Wisdom from the Breast Cancer Trenches/A Small #PublicServiceAnnouncement
I like tattoos. I only have two tattoos, mind you. But I do like them. For my 18th birthday, I bought myself a small tattoo of a rose. Before my friend moved out of state in 2011, we went together to get her first tattoo and my second.
I think of that tattoo as my life saver. That tattoo is the reason I found a lump in my breast.
A little known fact of breast exams is that there are tumors that cannot be found while you are standing in the shower, or looking at your breasts in the mirror. Furthermore, sometimes your doctor might miss a tumor while s/he examines you, just based on where that tumor is.
In my pursuit of a silly recreation, I found out that I had gone from a high risk of cancer to a crisis. I had a large mass in my left breast, and the start of one amazing battle ahead of me.
First of all, I had an HMO. This is where my first piece of advice comes into play for all readers: you must ask for a case manager. Trust me, between trips to your GP and your OB/GYN, and referrals for labs, mammograms, and ultrasounds before you even get near any kind of oncologist, you will need an advocate. My advocate helped me to get a bilateral mastectomy, genetic testing, a total hysterectomy and the necessary chemotherapy.
Second of all, the questions are horrendous! Don’t just write down a list of your own questions prior to your first oncology appointment. It’s very important to write down questions that your spouse may have, questions your children have (mine had an endless list), questions your family may have.
Third of all, please ask questions about the cancer history of your family members. It’s an upsetting subject, to put it very mildly, but your doctor can help you to make more informed decisions if s/he is fully aware of any possible role genetics may play in your illness.
These small pieces of advice really don’t give you the truly important information. You will survive this, you will triumph over this disease: it will not define you. It’s a terrifying path, and a painful one, but the other side of cancer is amazing, and beautiful. You can do this! Never, ever give up.