breast cancer, connection, Health

Ta-ta Ganache

A few months ago, I joined an online group of women also dealing with breast cancer. There are five of us in this private group and using an app, similar to walkie-talkies, we post videos to each other to check in, share advice, build each other up, or simply vent. I’d been wanting to connect with others dealing with cancer’s fallout, but I now realize I needed distance from it to reach out, feel as if I’m going to be okay before I opened the gates to talk about all that wasn’t. I’d need a life preserver if I were to willingly jump in. There would be seemingly little risk, like a game of strip poker, but only down to your underwear. I saw my strain of bravery, this vulnerability “lite,” peeking out to see who might be there, and ripe for a connection, I found it.

I’m two years out with this thing they call “survivorship,” and with another recent uneventful bilateral MRI in the books, but these women are in the thick of it as we speak, getting double mastectomies (one bidding adieu, “Ta-ta, ta-tas” with a sugar coated “ta-ta” sculptured cake with chocolate ganache inside), chemo, and with radiation ahead, and their experiences, like my own, are each unique. Ten years older than the oldest of these women, I bring a combination of mother hen, cheerleader and wise sage, and having something to offer is deeply rewarding and an encouraging reminder that I now have perspective behind me, but I didn’t expect the PTSD. You move through all the things, doing what your doctors say, popping the pills you need, showing up where and when things are scheduled, but you never exactly process the scary busyness that takes hold, that it’s YOU going through that thing we all associate with dread, that invasive spreader whose reputation is to run amok with nothing but destruction in mind.

Enter modern medicine and its loving hands which set to work fashioning an impenetrable fence around me–not scary barbed wire, but a charming, strong wooden fence with heart shaped vines climbing its pickets. My body was open to it all, ready for the help, since we’re designed to heal. Today, the shoulder that wouldn’t rotate quite right–a reminder of surgery, biopsies and radiation–with time and a little work, is now cooperating and acting mostly like it used to, a now seamless part of me no longer vying for my attention. The scar tissue that felt like a pierced ear does, little knots from where needles and a knife twirled inside, is smoothing out, no longer a jumbled mess, but becoming part of a whole again, connected like it once was, but with greater intention. The hair on my head, once gone in places and growing in as little sprigs, has returned and no longer ignores the hair brush, but celebrates it, and it’s nearly ready to be collected into a pony tail, which will be the nape of my neck’s hero as heat and humidity get here.

Initially with the news of a diagnosis, there was the, “How could you betray me so? I thought we were on the same team, wanted the same things?” mindset I took on with my body, which, without my permission, had an invader following some appalling set of instructions. I could neither speak the language in which all my cells were surely now fluent, nor could I override the faulty instruction. The waiting for doctors to weigh in, drugs to suffocate these wayward intruders, and some semblance of normal cortisol to return and restore my hijacked endocrine system seemed endless. 

Then I got started, did the appointments, took the IV, the radiation beams, accepted the suppers lovingly assembled, and invited friends to go with me to chemo and on walks. It was there during treatments and on those walks that I think I saw things the clearest. There, at your most vulnerable–I mean, you’ve got cancer for God’s sake–people want to be near you, want a part of you and this godawful experience, not to gawk or get closer to the accident on the side of the road, but for the sole purpose of you not having to carry this alone. They are there to pick up the slack, commissioning their time, their listening and their love to quiet the chaos and snuff out the cancer. 

It’s there when you’re at your lowest, in the scariest time of your life, in the middle of the cruelest interruption you could imagine, that love, as pure and unconditional as a mother’s, keeps right on flowing as it always has, unopposed and easy. When you’re getting low, there are filling stations everywhere–at the end of a text, an email, a phone call, and just when you need to hide under the covers, your cat sidles up beside you. It’s there in the videos I’ve left for these women and the ones I’ve gotten back, and with each exchange, each giving and taking, there is a recharging of all of us and of love itself. Some are finding since they can vent in this space, they are now able to enjoy conversations with their partners that aren’t about cancer, for a change. It’s freeing to get it out, but also a reminder that when you do, people don’t go away. Everything changes, but the good ones, the people you need by your side, the ones you have attracted, these people, they stick around. 

