Common sense, maturity and even the possibility of death vanished as vanity prevailed upon hearing my diagnosis of breast cancer in December of 2003. One week had passed since the needle biopsy on my right breast, which remained blotchy black, dark blue and painful.
Gripping the phone, I ask, “How much boob is normally removed during a lumpectomy?”
“We won’t know until we go in and see the size and how much surrounding tissue is affected.”
“Could you make a guess? Like will I lose the size of a marble, a ping pong ball, golf ball or maybe….? Ok, Ok, Ok, I’ll wait and see.” Yeah right, I’m thinking as I gnaw on my fingers.
Setting the phone down an inner critic assails me, shouting, “How vain can you get?” As time would tell, pretty darn vain, in fact, vanity was my constant companion throughout my year of cancer treatment. If I wasn’t focused on the chiseling away of the boob, it was the loss of hair, breast reconstruction or how I would ever again wear Victoria’s Secret bras. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Lips parched, body stiff, my eyes are focused on the bright lights of the recovery room. “Welcome back, Dawn,” says the nurse. “The doctor will be in soon.”
Always hyper vigilant, something in the doctor’s voice doesn’t sound quite right. “You did great, how do you feel?” he asks.
Ignoring his question I ask anxiously, “Ok, so how many golf balls did you take out?”
Laughing at my rather childish analogy, he says, “About two ping pong balls.” Then his voice changes to a serious tone. “But it is irrelevant because we found more cancer in another quadrant of the breast which will have to be removed. I am referring you to an oncologist in Seattle.”
Stunned, I stopped listening. You know it’s not good when the doctor says, “I am referring you to….”
After several tests, exams, tests and more tests my choices were either a second lumpectomy or a mastectomy as subsequent tests would reveal,
“Patient has multicentric disease which tested estrogen and progesterone receptor positive. A 1.9 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma and an additional 2.3 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma with extensive in situ carcinoma extending to multiple margins. Finale pathology demonstrates an infiltrating ductal carcinoma estimated to be 4 cm mass in size approaching the posterior margin within a ½ a millimeter in two areas.”
Ok, I think, with a lumpectomy I would have maybe a two ping pong size boob left which I could work with but I would always be wondering if ALL of the cancer was removed. That will be two little ping pong balls of a boob out of a starting point of about six ping pong balls, weighed against no cancer left in my body. Hummm!
Oh thank God! Finally, fear over vanity. Ok, maybe it was just for a brief moment, but still.
Choosing the mastectomy I fully intended reconstruction one day. So, focused on restoring my chest to its pre-mastectomy state I failed to hear the radiologist say, “Radiation may preclude the possibility of breast implants.”
Ah Yes. The power of the mind to let in only what it can handle in moments of distress. I even started thinking about a double boob job. I mean after all, I was 59 years old. What better justification for my shallow parts could my vanity critic part possible need than having a mastectomy? Ok then, I thought, maybe this will be the silver lining at the end of the storm. Off I went on my cavalier (if somewhat delusional) conveyer belt of cancer treatment.
If you choose to follow this blog series through my cancer diagnosis and lengthy treatment process, you will see fears, insecurity and vanity magnified. Then regrets revisited, humility considered, existential questions manifested, considered, rejected, then peacefully accepted only to repeat this entire process with every new procedure.
Pic. from www.Burningwell.org