Thursday, November 1, 2007
that was then
in may of 2001, i was teaching high school and looking forward to chaperoning the prom. in the t.j.maxx dressing room with piles of discounted evening gowns, giggling with a friend after a few glasses of wine- i smoothed the fabric of beautiful dress over my breasts and there it was. like it appeared out of thin air. time stopped for a few moments, long enough for me to think no, no, not now, not breast cancer, not this. how could something so significant be growing in my body without me knowing?
that story ends happily, although the path i traveled was very hard and rocky at the time. i was 34, a teacher, a single homeowner with a dog and very much settled into my small town midwest life. i didn't know how ripe i was for shaking.
the following friday in the late afternoon, i had my first mammogram and ultrasound. afterwards, the arrogant radiologist sat on the edge of bed ( i remember clearly how irritating it was that i could feel his hip against mine) and announced that yes, it was a tumor, it was large enough that i would be having surgery for certain and it may indeed be cancer. i was sent home with no answers, only building questions and galloping fear.
i was blessed with a kind and skilled surgeon. my biggest fear that first meeting was -would i be horribly scarred and how soon could be get this done. i was going to nyc, leading a group of 10 high school art students in only two weeks time. i couldn't cancel the trip. my doctor wanted that tumor out just as quickly as possible, within days, i was grimacing through the insertion of my first iv needle.
the tumor came out without protest, my surgeon was skilled, my scar as small as one could hope for when a thing the size of a baseball is removed from your breast. a soft line following the curve of my aureola like a faint frown is all that remains today.
i was lucky, the tumor was benign. a rare, strange tumor called phyllodes. they grow quickly but keep to themselves and don't spread to other parts of the body, even when they are malignant. he got it all. when i asked what it looked like, my surgeon said it was solid and white like a turnip inside.
my chances of getting another were small. i counted my blessings and looked at my life with new eyes.
that was may. in the fall, a few days before my birthday, the world turned upside down on 9/11. that was it. i knew without a doubt that if a person could get cancer or be bombed any fucking day, i sure better love my life, every bit of it.
i wrote my exit plan from my safe little life. within two years, i had sold my house, quit the teaching job and moved across the country launch my business in portland, oregon. i fell in love with the moss here. i felt nurtured by the organic food choices, the coffee shops and bookstores, the diversity.
the tumor held a lesson and i took it to heart. i heard it as a wake-up call. i grew up, got serious about what matters and found a good therapist. i healed my relationship with my mother and came out. those are the big highlights, there are a myriad of other riches i owe to that tumor.
basically, i woke up. i found the now.