February 28th, 2013

Sorry for any typos there might be. My right arm still isn’t at its best.

So, it’s been a month since I had the mammogram that showed two lumps in my right breast. They were small, so small that three manual exams by my gyn and one previous mammogram had been unable to detect them. They caused me many symptoms all the same, and had been doing so for far longer than I like to think. I knew there was something wrong, but I had no idea it was something so serious. This was my fourth visit to the doctor for this problem.

On the day of the mammogram, the radiologist tried not to broadcast to me that she believed it was cancer. However, I’m a pretty intuitive person and I picked up on it. She told me I needed a biopsy, but that if the diagnosis was positive she assured me that the cancer appeared to be low grade, slow-growing.

The day of the mammogram was probably my most emotional day of this entire journey. I was shocked that they’d found something. I thought this visit to the doctor would be like all the rest. “The mammogram/my examination shows nothing. Your symptoms are probably due to poly cystic changes.” Instead I saw the tumors for myself and got words like “biopsy” and “low grade.” I was terrified.

I’ve had cancer scares previous to this one, so I dealt with it the same way I had before, with meditation and mindfulness. I created a sort of in-the-moment zen bubble. It’s my best coping strategy and I remain in it to this day…and will for many more. I was a mess that first day, but then managed to get my mind and emotions under control.

I’m not really all that afraid of death. (If there’s one thing an experience like this will do is put you nose-to-nose with the reality that one day you’re going to die.) Obviously, I don’t want to die, but what I really fear is leaving my daughter motherless. She’s adopted and has already lost one mother. The thought of her losing another is absolutely heartbreaking and horrifying for me. This is the fear I need to reconcile.

When the biopsy results came back positive, I wasn’t surprised. I had been hoping to dodge this, but no luck this time. I had the name of a highly recommended surgeon and I made arrangements to meet with him. I already knew that, in my case, a mastectomy of my right breast was the best choice. My radiologist had termed it, “the more definitive option,” instead of using the word “mastectomy,” but I prefer to call a spade, a spade.

Before my diagnosis, the thought of a mastectomy was appalling. After my diagnosis, it was the only thing I wanted done. It’s funny how things change when you know you have cancer inside of you. You’ll do anything to get it OUT. NOW.

My husband kept (and keeps) reassuring me that I would still be attractive after the operation, not to worry about that part of it, but my head wasn’t there. How I would look in a bikini was the last thing on my mind. MY BOOB IS TRYING TO KILL ME. GET IT OFF. That’s how I felt. If I could have had a mastectomy on the day of my diagnosis, I would have.

I couldn’t have a mastectomy right away, though. I had to wait two weeks. Which, considering, wasn’t that long.

It felt like forever.

I am 39 and don’t have a family history of any kind of cancer. Over the last few years I have greatly improved my diet and health and I’ve always been conscious of chemicals in food. I don’t know how I contracted this disease. I am told that for 75% of people who get cancer, it’s this way.

That said, in those two weeks, I not only cultivated a sitting meditation practice and became adept at maintaining the purest form of mindfulness I have ever been able to achieve, I also took a look at the toxic substances in my life and began researching ways to replace them with natural compounds. I started juicing fruits and vegetables as well.

Food is source of great concern for me now. Before I ate for enjoyment in large part, now I treat food as medicine. Nothing goes into my body that doesn’t nourish me in some fundamental way. I eat no fruit or vegetable that isn’t organic. I will probably never eat anything processed ever again, nothing with chemicals or unpronounceable compounds of any kind. I will probably never drink alcohol again. Maybe, eventually, red wine.

Basically my new rules for eating go this way: 1.) consume nothing for which there is a commercial. 2.) consume nothing that isn’t organic. 3.) consume nothing that doesn’t serve my health in a needful way.

I had already replaced some household cleansers with natural ones, but now I threw everything I wasn’t sure of. I dumped all my makeup, my face and body creams, deodorant, hair care products, everything….and replaced all of them with safer options.

I don’t know what caused this cancer, so I need to change as much about my environment as I can…so I NEVER have to go through this again.

The day of my surgery came and I was calm, floating in my little bubble of zen cool. The anesthesia made me dream, so strange. I woke in recovery thinking I was waking up in my own bed (if only)!

I’m pretty sure there’s a book in here somewhere and, one day, I’ll probably write it. This was my second attempt to start a journal of my experiences, however. The first time damaged my calm state of mindfulness big time. So, I think the book (whatever form that will take…probably fiction) will be for down the road a bit.

So, yes, it’s been about a week since my surgery and I’m doing really, really well. I’m in pain, of course, but I’m healing. We got the cancer before it made it to my lymph nodes. Obviously, that’s super awesome. I do still have a phantom boob once in a while, but that phantom boob has pain, so I’m thankful when it goes away. I do still look down occasionally and wonder where the hell my breast went. I find this kind of humorous rather than sad.

I am so, so thankful we caught this early. To think I almost didn’t ask my doctor about my symptoms that day, since I’d asked so many times before and they’d found nothing. To think I almost didn’t do that and she would never have ordered a second mammogram…..no, I’m very grateful.

And I have a recommendation for an apparently great reconstructive surgeon, so in six months I’ll have a new boob…and whole brand new rack, probably, and all this will be in my rearview mirror.

24 comments to “Update”

  1. Wow Anya, my heart goes out to you. I can’t believe how strong you’re being about this. I think that I would fall to pieces if this was me.