You can fill up anytime, and have seconds, thirds, fourths even. Whenever you want a clean plate to start over, there are plenty of those too. The more you give, the more you make. Like breast milk. Forgive me, but I do love a good circle back. 

I wrote this poem for this dear group, but I think it applies to anyone who is struggling with something and feeling scared, separate, or isolated. We are designed to heal and to connect, and we can’t do one without the other. 

SISTERS

Across the pond, up east, down south and in between, we’ve formed a bond, an open circle, one none of us could have foreseen. Women, strong, brave and kind, each with hearts of gold, sending each other videos that nourish the fold.

We are daughters, lovers, some of us mothers, too. We’ll mother a stranger and we’ll mother you. Here, though, we are sisters, together locked arm-in-arm. We’ve made a place that fills us up and tears us up, but which can do us no harm. 

It’s a love fest, some say, one that appears to lead the way. It’s a fest about breasts, no matter if they go or if they stay. Whatever stage, whatever grade, whatever scans about yourself, you bring your truth, you bring your heart, and for that you, my dear, are top shelf. 

breast cancer, connection, Encouragement, Health, hope, Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

breast cancer, Family, Food, hope, Travel

It’s fall, y’all.

Fall assembled outside our hotel

Sometimes you have to leave to come back home. We had a little weekend getaway, something new. That you must fly six states away to enjoy daily walks, yummy dinners, and family time together is nuts, but turns out I needed it and I’ll take it. The cats notice the suitcases when they come out and each time deliver a fuck you side eye as they collapse on the floor watching the inevitable unfold. I turn on the radio to NPR so if nothing else, they’ll have good radio to listen to. Often as our vacations wind down, I’m tempted–and have actually done this before–to call the house and reassure the cats through the answering machine’s speaker, “We’re coming home soon! Hang on!”

Dahlias in the northeast think it’s still summer

I’m not so good at letting go and delegating, and it’s hard to leave these nests we’ve loved on for so many years. As it turns out, our new pet sitter has it together and even checked in with a newsy and thankfully uneventful update while we were away. Peace of mind goes a long way. The tenants at our other house are happy to water the newly seeded lawn for a few days. With the recent collapsed sewer line replacement there, things are now smooth and humming along, and they now get to use both toilets as often as they’d like. (It really is the small things.) At our own house, the tarps over the new spaces are neither secure nor numerous enough, and a heavy rain brings little trickles inside. Seems there are fair skies ahead, but until the contractor returns, we’ve got pots and towels and the hum of dehumidifiers in place to absorb it all. 

Just before leaving, there’s always that final rushed sweep of the house, giving surfaces a quick once over, cleaning out the fridge, even watering the ferns again–the same ones you lovingly tended all summer, but days earlier callously left for dead, justifying Kimberly Queens don’t do winter inside. The anticipation often is even better than the trip. Like a new year rolling in, for me it’s always a reset. Instead of habitually pulling leggings or jeans off the chair to slide on for a new day, travelling with a single suitcase, you arrive with actual outfits to wear and a few unpredictable consecutive days to unfold as you wish.

Taking off with Evan by my side

On the plane there’s still that slight apprehension at takeoff and landing, so you text family that you love them because should, heaven forbid, flight #DL0431 not reach its destination, you’ve at least said your peace.  And, of course, for take-off and landing, you grab the hand of family next to you. I’m thankful they are willing to humor me in this superstitious ritual. 

After settling in with a beverage, you invariably make your way to the toilette. That cortisol-spiking jolt you get in those few seconds after flushing is the stuff heart attacks are made of. You must wait a bit and then it comes on quick and loud, surprising you each time. The lavatory has a gentler song, and the door lock performs as you’d expect, that reliable solid securing sound as you slide the lever, but, oh, that toilet!

