Other than Minnie Mouse, I was the last one anybody expected to get breast cancer. I was the woman who did everything right: worked out at the gym five to six days a week, rarely ate fast foods, mostly chicken and vegetables, was a perfect size eight, drank in moderation, got my yearly mammograms, and more often than not, did my monthly self breast exams in the shower. It was during one of those monthly, soapy tours that I found the lump: Christmas Eve morning, 2003. With 14 people coming for Christmas Eve dinner, I tabled it in the back of my mind until the next day when I performed a slower, more detailed inspection. Both breasts were dense and usually contained several fibro cystic lumps, but my little voice said this one was different.
My 2004 New Year began with a mammogram. The doctors said everything was fine. Just one of my usual cysts that came and went. Nothing to worry about… but I did, at every opportunity. I looked for it in the shower, laying down, bending over, at the computer, through the silk robe I sometimes wore while putting on my makeup. The maddening thing about all of my searches was, more often than not, they turned into a game of hide and seek. Yep! I feel it! Oops… Now where did it go? While my pursuits couldn’t be classified as a hobby, I spent much of the next six months obsessed with trying to find “it.” All the while, my little voice told me all was not well with my breast.
In July 2004, I scheduled another mammogram. When my doctor called and said nothing’s changed, it’s fibro cystic, I told him I didn’t care what the mammograms said. I wanted it out. Three days later, my husband and my wife-in-law (James’s former wife) Joy, and I all trooped to the hospital. Joy and I even joked with the woman at the admitting desk about the surgeries from Hell you hear about on the news where the wrong leg is amputated. We laughed as I marked an “X” on my breast with a ballpoint pin to make sure the correct breast was biopsied.
The next thing I remember, James, Joy and my doctor were standing beside my bed. “It’s breast cancer,” my doctor said. I was still semi-stupefied from the anesthesia, and James and Joy stood expressionless, frozen in time like familiar figures in a wax museum. My doctor had a concerned expression as he gave me the news. “I told her it was fibro cystic,” he’d told his assistants in the operating room. Then he cut out the cyst, and there “it” was… hiding underneath. I’ve never asked Joy, but I now wonder whether her little voice told her she needed to be there for James: to help him pull himself together before they told me.
Fast-forward to September 2008, a checkup with my oncologist. “Go live your life,” he said. “I think you’re going to do great,” to which I responded, “Do you think I need one of those tests to see if I carry the breast cancer gene?” Since I had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, his answer was no. And so I went home, and like a dog with a bone, I couldn’t leg it go. My little voice told me I needed a BRAC Analysis test, a simple blood test to determine if I carried a gene mutation that would increase my risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast.
The day I went for the test results, I asked James to come with me, because I knew the results before they told me. Sure enough. I was BRCA2 positive, which meant my odds of getting breast cancer in the other breast were something like 84%. Unlike my diagnosis of breast cancer, this news did not scare either one of us. James and I looked at each other and in unison said, “This is a no-brainer!” And so, I had the other breast removed, and thank you, God, we were able to beat breast cancer to the punch.
I believe we all have an inner voice. Some of us are more in tune with it than others, but whether you call it intuition, gut instinct, or the voice of God, it’s there if you know how to be still and listen. My voice is there as surely as I know the sun rises and sets each day. Are you in tune with your little voice? How much time do you spend in silence, each day? No radio, no TV, no iPod tethered to your ears. How do you expect to hear it if you’re not listening?