Page 1 of 4I had the most amazing fortieth birthday party. Ever. There were fireworks and not one, but two visits by the local police. People from all over my life were there. There was dancing to Duran Duran, Run DMC and Billy Idol. The last thing on my mind that day was my mortality.
Skip ahead a few months to my annual gynecological exam. I was forty; it was time for my first mammogram. I gladly handed over my breasts to the machine of squash and, honestly, it was no big deal. It still wasn’t a big deal when I was told to return for another mammogram. While I was at my annual appointment all the nurses made it clear that because I had no baseline mammography, a return visit was very typical.
What was not typical was the film of my left breast, in a darkened mammography room that clearly showed a small tumor. Fireworks became waterworks. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 — very early — HER2/neu-positive breast cancer. My tumor was small but aggressive. I decided on a double mastectomy.
Let me stop here. I need to really set the situation up realistically. Stage 1 breast cancer is not necessarily life-threatening. I caught my tumor very early. There was a cocktail of three chemotherapies that were proving very effective in fighting breast cancer. When they harvested lymph nodes during my mastectomy to check for any cancer, all five were negative. I had the best possible prognosis going forward.
I did six chemotherapy treatments after surgery. I lost my hair and rejoiced in my bald head. I was what cancer looked like. I wore my baldness as a badge of courage. After chemo, my hair grew back quickly. I kept it short because I’ve always hated being a slave to my blow dryer and had, as it turns out, a face made for short hair. I sent my son to kindergarten and potty-trained my 3-year-old. I turned 41, 42, 43 and 44. My oncologist pronounced me all but “cured.” My life looked a lot like yours.