I say the Serenity Prayer every day. It is mostly a result of having to say it aloud every morning, prior to Father Bernard’s chemistry class at Saint Bede Academy in 1974. And, that is a long time ago! This prayer became especially powerful to me a little under four years ago when I went to have a bone density test at a local MRI clinic, and the woman behind the counter looked at me with an uncomfortable expression and said, “We’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” I had no idea at that moment what she was talking about, but said, “OK?” This is a moment that will be forever etched in my mind. It was the first moment in what would become a three year journey with breast cancer and breast reconstruction.
Needless to say, I had a second mammogram that day, in addition to my bone density test, and the results were conclusive: there were tiny dots on the lower half of my right breast. They looked like granules of sand in the image. For the first time in my history of having mammograms, the radiologist came back and spoke to me while I was still in my gown about the small dots in the image, and why he was concerned. I’m quite sure I looked like a deer in headlights, because the X-ray technician kept patting me on the arm and telling me, “It’s probably nothing.” and “It’s going to be fine.” I dressed, went out to my car, and began to sob. Why me? Why now? What if it really was breast cancer? My father had been diagnosed with it in 1974, and my uncle had been recently diagnosed. My great Aunt Mary had died from it. Was I next?
You already know the answer to this question. Yes, after speaking with two surgeons, one who told me “not to worry about it, come back in six months, and get a colonoscopy first.”, and then having 18 needle biopsies, I was indeed diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ-stage zero breast cancer.
Although, I did have the colonoscopy, I also went for a second opinion with a breast cancer surgeon. He said that I should not wait to have a biopsy and scheduled it on the spot for late January.
The biopsy experience was the first in a number of harrowing experiences in my breast cancer saga. In order to biopsy your breast, they lie you face down on a table that has an opening for your breast to hang below it. This is how they are able to access the breast in order to find the places where they saw the granules. They numb the breast and then begin a series of, what sounds like a loud staple gun, needle aspirations in my breast: 18 in total. They have rock music playing in the background as a distraction, but I can’t say that it helps much. It is a stunning experience to be lying on this table, with the aspiration needle being shot into your breast, and the doctor calling out numbers that correspond to a grid that she is looking at in order to find the placement of the granules. When it is over, they tell me to put on my clothes and they will call me with the results. Again, a moment in time, I will never forget.
I received the call a few days later. This time it was the breast surgeon who told me the news. I did in fact have stage zero breast cancer. He said that I would be getting a call from the hospital to schedule a lumpectomy in the near future. A woman from the hospital called and told me that the first available surgery date was February 14th. I said incredulously, “Valentine’s Day? Are you kidding me?”, but she assured me that this was not a joke, and that February 14th was indeed going to be the day of my lumpectomy. My heart sank a little bit more, but I mustered up the courage to say, “Ok.”
From this moment forward, I would be identified as a person with cancer. Once I got over the initial shock, I had an epiphany: I realized that my life, my family, my disease, was a gift. It is the gift that keeps on giving, because all we ever have, all I ever have is right here, right now: today. Valentine’s Day is just another day, like all the rest. It is up to me to make the most of every day, to treat every day like it is Valentine’s Day. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to you today and every day. It’s really all we have in the end anyway. To life.