By Jeanne Charters
“The first thing you must mourn is the loss of your naiveté.” That’s what the social worker said at the support group. Hmmm …
I found that interesting, and after a time of considering it, now realize she is absolutely right.
NAIVE BELIEF #1: Breast cancer won’t happen to me. I was as smug as Michael Phelps in a Speedo. It happens to other women, not me. You’ve seen them—the ones walking around with scarves covering bald heads, their eyes either bold with survival or haunted with fear. Them with their pink ribbons and T-shirts. Poor them. Smug me. Do I sound like you?
NAIVE BELIEF #2: Surely, those women did something wrong. Didn’t nurse their babies. Didn’t eat right. Didn’t exercise. Didn’t get regular mammograms. I did all these things that they didn’t, so I was safe, right? Okay, so I was a slacker at self examination, but shoot, you can’t be perfect.
NAIVE BELIEF #3: And my daughters are safe, too. Right? Especially the hiker, organic eater one who breast fed three babies while excelling in medical school and residency.
Uhhhh … until she wasn’t safe. Until I wasn’t safe. Shed the smugness, Jeanne. It didn’t become you anyway.
But the thing is, I really miss my naiveté. She was like a cozy friend who assured me that everything would be okay. That some things were within my control. That life was safe and predictable. But it isn’t. Sorry friend, it isn’t.
I’m not yet at the point where I see the growth that came from breast cancer, but people tell me I’ll get there. I sure hope people are right because right now, there’s a whole lot of sadness going on. And I do not like being sad. After all, I write a column called funny, isn’t it? And I’ve always said my greatest genetic blessing is my sense of the ridiculousness of life. Well, actually it is ridiculous that I got breast cancer. It’s ridiculous that anyone gets it. But they do.
Speaking of ridiculous stuff, I was talking to my oldest daughter about how sorry we feel for poor Jennifer Aniston. I mean, seriously! First Angelina, arguably the most beautiful woman on earth, steals Jen’s man. Then, the hussy bears three of his babies, adopts three more, becomes a good-will ambassador to third world countries, and now, comes clean about her genetic patterning and its resultant bi-lateral mastectomy. Let’s face it, she has probably saved the lives of thousands of women.
Good grief, the woman even got the Supreme Court to rule that genes are not patentable, thus opening the door for affordable testing. How can poor Jennifer compete with that? Yes, she’s cute and has a great figure, but really now …
When I had that genetic test done at Fullerton Laboratory here in Asheville, I was shocked to learn that the only facility in this country licensed to determine my results is located in Utah. The good news was that I do not carry the genetic mutations that predict breast cancer. The bad news was that there was only one lab in this entire country legally able to analyze my results. Which meant that it could cost nearly $4,000.00. Fortunately, my insurance covered me, but what about other women?
NAIVE BELIEF 4: That genetic testing is an absolute indicator. Poof! Gone with the wind. Remember — I tested negative.
But it’s important that I get back to that one thing I did wrong—ignoring the need for a regular breast self examination.
Funny, isn’t it? It’s such a simple thing to do, but so many of us forget.
I’ll never know why I lucked out that one night. Thank you, God. It was last September. I was due for my annual mammogram in October. For some reason, I rolled on my left side and felt the side of my right breast.
Whoa … what is that?
I felt again. It was still there. I’d had needle biopsies before, but this thing felt different. But I didn’t panic. It was just another cyst. My regular annual exam was scheduled for two days later. When I arrived in my doctor’s office, I said, “Hey, Dr. Warren. I felt a little something on the right side. Check it out, won’t you? It’s probably nothing.
She looked calm as I knew she would. “You’re right. It’s probably nothing, but just to be on the safe side, let’s get that mammogram scheduled this week.” Thank you again, God, and thank you, Dr. Warren.
After that, things happened at warp speed. Mammogram, ultrasound, “looks slightly suspicious,” biopsy.
When Dr. Warren’s nurse called and said the doctor would like to see me, I said, “uh oh.”
She answered, “uh huh.”
Surgery was within a week, then radiation that ended three months ago. No chemo, thank God, so I didn’t have to do the bald head/scarf look. But I’m still scared. And a little sad. Naive was a good place to live.
So, here’s my chance to play Angelina—without the six kids and Brad Pitt to worry about. It’s important that you listen to me. Dear Sister Woman, schedule your annual mammogram today—no matter how busy you are. And while you’re at it, do as I say and not as I did. DO THOSE SELF EXAMINATIONS! I mean it. I’m watching.**
**Recommendations based on the experience and opinion of the author; WNC Woman magazine does not suggest healthcare treatment to our readers. Please see your own physician for more information about your options.
Jeanne Charters, a transplant from New York, is a writer living in Asheville with her husband, Matt Restivo. Her collection of columns, “Funny, isn’t it?” is available at Malaprops, Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com.
She has written three novels and has acquired an agent for her young adult novel, “Shanty Gold.” Jeanne is working on edits, per that agent, and hopes to have a publisher this year. She can be reached at email@example.com.