Sunday, January 6, 2008

I see a red door...

I lied about posting a pretty picture, but you probably didn't notice.

Today is the fourth anniversary of my excisional biopsy (lumpectomy), yielding a preliminary diagnosis of breast cancer.

It was an epiphany, of sorts.

None of us continues in exactly this form forever. I'm rather attached to it though, warts and all.

I was supposed to have what is known as a sentinel node biopsy, where dye is injected into the lymph channels in the breast, and they remove the first lymph node in the underarm that it travels to. The node was buried deep, though, and the surgeon couldn't find it, so rather than leaving me under anesthesia too long, he did a full axillary dissection, removing all levels 1 and 2 nodes from the armpit.

If he hadn't done that, I wouldn't have had chemo. All nodes were negative for cancer, and the tumor was small. But the pathologist located a tiny tumor in the fatty tissue removed with the full dissection. The tumor was identified as a metastasis (spread) in transit, i.e., cancer cells on their way from the breast to the nodes. Another two tiny tumors (try saying that three times fast) were found in a second surgery to get a larger border of non-cancerous cells around the tumor. So I was finally staged at IIb, and told my chance of recurrence in five years (either a second primary cancer or metastases) was about 30%. Fifteen months later, despite two surgeries, chemo, radiation, and a hormonal treatment, I was diagnosed with metastases to the bones.

It's an existential dilemma, it is. How do you balance hope and genuine living with being realistic? Hardly anybody gets out of this alive. I am not the same person as I was before the diagnosis. I live with death on a daily basis. No matter how "reasonable" you are, there's a visceral fear that's hard to deny, and a reluctance to lose all this.

No answers here.



Anonymous said...

Hi May. "How do you balance hope and genuine living with being realistic?" I have read and re-read this line. I have a terminally ill grandson. We live with this question daily and have not found the answer. I wish I had the answer. I have told my daughter it's her job to see that he is the best person he can be in his lifetime. My job is to help her have the strength. But I still can't find the answer to that question. Leola (southshoreartist)

May Terry said...

Leola, I'm so sorry to hear of this. It is so heartbreaking when it happens to your child or grandchild.

I guess all we can do is try. You've given your daughter very wise advice. To be the best person we can be is everyone's job. That will certainly help, as will your support of your daughter.

With all of you living in the present, as I'm also trying to do, I think you are finding that balance. I never deny what will happen in the future. But if I'm living right now, fully and productively, it doesn't matter.

I'll be thinking about you.


Bettina Makley, aka Fairywebmother. said...

May, I have no idea what to say...and yet I want to respond, so badly. I'm here.

May Terry said...

Thanks, Bettina. That's all that matters.