    I’m so glad that you had the sense to ask your Doctor about this and get another mammogram done. I’m happy for you in that you’re being so positive and upbeat about this trauma you’re going through.

    I wish you a speedy recovery, and nothing but good health from now on.

  2. Anya,

    You have been in my thoughts and prayers. I’m glad to hear that you are healing and in good spirits. I will continue to pray for your recovery and later reconstruction.



  3. Anya– So glad you’re done w/the surgery! Sending healing vibes your way and wishing you the easiest possible recovery.

  4. Anya-You don’t know me, but I saw your post and wanted to comment. I am so glad for your results. It does change you in ways you can’t imagine. In 2008, I was diagnosed with non small cell lung cancer and was told that it could be only 20 % chance of survival. I went through 1 round of radiation and miracle of miracles, it was gone. It has been 5 years and I count my blessings everyday. I enjoy your books and I can’t wait for more. Wishing you the best

  5. So glad to hear that surgery went well, Anya. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story with us.

    Wishing you all the best for your continued recovery!

  6. I’ve been concerned about you and am glad to know you’re doing well. I know the scare a ‘something’ in the breast can cause. I’ve had two biopsies and both were fine. Now I may be looking at another if whatever is there still looks ‘interesting’ when I have a second mammogram this week.
    You take care. Know I’m thinking about you and wish you all the luck in the world.

  7. I’m not a religious person, so I won’t say I’ve been praying for you, as I’m not a hypocrite.
    I will say however that I am in awe of the courage you have shown and your sheer determination not to let this curve in the tracks derail your journey.
    My heart felt best wishes are headed your way from Australia and your strength of character is inspirational to us all.
    Without a fight the battle cannot be won.

  8. I am so glad you made it through okay. You are a strong women and testment to women everywhere. We will keep praying and sending healing vibes your way.

  9. Anya, Your courage and determination are amazing. I don’t know that in your place I would be up to giving advice and hope at this stage. Because of your selflessness, someone who was scared will get checked and their life will be saved. On behalf of that person let me say thank you. Take good care of yourself.

  10. I am impressed with your level of courage and frame of mind. You make us all proud. My sister in law when through this over 28 years ago and it has never returned, thank goodness. She had the reconstruction done and she has always looked great, even though there are adjustments you will have to deal with for a lifetime, but your doctor will explain those and they are minor in the scheme of things. She looks no different and I rarely am reminded that she had it done. She is now in her mid 60’s and doing just great and is still a nurse and working in a hospital. Be brave and know we all support you.

  11. I am so glad things went well for you! I know this is a hard time for you and to read this and see you have keep your spirits up is awe inspiring. I really wish you a healthy full recovery and best wishes on your new rack!!! I have an incurable disease and have noticed the changes in going organic and getting all the crap out of my house. Best wishes!!!!

  12. So glad to hear that you are on the mend; I’ve been checking every day for some news. I can’t tell you how important it is to check yourself all the time and to question every little thing!

  13. I have spent the last 5 months going through a similar experience except I had cysts that would pop up and disappear and never show up on any test.

    I totally get the “my boob is trying to kill me;” mine went from erogenous to malevolent in about five minutes.

    I know I will be more watchful because of my experience and I hope that you do well with your recovery and treatment. Best WIshes.

  14. i’m glad to have some news and to see you keep your fighting and positive spirit^^

    you are really inspiring

    i wish you all the best

  15. Glad the surgery went as well as possible, and you’re on the way to feeling better. I can only imagine how scary it’s been. Your response has been admirable.

    I wish you all the best,

  16. Thank you for sharing your emotional journey with us. What courage! Your fears are so understandable, and frankly, I feel the same. I don’t ever want to leave my kids motherless. I probably should be taking better care of myself. Thank you for your insight and thoughts. I will keep you in my thoughts and look forward to future updates.

  17. Anya – I’m so glad to hear you are doing well & that they were able to catch it in time. Myself & my family have been dealing with the “good” results & unfortunately, the “bad” results of cancer over the last few years. It not only takes a toll on the person with the cancer, but their family as well. My thoughts & prayers go out to you & your family. May God Bless you with continued health. (-:

  18. Hi Anya,

    I am sorry to hear about your cancer. I was diagnosed with it last year and there was never history if it in my family too. Hearing the word “Cancer” its scary and I felt as you did to get the surgery over. I did not have to do Chemo, but had to do radiation therapy and to take tamoxifen. I was worrying about my kids, one who was graduating from high school and the other in 3rd grade. But with family support and their love, it gave me strength. Good luck and good health to you and your family. Take care. God Bless.

  19. So very glad you are doing well. You and your sweet family have been in my thoughts and prayers. Hugs!

  20. Anya, you are in my thoughts and devotions. I am just now learning of this. Beaming you tons of healthy energy and joy. I have been trying to contact you. When you feel up to it please drop me a line. Gentle ((HUGS))

  21. I stopped by to see how you are doing. I’m so glad to hear you are doing well. March 13th was my one year anniversary and a year will make a huge difference in your stamina and pain. Best wishes.

  22. Anya,

    I wish you all the best. Cancer is a horrible disease that knows no boundaries or limits. Thank goodness you caught it early and it is something you can beat. My mom is an 18 year survivor of stage 3 breast cancer…have hope and stay positive.

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