Tuesday, December 1, 2015


 I’m getting a tattoo.     I lost my older sister at 40 to breast cancer.  Three years ago my younger cousin died of breast cancer.  This spring my 79 year old mother was diagnosed. 
Like many other teachers I try to schedule appointments in the summer.  We didn’t have school the day before Labor Day, I got up early to have my yearly exam.  Before I got home I’d had three calls.  One call from the local hospital, asked me to call and schedule a follow up appointment, and two more from the doctor’s office asking me call about my test results.
I begged for a late day appointment.  Missing the 5th day of school seemed like an insurmountable problem.  My fellow teachers covered my class for me, allowing to leave early and not need a substitute.  I’ve faced repeat mammograms; last year in fact I had one that was uneventful.  But I admit the urgent calls had me a little uneasy. 
As I got dressed after the exam I was shown into an office and I was introduced to a friendly young woman.  The nurse told me she was my “Breast Cancer Navigator.”  I admit to a mental snicker.  Why would I need a breast cancer navigator?  The radiologist joined us and explained he was concerned about a spot.  I was scheduled for a biopsy, I was also assured I shouldn’t worry, that 80% of the tests show results that are non-cancerous. 
Thursday was a good day for the procedure I’d have Friday and the weekend days for recovery.  Writing plans for the third week of school wasn’t easy.  I had a sense of urgency to get answers, quickly.  The one spot to be biopsied was now two!  I have a 80 % this will be non cancerous. 
 There’s a reason I don’t buy lottery tickets, I have bad luck!  Yes, I’m, one of the 20 percent. 
I was quickly scheduled to see a surgeon.  He suggested before surgery I have genetic testing to see if I have the breast cancer gene.  My luck was changing.  I did not!  Waiting the three weeks for results was hard.  I found it ironic I’d be learning my results in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and also the month of my departed sister’s birthday. 
My lumpectomy was on a Thursday, including weekend days that allowed me eleven days to recover.  I returned to work for two days and then went to the surgeon for a recheck.  I fully expected for him to look at my incision, pat me on the back and send me on my way with a reminder to continue to have yearly mammograms. 
“Have you been scheduled for radiation?” asked the Resident.  “I’m not having radiation.”  I replied.  He glanced at the chart.  As they left the room I texted my sister, she’d taken notes during our initial visit.  She didn’t recall any discussion of the need for radiation.  When the surgeon and his team rejoined me they asked about my husband.  I’d assured him this was a routine appointment and encouraged him to work!  I laughed and explained I didn’t realize how important this appointment had just become.  When I later called him from the parking lot he too was surprised at the next step in treatment. 

Last week I saw a medical oncologist.  Tomorrow I see a radiology oncologist.  Later this week the markings for the radiation will be made.  And at 57 I’ll be getting a tattoo. It will mark where the radiation will be applied.