A little magic out our hotel window

This last trip, along with the usual negotiations about how we will fill our time, where we will eat and whether a taxi or Uber or walking is most cost and time effective, brought some simple unexpected high notes. Seeing your older son in his own apartment nesting with his girlfriend in a space they found and made into a home sure makes a mom proud. Full of bright light, modern mostly found furniture, and an older sweet rescued cat, it’s happy here, and with a deli, laundry and the subway a block away and a straight shot to school, it’s perfect. Plus there’s a hatch in the hall outside his door and a twinkling rooftop to enjoy. Having your younger son visit too and stay there gives your boys that unscripted time together we’re all short on. Using hotel points, Joe managed to score free nights at three different hotels for this three-night stay, so we moved around a bit this trip, but got the variety of experiences in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

New York requires proof of vaccination and an ID if you want to eat at a restaurant here.  As far as I’m concerned that’s the way it should be–no drama, no whine, no politics. Just smart, fueled by the science, and might I add, effective. No soup for you if you leave that vaccine card back at the hotel, so bring it because the soup and everything else is consistently good. The Thai restaurant on our last night was fantastic and as I often do, I documented the entrees and their eaters in this video, below. 

Biking in Brooklyn

We rode Citi Bikes this trip, the regular vs pedal-assist kind, which are more plentiful and less expensive, and the four of us meandered around Brooklyn following Benjamin, who toured us around his old and new neighborhoods. There are numerous bike lanes and despite the many cars, scooters and people, I felt safer riding here than I do in Atlanta because motorists and pedestrians expect to see you and make room. The boys eventually rode back to the apartment, and Joe and I to our Brooklyn hotel to check out before heading to our Manhattan hotel.

The yellow basket

On the way there, whizzing past a park on the right, I noticed a basket vendor set up on the sidewalk. A gorgeous yellow basket caught my eye and I couldn’t stop looking at it, still cycling and now craning my neck to study it. We turned around and I went and bought the thing for a price the seller reduced, and after he bagged it, I flung it over my handlebar for the bike ride home. It’s here now home with me, and I love its story and the happenstance of finding it. It has notes of yellow, my favorite color, and against the blue wall in my bedroom, it feels like a happy summer day. 

Sure was fun while it lasted!

The season is changing and so is my hair. For six months, I’ve had the hair I’ve always dreamed of. You can feel it in the shower, that thick plumped up cuticle, that cocky energized hair follicle oozing oomph in spades. The only downside is it takes forever to dry, yet when it does there are loose ringlets forming exactly where you want them (in the very places chemo left bald). You can go to bed with it wet and wake up with natural tousled tresses requiring zero brushing, and if you bother to pull out a hair dryer, there are countless more versions of goodness you can create. 

That gorgeous soufflé that’s been rising on my head for months, however, is now falling. Not sure who opened the oven door, but suddenly gravity has pulled that light spirited dollop of a do down. There are plenty of strands still but seems we’re back to my former head of hair, to the scalp and ears peep show behind the whisper soft strands hanging close to my head. I’m told those chemo curls eventually go away, and by my December haircut or the one after that, they will be nearly gone. 

What to make of it all? When I found myself fresh off of chemo and radiation and with a bald head in places (which surprised me how cold that would feel in winter), I think the Universe decided to give me a little boost with thicker hair. The same thing happened after birthing babies, when lost in the haze of fatigue, a colicky baby and breast pumping, there was that gift of cleavage, a “Here’s the cup size you thought you’d always be, happy dressing with your new look” little bonus. When you’ve had enough time with this new do and physique and gotten caught up on your sleep and distanced yourself from treatment, the Universe reminds you, “I’m gonna take it back now because you don’t need it anymore. Someone else could use this little perk.” I chalk it up to it is to better to have had curls and cleavage and lost them than to have never had them at all. Besides, in the midst of so much change, returning to who you were physically is surprisingly reassuring. 

Show me a better lunch.
Waiting on a show, and the show is the street below

We made the most of our last day away walking miles around Chelsea and up on the Highline, followed by lunch at Chelsea Market. It was in the 50s and windy on our long walk and we earned that lunch, one of those decadent meals you shouldn’t splurge on, but you do, because why not? The Lobster Place Fish Market had it all and we had the lobster roll, a folded crispy buttery bun chock full of lobster meat tossed in a light lemony mayo, clam chowder and lobster bisque, and Zapp’s chips. I swallowed mine down with a glass of champagne. A delicious finish to this little getaway as we headed toward home. 

