Three years ago today my friend Michael dropped my girlfriend Amar and me off at Massachusetts General Hospital where I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Three years ago today is what I believe is the official date of survivorship. I had had a lumpectomy before because one of my cancers was a high grade and invasive, plastic surgeons were booking out 1-2 months so they didn’t want to wait to get the cancer out. My original mastectomies were scheduled for May but we (my mom, my state representative and myself) insurance to have my treatment in Boston. My oncology surgeon is from Dana Farber, my oncologist Massachusetts General Hospital, Cancer Center. I went several weeks without clear margins. It was maddening.
As I walked into the building you could not help but notice a new building they were erecting to the left, a huge building, presumably more cancer clinics. For some reason I took particular interest with this building.
As I lay quietly in a small room (where they did not allow my girlfriend to come with me) I silently thought about my life, what was happening, and how I would react to my own body post surgery. They couldn’t give me anything for anxiety until 5 minutes before surgery because I had to stand up and be marked with a magic marker. This tells the surgeon where to cut, etc., and hopefully ascertain symmetry.
My reconstruction started that same day. I’m not sure what hurt most, the wounds or the pressure that was on my chest. It felt like an elephant on me. I remember being pretty doped up. I remember Ernest Hemingway visiting and throwing m&m’s at me, and I am proud and happy today, I am a breast cancer survivor of 3 years.
I have 2.5 years left on tamoxifen, a hellacious drug that strips my body of estrogen, because my cancers were estrogen positive. This drug reaks havoc on my body, keeps the fibromyalgia active. When I asked to go off from it, it was strongly suggested I not do that. I was given the option of chemotherapy because of my BRCA2+ status. This is a gene mutation. This gene (which we all have) fights off cancer cells in female organs, and puts me at higher risk of melanoma and pancreatic cancer. I refused chemotherapy as I was only Stage 1 with the invasive ductal carcinoma and DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) was contained and a low grade.
My immune system is compromised and has been for a long time. I had visiting nurses quite regularly, my favorite being a close friend, Mark, an RN who if I ever am sick, or with terminal stage illness, I would want him to take care of me. My mother moved in to take care of me, and trust me when I say, I am not an easy “patient”, particularly when I am in pain.
It took two long years for my reconstructive surgeries to be completed, as the infections which started with a hematoma and seroma after my lumpectomy and ended with being hospitalized for a week with cellulitis over my last surgery are over. Some seemed like scenes from a science fiction flick. And even though I was assured they never had anyone get an infection from their tattoos, I did. But now, I look forward.
I just received word that a friend died unexpectedly. He was 51. I am in shock, and feel such sadness. I don’t have anymore to say right now…I need to somehow process this.