Sunday, February 4, 2007
The Tears of a Cancer Bitch
I cried for about 20 seconds today, mostly because I was feeling irritable, I think.
My high school best friend called me this morning.
She said M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston had a very good breast cancer site. I googled and found it.
I clicked on the link for a guide for Jewish women about heredity and breast and ovarian cancer.
And all of a sudden on my screen was a picture of one of my mother’s good friends.
She’d died of ovarian cancer several years ago.
Apparently her family has set up a foundation at M.D. Anderson.
The sight of her just caught me.
I knew she’d died, and of ovarian cancer, but I’d forgotten.
There was lots of information about genetic factors in breast and ovarian cancer and the higher incidence of both among Ashkenazi Jews (such as myself and my friend and my mother’s friend and my cousin and aunt and Gilda Radner).
I can say I was shocked because the cancer hit close to home, but how much closer to home can it hit than my own breast?
The real answer may be that Death was hitting close to home.
I was looking up my own diagnosis and there on the screen was the picture of my mother’s dead friend.
That doesn’t seem to be all of it, but I will ponder it.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Morning with the MRI
This morning I’d been looking forward to finding out how a surgeon goes about doing a biopsy with the help of an MRI.
Well, that’s going a little far. I was curious about it.
When I went inside the MRI last week I lay on my stomach on a mattress or gurney with a cut-out rectangle for my breasts to hang through.
I had my head facing left on a pillow.
I couldn’t imagine how a surgeon would do the biopsy: lying on the floor and looking up at my breasts, scalpel poised like Michelangelo’s paintbrush?
All was revealed today, though I was asleep for much of it.
The staff kept talking about putting my breasts in a grid.
From what I could tell, the grid was like a plastic basket that strawberries come in, with little squares formed by the criss-crossed lines.
It attached to the cut-out rectangle.
So I lay down on this mattressy thing, my breasts caged in this basket, and my head not on a pillow but face down against a face cradle like massage therapists provide, except it wasn’t comfortable.
The surgeon sat in a chair next to me, and she performed two core biopsies along the outside of my breast.
They would send me back through the MRI from time to time, I think to make sure that she was digging in the right place.
This is what I think she did: Put a needle in, took it out, put a marker in its place, then sent me back under to make sure the marker was in the right place.
At least that’s what it sounded like in my early-morning haze.
Afterward I went upstairs to the Breast floor for a mammogram, to make sure that the markers had been embedded in the right place during the biopsy.
(As I write that, I cringe at the word “embedded.” I’ve noticed how we use it all the time now, because of the embedded journalists with troops in the Iraq war. Is accepting the jargon the first step toward accepting the policies? Probably.)
Tonight we were cleaning up the kitchen after making a stir-fry and L said to me, I don’t want them to hurt you. And he cried.
I’d hardly ever seen him cry and I wasn’t sure at first that he really was. He looked a little like Walter Matthau when he cried. And then he stopped.
February 8, 2007
The right breast, that is.
The left one will still have to go.
Maybe I’ll have a farewell party for it.
And serve scoops of peach ice cream with cherries on top.
S. L. Wisenberg is a university professor and writer.
She’s the author of an essay collection, Holocaust Girls: History, Memory and Other Obsessions, and a book of short stories called The Sweetheart Is In.
You can find her blog here.