View below from the High Line. Hopeful.

breast cancer, connection, Empty nester, hope, loss, Uncategorized

Scar Tissue

I started physical therapy to restore range of motion in my shoulder and arm, left tight and knotty from a recent lumpectomy and radiation. Being able to reach behind and scratch my back easily and pain-free is a new goal, as is securing a bra clasp. Over a year since surgery and nearly that long since treatment, you’d think by now the healing would be all done, but seems the tightness has only increased. The tissue under my arm feels like fabric sewn with too tight stitches and all we need is a seam ripper to break through and pull the threads loose. 

You’d think by now the healing would be all done.

Like you do when telling an infant’s age, I used to talk in months – I’m three months post chemo, six months since radiation, etc. – but thankfully now I can talk in years since all this started up in late 2019. My surgery and treatments have graduated out of their infant stage and into a toddler stage, with tantrums arising as this little blocked lymphatic circulation mess I must now clean up.

The physical therapy office is close by, convenient and calm — nothing like my last PT experience several years ago where the incongruously L O U D radio was routinely tuned to the unholiest of trinities – The BeeGees / Gerry Rafferty / Air Supply – and my physical therapist’s brash order-me-around style certainly didn’t fit my idea of a first-string player you’d pick for your healing team. Last week at my initial session, I was assigned an Emory student, a no-nonsense tucked-in clean-shaven guy who, after moving me through several stations working my arm and shoulder, moved into a deep tissue shoulder massage miraculously landing on all the tight unyielding spots which, albeit stubbornly, gave way. I left with a sheet of homework exercises, most of which I completed except the one involving a Theraband. Surely I own a Theraband, but, alas, where is it? Still haven’t brought myself to enter a Target or Walmart since the pandemic began, so opted against purchasing. I know, Amazon.

At today’s session I worked with a petite young lovely woman who moved me through various stretching and strengthening stations. The therapists toggle between several patients, like busy chefs minding multiple burners, careful to tenderly sauté and not let a rolling boil erupt or a pan sit unattended and burn. They move between patients rolling their laptops around on wheeled lectern style desks.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

I might have blurted out to my therapist that the roving desk setup she maneuvers reminded me of the SNL skit with Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer rolling her podium on the streets of New York. She humored me with an amused/mortified smile, probably not so happy she got assigned the clown who wants to inject humor into all of it, breaking up the calm focused room she and her colleagues have cultivated. I joked now she won’t be able to shake this visual and she smiled again realizing the truth of that unfortunate circumstance.

Canele

This weekend we went for a Sunday drive, winding through various parts of Atlanta — Edgewood, Inman Park, Poncey-Highlands. Other than looking at house paint colors for inspiration, my primary goal was to score a canelé, a small striated cylindrical French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard center and dark caramelized crust, which I found at Ponce City Market’s Saint-Germain bakery. I’m working on not consuming much sugar, but occasionally the urge is real, and I’m increasing trying to locate something exceptionally good vs the first filler sugar I can get my hands on. By the looks of things in the Food Hall, but for the masks covering most people’s faces, you’d never know we’re in a pandemic. Throngs of loud-talking particle-spreading people filled the hall, the din of noise so visual and loud I nearly abandoned the much-anticipated sugar errand. I got myself a canelé and Joe a palmier, his favorite, plus a coffee éclair and raspberry and passion fruit mousse little round cake for later. We nibbled on the canelé and palmier and meandered through neighborhoods studying houses’ paint colors from our car for our some-day repaint.

