My tale is too formulaic to even make a good novel. Girl moves back to Aberdeen, starts new job, goes to new doctor for checkup. Doctor sends girl for baseline mammogram just because she, at 38, is getting close to 40, the recommended age for such a thing.
Girl almost cancels mammogram; there are no risk factors (not even age), no lump, no need for the nonsense in a jam-packed schedule. Last-minute changes mean cancellation does not happen.
Girl gets chemo and radiation. Girl goes on with life and never meets breast cancer again.
OK, so maybe that last sentence won't be true. I won't know for sure until the last bit of life, I suppose. But the luck of it all is just too much, isn't it?
And the journey hasn't been quite that simple.
Yet it is.
I had no reason to get a mammogram in the first place. Neither the doctor nor I felt a lump. I was not in the high-risk category, except that I had never had children (and because of the ensuing chemo, I never will).
Some people have the idea that because they do not have breast cancer in their family, they are not at risk. Not one single woman in my family has had breast cancer, at least that we know of. There is a lot of cancer in my family, but none of it has been breast cancer. Of the eight first cousins on my mother's side, all but Mom have had cancer. Her sister died at age 52 of colon cancer.
But no breast cancer.
So I am that person that starts the history.
I had no idea I had cancer, but there it was, a lump, and it obviously had not sprung up overnight.
The truth is, I was not scared. I did not cry when I was diagnosed. I went back to work the same day I was diagnosed. I just wanted the thing taken care of. I did not even tell my parents until the night before surgery. My mom didn't seem worried, but Dad did not talk long. I don't think he had known anyone who survived cancer for very long.
The morning of surgery, I called my middle brother, Troy, at his auto body shop. He's the practical, measured one of the three boys. He acted more freaked out than I was; it never occurred to me that he would be scared.
The lump was bigger than initially thought. Stage 1 was actually stage 2, once surgery was done. Because of the tumor size and my age, doctors recommended chemo and radiation. Who was I to argue? I, after all, just wanted the cancer gone, and if that was what it took, so be it. The cancer started to become real when the nurse told me I would lose my hair, which reached past my waist. I had not cut it in 27 years, no lie.
Here's a hint for those of you wanting to know what to say to cancer patients. Do not say, "So, are you going to cut your hair and donate it?" Really? I was just diagnosed with cancer, and you want to know what I'm going to do with my hair?
I had afro-style hair; it was that curly. I hated it short. I had just gotten it to the length I could control it. I was unhappy.
But the hair did fall out, and honestly, by the time it did, I was pretty weak and sick and glad to see it gone. After hair had been falling out for a few days, I caught a glimpse of myself in a window and realized I looked like the cat woman from "The Simpsons."
My husband buzzed my head that day, and a friend shaved it bald the next. A smooth, shiny head is very low maintenance.