Breast cancer stole my aunt. Slowly but surely, piece by piece, we watched her lose her fight to this insidious disease. She was the aunt who instilled in me a love of travel, then helped me move nine billion times during my nomadic 20s; the aunt who ensured my parents always visited me for my birthday; the aunt who, like I, knew my mother wasn’t always right, but it was just easier to let her think she was. The rule is that if you are cancer free for five years, you are considered cured. She was. But she wasn’t. And cancer returned. My aunt was a warrior; she fought like a girl, and her motto was “I’ve got cancer; cancer doesn’t have me.” But she was wrong. In the end, cancer got her and took her from us.
When I was 37, during my aunt’s first diagnosis and treatment, a lump was found in my right breast. A biopsy was done; there was a 99% chance it was benign. It was not benign. It was atypical ductal hyperplasia. Big words. I asked, is it cancer? Not really. I asked, is it benign? Not really. WTF?
A diagnosis of ADH means that you do not have cancer, but, if left untreated, it will become cancer. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but I set to work getting my cancer fetus out of my body as quickly as possible. I had a lumpectomy to remove the mass, then was sent off to an oncologist. The oncologist said I could opt for Tamoxifen and all its glorious side effects, or I could opt to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. You know, because it wasn’t really cancer. Since I was so young and the cancer fetus was caught early, he recommended, and I agreed with, the wait and see idea, and I began rolling the dice with breast cancer.
For the next year, I had a mammogram every three months. Let me just say this: I am done hearing about Elon Musk spending money to build rockets when a woman still has to put her boob in a vise to see if she has cancer. Side note: the highlight of my lumpectomy was the joy of having my boob put into a vise and then a six-inch needle stuck into said boob so the doctor could find the tumor. Again, WTF?
After a year with no visible recurrence, I had mammos every six months for the next two years. Now I have one mammo a year. Being the proud owner of exceptionally small breasts with exceptionally dense tissue and an exceptionally high lumpectomy site, it is a rarity that all angles are captured in one take. So I get to have my boobs repeatedly vised to ensure nothing is missed. Good thing it is only uncomfortable and I only feel a little pinch each time. (Gentleman readers: replace boobs with balls. Now you’re with me.)
But so far, so good. There has been no recurrence, and the dice continue to roll on my defective boobs.
Recently, due to my high risk status, I was recommended for genetic testing. I was all for this idea. If I am carrying the gene, I want to get these boobs Angelina Jolied before they kill me. So off I went to the oncology department once again.
The nurse surveyed my family history and my medical history, ran the numbers, read the numbers, and advised me that I am four times more likely to get breast cancer than the average person in the next four years and three times more likely throughout my lifetime. That pretty much sucks, but I already knew that, hence the desire for the testing. But the super sucky part is that this does NOT qualify me for insurance-paid genetic testing. (Hey, Elon Musk, how about driving your electric car over to the insurance agency and focus on fixing that load of horse shit instead of playing with rockets all day? Because that is a RACKET). Oh well, Elon has his thing and I have mine.
The nurse advised me that the best way to prevent breast cancer is diet and exercise, and limiting alcohol intake to two drinks per week. My response, then what’s the point of being alive? Then she signed me up for yearly MRIs in addition to mammos. Note: not instead of, like I asked, because apparently I lost a bet in a previous life and my penance is having my boobs in a vise at least once a year forever. Lucky me. And the dice roll on…
That’s why cancer is my thing. Because unlike my aunt, I am no warrior. I am weak and weird. If I get cancer (or rather, if cancer gets me), I will probably be dead of fright before they can mix up the first batch of chemo. Not to mention the fact that bald will not be a good look for me with my giant melon head.
Ergo, once a year, I wrap myself in all kinds of pink (even though I’m a cool, not a warm), walk a 5k, and hit up people for money to help find a cure. (Elon Musk: feel like donating a few million PayPal residuals to boobs instead of rockets this week?) We walk with people who have survived the fight, people who are in the fight, and in memory of people who have lost the fight but inspired us all to keep on fighting.
Today I am livin’ the dream; I have a total bad ass husband (paid to say that); I have a sensitive and delicate dog; I have friends and family who have donated a boat load of money to support our efforts to find a cure for cancer.
Today I am cancer free.
So today I live in the moment, while my defective boobs and I continue to roll the dice with cancer. But I am aware that I have already beaten the odds for a mighty long time, and cancer will never give up and just walk away. Cancer will always be lurking around my life, waiting for the chance to end it. Cancer got my aunt. I wanna kill that mother fucker before it gets me.