Driving through Edgewood, I noticed a ramshackle of a church with a sign out front and the message, “Your Grief is Valid.” We live in a world full of dichotomy – help is on the way with stimulus checks about to drop into accounts and Covid vaccines increasingly common, yet still there are long lines for those waiting for a bag of food to feed their family and scores of people pre- and post-Covid cloaked in a stuck-on heaviness they can’t shake. Last week, the TV networks broadcast highlights looking back on the full year since Covid was proclaimed a global pandemic. How do you bundle so much loss into a news segment? It was admittedly well done, but so sad, too. Smiling faces now gone leaving behind families who don’t know where to begin to climb out of their despair. Exhausted doctors and nurses, their virtues extolled, in search of a reset or second wind or both.

Your grief is valid.

Blue skies always return

We each heal in our own time. And time, for the most part, heals all things. But for those of us stuck in the middle between our hurt and our healing, and with a pandemic thrown in the mix, every morning can feel like Groundhog Day, a familiar rotation without much hopeful change in sight. Circling back to the church sign, your grief IS valid, despite however fresh or old, and the way you move through it is your choice. But until you feel well on your way, please don’t stoically go it alone or hide until your best self magically shows up. Because we all know things don’t quite work out that way. Instead, walk with someone, grab a coffee or a canelé and take some time together, comparing notes, taking notes, or soaking in the simple and reliable beauty outside. One day when you aren’t looking, you will feel it, a little less heavy and moving forward with a slight change that happened, when things starting looking brighter, sharper and you saw a shiny glint of hope in the distance. Try and break up the days, infuse them with connection. Sure, physical therapy can mechanically do it, but being together also melts scar tissue, and is what opens up space for all kinds of goodness.

Make A Wish
breast cancer, Covid-19, Health, hope, uncertainty

Eighteen days to Brenda

I went in August 24 for a diagnostic mammogram. My radiologist suggested I go ahead and get one instead of waiting until October as my gynecologist planned. The mammogram at this hospital presented stark differences. The robes you change into aren’t a screaming, Pepto-Bismol pink, but a white soft cottony waffle weave accented with subtle thin pink piping. They’re stacked neatly waiting on you in a warming box. Divine. Here I found few deep Southern accents, but more Brooklyn, and simple pastel beach scenes or botanical wall art; you’re not coddled as much either, which surprisingly I liked. Besides, the last place brought bad news, and I am so over bad news, so I  needed a new place.

When you’ve had what I’ve had (yes, I now get to check the “history of breast cancer” box), for future mammograms, instead of going home to wait on your letter in the mail, your results are on-the-spot. It was a long wait, and after looking each other up and down for a few minutes, a woman across from me and I eventually broke our masked silence with a “What are you in for?” dialogue. Me: “I’m Stage II, 100% ER positive, post lumpectomy, chemo and radiation.” You? “I’m triple negative.” Even though no one in our predicament can determine exactly how we ended up here, we each tried our best to reveal what might have contributed, with a Forgive me for I have sinned confessional to each other. She: “I used to eat ice cream every single night.” Me: “I’ve stopped red meat and now only occasionally enjoy a glass of wine.” 

A nurse calls her, and she gets up to go hear her results. Next a man, I presume the radiologist, got me for mine. Immediately I assumed since I got the doctor, the news seemed more complicated, and complicated could spell trouble. We went to a room that was far too nice for doling out good results. He made small talk before he dove in, admitting if he didn’t know better, that I’d had a lumpectomy, my scans might have raised a red flag. Lots of them as it’s a mess in there. Not his words exactly, but with all the pins, scar tissue and density obscuring things, he seemed exhausted from wading through the scans, as if he’d just returned from war. 

I knew my left breast was a mess when back in 2000 I began breast feeding my first baby. I knew there was milk in there but, damn, quite the struggle to get it out! Always a poor producer and the plumbing seemed faulty every time I pumped or breast fed my babies. But you have to get it out of there or you’ve got a painful situation on your hands! After his initial comments about such chaotic density, the radiologist said everything looks fine. Gosh, did we really need to sit in that private room for all this? I got up and left, happy to dodge this scare. The woman who’d led me to the dressing room asked a man at the checkout desk to schedule an MRI. I asked why an MRI, since my mammogram was fine, and she mumbled something about high risk. Wait, me? I ignored my confusion and instead requested the first available appointment and to get on the cancellation list. I snagged the only one they had, four days later at 6:45am. 

