This week one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’m devastated for her. The news that she will be hurled into the same ugly fight I’ve endured has rocked me to my core. Naively, I hoped I’d taken the “hit” for all of the women I love, but cancer doesn’t work that way. Cancer is indiscriminate.<PREVIEWEND>
After two suspicious mammograms and an ultrasound, my friend had a needle biopsy. For the next three days we waited for the results. Thursday her doctor left a voicemail saying, “We need to chat. I’ll call you, again, tomorrow.” Tossed out like a line from a bad “B” movie, I wondered what kind of doctor leaves such a thoughtless message. Surely the doctor knew the implications of her words, that they would hang in the air like bold letters etched in stone. At that point it was hard for me to throw out positive lifelines, and even harder for my friend to catch, and so we steeled ourselves for the worst.
Since high school my two best friends have been Gayle and Lee. They are smart, funny women who’ve seen me through good times and bad. Today it’s my and Lee’s turn to be there for Gayle, because Gayle is the one who’s been diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer. To say we’re shocked is an understatement and to say we’re angry doesn’t begin to describe the anguish and devastation we feel.
At the same moment Gayle called me on my landline to tell me her biopsy results, Lee was calling my cell phone to see if I’d heard from her. In a weird kind of conference call, I put Gayle and Lee each on speakerphone, and held the two phones together, while Gayle told us the results. I think we were all prepared, but hearing it and having it confirmed was sobering. I stared at the phones, imagining each of my friends on the other end. I could see their faces, the same faces I’ve loved since we were 16. Our conversation was punctuated by silence, then tears, followed by laughter and more tears.
Yesterday when I told Gayle I might start writing blogs with information I wanted her to have, she suggested I go ahead and use her name. Perhaps by personalizing her breast cancer journey, it might help someone else in ways we have yet to imagine.
Next week Gayle is having a lumpectomy. This will tell us a lot about her cancer and the kind of treatment she’ll need. At this point, we believe her cancer was caught early; Stage 1, and she may need radiation but no chemo. I can’t help but think of when Gayle and Lee and I went to an outdoor Sting concert, in 100 degree plus Texas heat, eight days after my first mastectomy. I wore white linen and my turkey basters, as Lee called them, the temporary drains attached to where my breast had been. Our seats were in the last row and Carrot Top could have been lip-syncing Sting songs for all we knew, but I didn’t care. I was there. I was alive, with my two best friends, singing and clapping like my world hadn’t been condensed onto a glass slide two inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide.
As I looked at the thousands of women in the audience, I thought of the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I looked from woman to woman thinking, “She’s had it, or she has it and doesn’t know it.” If each of these women had known about my bandages and my turkey basters, where the week before my breast had been, many wouldn’t have agreed with me that life doesn’t get any better than this. I wanted to hug each one of them and tell them to keep singing, keep laughing. Pull from each moment the things you want to remember. Savor them. Laugh at them. Live your life with joy.
So now I’m telling these things to you, Gayle. I love you, sister girl. This won’t be easy--I know--but you will get through this and emerge on the other side stronger than ever. You will be all right. Of that, I am certain.
And to Gayle’s breast cancer, “You’ve raised your ugly malignant neoplasm in the wrong breast, and we’re fixing to kick your ass to the curb!”
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