cry but I was so numb that I couldn’t even do that. I was handed papers and signed things and an appointment was made for the surgery. The following week. I remember thinking why can’t we do it today, right now, right now so I don’t have to tell my husband and live with this for a whole week.
But that’s what I had to do. I drove home with thousands of thoughts racing through my mind. I made dinner. I talked and smiled with the kids. I couldn’t seem to get Barry alone. To tell him. To fall into his arms and cry and scream, maybe. And finally that night I did tell him. I did fall into his arms and cry. I was too weak to scream. I decided not to tell the kids and not to tell my Mom and not to tell anyone. As it turned out, I had to tell my very good friend Barbara… the Mom of the boy Janie was dating at the time… so she would make sure Janie stayed at their home all day on the day of my surgery. The other kids were all scheduled with working summer jobs and wouldn’t even notice that I wasn’t home.
I remember driving to the place of the surgery. It was a beautiful morning. I remember changing in the little cubicle and Barry being so kind… but I could see the fear in his eyes and in his voice. I felt so helpless. I felt no connection to my body… then the anesthesia kicked in.
Then it was over.
I awoke to a kind nurse, a smiling nurse. She told me that the physician would be in soon. And he was. He, too, was smiling. He said everything looked OK. I asked if Barry could come in. Yes. I cried with relief. Joy. It is a feeling I cannot explain. It is an elation that I never want to feel again… because of the contrasting fear that preceded it. I was blessed that day. I rested for quite some time and was then released to go home… armed with a velcro around-the-chest ice pack, pain medication and instructions to rest some more. I didn’t need the instructions to rest. I immediately got an anesthesia-induced migraine and couldn’t move from my couch for 2 days. This, with the chest ice-pack, became the hint of hints to my children that something had gone on… and I told them the story of the little lump. All kinds of emotions ran through them; mostly, relief. My Mom was a different story. She was upset… angry, even… that I hadn’t confided in her. I told her that I hadn’t wanted her to worry… and she told me that she had the right to know and to worry if necessary and to be there for me. I understood. I felt it was an all’s well that ends well situation, but I did understand my Mom’s feelings and I felt awful.
Not 2 years later, my cousin Cathy, at age 37, received a grave diagnosis of breast cancer. Cathy fought this diagnosis head-on with courage beyond courage… and lost her battle after 7 brave years. It was Cathy who scolded me, reminded me, begged me to keep updated with my mammograms… and it is Cathy who I think of every day of every year… October being a special reminder of Cathy because her birthday is in October, just like mine. Cathy left three children, a husband and her family shattered with grief.
It is Cathy whom I honor in our Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness Pledge. It’s the physicians and nurses who took the time to find my little lump and take such good care of me whom I honor this month. It is my family, my CIRCLE OF GIRLS, whom I honor with my topless photograph with my daughters Audrey and Jane. I wrote a blog post last week how I would tell my 2 granddaughters (both 9 years old), Taylor and Maddie, about the photograph… and how they inspired me to reach as many people as possible to spread breast cancer awareness. I wrote how I would show the photo to my grandsons, too…
Well, that opportunity arose last night at dinner… a dinner celebrating my 58th birthday… when my husband gave me a framed print of that photograph… with all of my grandchildren around me. As predicted, the girls had a million questions… lovely questions. Interesting comments. And great assessments. Taylor said, “Grandma, two things. One, your hair looks beautiful. Two, the picture may be inappropriate for the boys.”
Maybe that’s because my 7 grandsons (all 7 years old and under), as predicted, were giggling up a storm… and then some! I laughed at the truth in Taylor’s assessment.
I held Taylor and Maddie very close to me and we talked, in the middle of my birthday dinner, about why breast cancer awareness is so important to me. They listened. They really, really listened. My heart was fuller than full.
I told them that we all need to take care of each other. To remind each other about mammograms and staying healthy and talking to our Mommies about such things. I have an incredible CIRCLE OF GIRLS in my immediate family… my lovely Mom, my beautiful daughters and daughters-in-law, Audrey, Jane, Nicole and Aimee… and my precious granddaughters.
My hope and prayer and passion is that none of these “girls” ever have to watch the eyes of a physician turn grave and silent and still. My dream is that with breast cancer awareness and research, a cure will be developed for this insidious disease before it takes one more Mom, daughter, granddaughter, cousin or friend.
CIRCLE THE GIRLS IN YOUR LIFE WITH BREAST CANCER AWARENESS… PLEASE. My conversation with my granddaughters, over that photograph of their grandma and aunties topless, was the best birthday gift ever. Ever…