I had an MRI before back when all this breast drama started up in November of 2019, but experiencing how particularly thorough this new place was gave me a reassuring level of comfort, that this hospital is sparing no detail, turning over every stone so I’ll continue to turn up “normal.” Friday came and I was up at 5 to leave by 6. It was quiet in the lobby except for a few patients waiting for their own scans. Wonder what they’re in for? Since MRIs are loud, you get headphones and your choice of music. I went for my old standby, classical. No sooner did they slide the headphones on than Pachelbel’s Canon in D began. Always floods me back to my twilight wedding, walking down that beautiful outdoor aisle passing smiling friends and luminaries along my way. The technicians worked efficiently, and I was heading home in 45 minutes. 

Busy in my kitchen later that afternoon, I got a call from my radiation oncologist. She asked, had the radiologist already called me? Uh oh, I’ve heard this kind of call before. Cut to the chase please, I thought impatiently. “Ms. Greco, the radiologist saw some areas of concern on your MRI and wants to schedule a biopsy.” First off, my brain is screaming, area(s) PLURAL? You have got to be &#$@-ing kidding me?! And then it moves on to the OF CONCERN part, concerning it its own right. I had noticed a little pea sized nodule during my daily breast massage but assumed it was just knots left behind from surgery and radiation. After radiation ended in April, the radiologist had suggested I daily massage the tissue to keep it from forming too much scar tissue, which I’ve done.

Alas, this was no dream and I was told they’d be calling soon to schedule my return for another MRI + biopsy + mammogram. Great way to start the long weekend. Ugh. I got scheduled for that following Friday, a 7am appointment, with arrival at 6:30. Another early morning, but nothing like getting it out of the way. 

Thankfully between our house renovation and chats and visits with my boys and my own endless internet research on breast nodules four months post radiation, fat necrosis, and any other topic which resembled my situation, the week ticked along fairly quickly. 

Up early again for the MRI and arrived to find another handful of people socially distanced in the waiting room. I got registered, my hospital bracelet, etc. and was escorted to the dressing room. As with the previous MRI, I had an IV inserted in my arm so they could inject a contrast dye, which improves image quality. I got my choice of music again and this time I thought, let’s change it up. I asked for something calming but not classical, and the nurse suggested nature sounds, so nature sounds it was.

My nature music started with water sounds and soon my brain went to our recent plumbing situation with camellia roots wrapped around our pipes and toilet and adjacent tub filling with water. After the plumbing fiasco (which we resolved) I moved on to stiller waters and imagined my sister and me canoeing on Lake Lanier, like we did as teenagers. Our oars cut the glassy water as we maneuvered into coves, the mature adventurers we were, now out of view from our parents we’d left behind on our sailboat docked in its slip. As I lay masked on my stomach, the doctors slid me in and out of this machine, instructing me over and over to stay completely still. I’m guessing they felt they must repeat the instruction given how much I talked at the outset, thinking surely this motor mouth wouldn’t put a lid on it and stop moving in order for them to get their work done. But as the kind nurse told me afterwards, I was a real trooper. It must have been nearly an hour that I was on that table and somehow, I didn’t move at all.

After my water music segued into crickets and other summer night insects, I noticed a little half moon shaped light below near the floor or maybe on the table I was on. It looked like the Morton salt girl’s umbrella, complete with curved J shape below for its handle. As I was wheeled in and out of this machine never knowing when they’d move it out or back in, I was reminded of one of my favorite Six Flags rides, Mo Mo the monster, when the guy working the ride spun me around extra times since I was the birthday girl. I decided getting zoomed in and out of this machine was instead a fun ride, plus I had the benefit of summer bugs and the Morton salt girl for company.

