Merritt: Thinking pink after becoming one of the one in eight diagnosed

Along with the myriad oranges, reds, and greens that are seen annually in October, I'm adding pink to my spectrum of fall colors.

This month — designated as National Breast Cancer month — pink ribbons abound along with my appreciation for the medical advances that have been made throughout the years.


About two months ago, my husband Paul and I made our familiar trek to the Carroll County Cancer Center for yet another follow-up visit, something we've been doing since Paul's first cancer diagnosis, four years ago. (Incidentally, he's doing very well — having returned to his normal activities, especially golf — and we're grateful for the wonderful care he has received.)

This time, as we registered at the desk, the staff person with whom we became acquainted after all those visits, thought there was some mistake when my husband received the visitor's tag instead of me.

"No, that's right," I said. "This time, it's my turn."

For over 30 years, I've never missed my annual mammogram and I admit that every year I fretted until I got the results. I was never nonchalant about the possibility of a malignancy despite there being no family history of breast cancer.

Though I usually look at the glass as half full, I know that bad things can happen, even though I do my best to eat right, exercise, and try to avoid harmful habits (most of the time). Still, every year I waited in dread for the letter from the radiologist that would inform me of my results.

After a routine mammogram in January, I waited for the outcome. When the letter arrived four days later, I re-read the first sentence, "Your recent breast imaging examination showed a finding that requires additional breast imaging examination(s) for a complete evaluation. Most such findings are benign (not cancer)."

With a fair amount of anxiety, I traveled the path of additional screenings that led me to the unpleasant conclusion — like that of actress Julia Dreyfus of "Seinfeld: sitcom fame who tweeted recently, "One in eight persons is diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, I'm the one."

My initial shock was somewhat diffused since I had already gone through Paul's cancer experiences that required surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

As it turned out, I became optimistic when I learned that I didn't need a mastectomy or chemotherapy.

The surgeon did a lumpectomy in March, removing a 7-mm growth and I went home the same day, grateful for my outcome.

My prescribed treatment is a daily dose for five years of a drug that can stop tumor growth by blocking estrogen. I did not choose radiation, an alternative to taking the medication, but I admit to having had strong reservations about taking the drug after reading a list of possible side effects. Following a discussion with my oncologist, I decided to go ahead with the pills.

Throughout the cancer prognosis I've been wondering where this malignancy came from and what I might have done to prevent it — the same process I experienced when Paul was diagnosed.

Was it the well water we drank in a former home? Did a short bout in my younger days of smoking three cigarettes a day contribute? Perhaps it was secondary cigarette smoke when I was growing up. (My father smoked 2 ½ packs of Lucky Strikes a day.) Or, maybe radon is the culprit that could have invaded our home since veins of that gas exist in Howard County where we once lived.

Today, we don't know the answers to these questions but I believe research may ultimately reveal the causes and cancer may even be cured.


In the meantime, we can be diligent with our own well-being.

Recently, I told a friend about my experience. She said she had skipped her mammograms for a few years because she thought our mature age might have provided some immunity. According to the American Cancer Society website, breast cancer risk generally increases with age.

After hearing my story, she scheduled a mammogram and discovered that, she too, was the one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, her treatment is much the same as mine and she didn't require a mastectomy or chemotherapy.

I'd like to believe that we will both live a "happily ever after" life.

The word "happily" could mean that those of us with a cancer diagnosis may acutely notice a deeper shade of violet in a sunset; or suddenly enjoy even more the gurgle of a happy baby; or derive pleasure from finishing a book we might have been too busy to read otherwise. And be glad to enjoy an extension of life through the many medical advances that include more accurate diagnoses, better treatments, and a team of doctors and staff who work together toward our well-being.

With or without cancer, I hope to embrace more fully the good in life and strive to pass it forward.

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at