Hello everyone. Normally, this is my day to give you a guest blogger but being the procrastinator that I am, I didn’t have anyone lined up in time. Soooo … since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I’m basically a poster child for that particular disease, I decided to be my own guest blogger. Feeling a tad narcissistic here, but I’m happy to give you a run down on breast cancer. I’m also willing to answer any questions you have — no matter how personal. So, here goes …
So Liz … when were you diagnosed with breast cancer and how did you find it?
May of 1996. Can’t tell you the exact day, but that’s close enough. Funny thing is, I didn’t feel a “lump” like they tell you to watch for. I was 35 years old. Why the hell would I even be looking for something like that? No, what I noticed was a dimple in my right breast, about three inches above the nipple. Didn’t really think anything of it at the time, but since I had an appointment for a routine checkup the next week, mentioned it to my doctor. She was all over it. Ordered a mammogram (which is always a treat), and when that didn’t show anything, ordered a needle biopsy … also a treat. The results were inconclusive, so a CT was done. Yep … they found a mass. Deep enough that it was actually pulling the skin, which caused the dimple. Go figure.
Damn, that sucks. What came next?
The usual. Since it was so deep, a mastectomy was done. I went a year without a breast before I had reconstruction done. I could have had the mastectomy and reconstruction done at the same time, but being the weirdo that I am, I wanted to know what it was like to be with one breast … and because I wanted to be fully healed before undergoing the reconstruction. After that, I had a series of mild chemo cocktails. My weekly appointments became monthly, which in turn become every three months. When a cancer patient hits the once a year oncologist appointment, you’re pretty much golden.
When did the cancer return?
Seven years later … almost to the month. Which really pissed me off. Used to be that if you hit the seven year mark, you’re considered “cured”. A myth, as I found out. Once you have cancer, you’re never really cured. You’re just clean. You gotta be vigilant and never let your guard down. My cancer metastasized to my hip, my spine and my liver. In other words … it returned with a vengence.
Again, that really sucks, Liz. What has happened since?
Well, I’ve been pretty much on chemo for the last ten years. Nearly constant. I’ve gone through so many different chemo cocktails that would work for awhile and then stop that I’m now recycling a lot of stuff I’d been on previously with the hope that this time around it’ll be effective.
I’ve got neuropathy in my fingertips and feet, fatigue up the yin-yang, lost my hair four times, only tossed my cookies once, but never lost my sense of humor. For anyone going through this, attitude is incredibly important. You have to have an optimistic outlook. Sure, I’ve had my moments, but as my sister-in-law, who is also a cancer survivor, says “You have twenty minutes to feel sorry for yourself and then get over it.” It’s a credo I’ve pretty much lived by. As you can see by the photo taken at a party during the RT writer’s conference, I try to have fun when I have no hair.
Do you feel optimistic about beating this?
Beat it? No. I’m stage four and well aware that the game my oncologist and I are playing is “Let’s see how long we can keep Liz around.” I’m very pragmatic about my condition but I’ve got too much to do to let this sh*t stop or slow me down. I have a daughter to raise, a family I love, a job I enjoy, and a writing career that I’m trying to develop. Who’s got time for cancer? I do what I gotta go and move on. There are days when I feel like crap, and days when I feel okay. I’m well aware that I’ll never be “cured” and I’m at the point where I accept that.
So, that’s my story. If you know of anyone who has breast cancer … a mom, a grandmother (hell even a grandfather), sister, friend, whoever … go give them a hug and a big, sloppy kiss. They can probably use it.
Any questions? Feel free to ask.