Once the biopsy began, the nice nurse – the one who gave me the warm robe and told me I was a trooper — began holding my hand. I remember when a nurse at an earlier biopsy last year began lovingly stroking my calves. This nurse held on to my hands and I realized how good that felt, especially these days when we don’t get to hug anyone except those we live with. I needed that touch so badly and while my left hand was holding on to the emergency ball they give you to squeeze in case you need them to stop, I found a few fingers on my left hand joining her hand with my right to communicate an extra, this is so nice and I feel loved, message. Because I had been numbed, I didn’t feel them jostling and twisting to get this suspicious mass during this core needle biopsy, yet I could tell it wasn’t simply a pulling on a syringe but a turning motion as if wrangling a cork out with a corkscrew. Weeee! I got wheeled back in again and more loud MRI knocking noises harmonized with the summer bug sounds, and I was back out. A final jostling to insert a pin, another marker to light the way for the next person doing my scan, and in and out several more times, and it was done.

Next on the menu was a mammogram. Freshly bandaged, I was promised this mammogram was of the gentle variety. Having not had one since my initial diagnosis in November (and since subsequent surgery and radiation), I didn’t realize how much it was going to hurt since the former surgical site was terribly tender. Picture your ear lobe after you pierce it, forever left with a knot. My knot hurt getting flattened onto the machine, especially fresh from the biopsy. As I was pressed into a pancake again, the blood started coming, smearing the glass. My wandering mind went to a hilarious sketch years ago with Dan Aykroyd channeling Julia Child  boning a chicken, blood spurting up and down onto the bird. Instead of high-pitched Julia gasps, this technician was calm and simply wiped it away. But my poor breast, how much more was it going to endure? A few more images from a few more angles and I was left to wait while she met with the doctor down the hall. She returned with news he was pleased with the images, and off I went to check out.

The nice nurse who’d held my hand handed me off to a gentleman at the exit desk, telling him I’d had a biopsy. He couldn’t hear her, so he whispered, as if trying to simply mouthe it, “She had a b i o p s y ?” lest the folks in the waiting area learn my situation. I felt this strange cloud of shame and sadness waft over me. He told me in a quiet sympathetic voice to enjoy the holiday weekend. I uttered a “You, too,” and got the hell out of there. Once home I had to take it easy which for most people means lie in bed and rest. I had to realize that paperwork, dishes, laundry and dog walks could wait and that I could actually lie in bed and rest, which is exactly what I did, icing the area 15 minutes every hour on the hour until bedtime. The biopsy site stung so that kept me still and thankfully my 13-year-old dog was content to stay put on the kitchen floor, slinking in and out of sleep.

The doctors told me I’d hear results by Tuesday or Wednesday, and it was an interminable five days. Wednesday came and went and nothing. I had decided it’s ludicrous that I would be the one with that unfortunate case of a recurrence a mere four months post radiation. No matter the new diet, ridiculously slight alcohol intake, stepped up exercise, mine was an aggressive little bugger that could withstand chemo and radiation and emerge with a renewed, Please ma’am may I have another? annoying verve. My sister tried to convince me I’m not special that way. I felt a bit like a criminal, like I was being punished yet couldn’t understand my crime. I figured I had a 50/50 chance and felt like over the weekend they’d rustle up a public defender – a la My Cousin Vinny – and the next week hopefully I’d have some semblance of a case ready.

Now it’s today, Thursday, and I couldn’t stand the silent house any longer, so I left for the hardware store, where I tinker from time to time, just like my dad used to. I love it there because it’s small, there’s plenty of interesting merchandise, and people are ready to help you find what you need, answer any questions you might have (except the What do you think will come of my biopsy? variety). Found some flowers on clearance to replace my tired zinnias and was loading them in the car when the phone rang. An unknown exchange, certainly not my doctor’s office, but I answered it anyway. On the other end of the phone was a smiling Brenda’s voice, which exclaimed: “Hi Mrs. Greco, I have good news for you, as I know you’ve been waiting. We got your results in and it’s only scar tissue. So we won’t need to see you for six months.” I literally said, “God Bless You” and thanked her profusely. If you can hug through the phone, then that is what I did. It was heartfelt and I’m certain Brenda felt it. I love that Brenda. 

These were the perfect segue into fall AND they’re yellow. (win win)