In February of 2012, at 35, after finding a lump during a self-exam and a biopsy that was initially “highly likely benign” I got “the call” – stage 2, triple negative breast cancer. Within weeks, I was wheeled into the OR for a bilateral mastectomy, found out I carried the BRCA1 gene mutation and started chemo. After chemo, I opted for a hysterectomy to reduce my chances of ovarian cancer.
As I inch towards the 5 year mark, I reflect on my journey and a collection of moments that kept me going and continue to do so. It includes Boy George, pancakes, fortune cookies, and a big goal.
When my hair started coming out in clumps, I went to Haircuttery for a buzz cut. A lovely woman, Julie shaved my head. She treated me like I was Kate Middleton on her wedding day. She finished and I said, “I look like my brother…with lipstick.” Sweet Julie said, “He’s a very handsome man, isn’t he?” I laughed. I’ll never forget Julie.
Afterwards, I met my mother at a class that offers tips about make-up and skin care during chemo. With a buzz cut, glitter eye shadow and hot pink lipstick I told my mom, “I look like Boy George.” We laughed. It was a reminder that cancer took my hair and breasts, but not my ability to laugh.
The first day I rocked a scarf, it was one from a dear friend. It felt like a friend hugging my tender head. (Yes, it hurts when hair falls out.) I decided my daughter and I needed a girl’s night out at IHOP. When it came time to pay, my waiter told me my bill was paid by another customer. I will never be able to thank this stranger and he will never know how much it meant. This act of kindness, from a complete stranger, overwhelmed me. It reminded me I wasn’t alone.
During round 7 of chemo I sat next to a couple that have been married 62 years. Someone handed out chocolate dipped fortune cookies to promote breast cancer awareness. The husband read his wife’s fortune cookie loudly, “It says save the TAH TAHS. I don’t know what a tata is, but okay.”
I said, “It’s slang for boobs.”
His wife asked me to read my fortune and it said, “You are one of God’s angels on Earth.” He said back, “Well, that’s better.”
62 years of marriage and you could sense the love – in sickness and in health. It gave me hope.
The Big Goal
In March, at the start of everything I e-mailed my friends with the subject line “Beware the Boobs of March.” It ended with “P.S. I have a big, hairy, audacious goal for the end of all of this. Ellen hosts a show in October for breast cancer survivors and I want to be there. So, any ideas on how to make that happen, let me know! Until then, I’ll enjoy watching her from the comfort of my home. ”
In August I found out that my dear friend, Jill had been working since March to get tickets to Ellen. We got VIP tickets to the show that kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness month. I danced with Ellen and met other survivors.
Jill gave me the chance to get away and to stand in a dress with my toes in the waters of the Pacific. I stood on the beach at sunset and didn’t hear anything around me. It was silent in my mind, finally. I thanked God for the gift of cancer and what I learned about myself and others. I thanked my grandparents, who have passed away, for listening to my prayers. I would cry and tell them I missed them, but wasn’t ready to see them yet. I let my worries wash away in waters far from home.
I realized how fortunate I was to have Jill and so many good people in my life. It is my hope that my daughter surrounds herself with the same type of friends. And that she is a friend like Jill to someone else.
Through Boy George, pancakes, fortune cookies, and a goal that took me to the shores of California, I realized that my cancer was a gift. I hope everyone has an opportunity to buy pancakes for a stranger, to share good fortune with others, and to find comfort in and give the love of a true friend.