Once upon a time there was a woman named Kathy, with six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. She was a wise woman and knew to get yearly mammograms. One fine summer day, the family was having a picnic in her backyard. Everyone at corn on the cob, fried chicken and salads of all varieties, finishing it off with big slices of watermelon and home baked chocolate chip cookies. Even her mother, still sprightly at 82, was enjoying the day.
When the last plate of food had been eaten and the grandkids were running around chasing fireflies, Kathy stood up. “I have something to tell you,” she said. “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
The family was stunned. Questioning provided the following insights. Yes, it had already spread to many of her lymph nodes, so it was at least stage 2 and possibly stage 3a even though it was small. No, it was not something she could feel until they pointed it out to her. It was very close to the chest wall, not actually in the main part of her breast. But yes, she did know that something had to be wrong, because for the previous 3 years they always made her come back and re-do the mammogram on that side. She had never asked why, or else didn’t understand it if they did tell her.
According to some sites, stage 2 breast cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 81% and stage 3a a 5-year survival rate of 67%. The family was optimistic. Several of them knew women who had battled breast cancer for longer than that, and even gone into remission. They kept Kathy’s spirits up, helping out however they could.
Kathy had the lump removed, and then battled breast cancer for six years, before the cancer hit her liver. Her daughter called the oncologist, frantic, telling him that she’d read online that the outlook at that point was 2-4 months, on average. The doctor assured her that “that was then”, and there were all kinds of new treatments that gave new hope and more time. So the family remained optimistic.
In July 2007, Kathy passed away. It was roughly six years after her initial diagnosis, and four and a half months after it was detected in her liver. Because of her compromised immune system, she contracted a septic infection that could not be controlled. Have you ever heard a grown woman, with grandchildren of her own, crying out for her mommy? That will rip your heart out. Kathy died in the hospital, not even any time to move her to a comforting hospice unit, delirious with the fever but surrounded by her family and with her mommy holding her hand. She was 64 years old.
We miss you, Mom.
- When you’re doing your breast self-examination, feel ALL AROUND. Don’t just feel around the easy bits and call it quits.
- If they ever want to re-do a mammogram for any reason, make sure you understand WHY. If it’s because they see something, demand a biopsy. Don’t wait.
- When in doubt, get a second opinion. Heck, even when NOT in doubt, get a second opinion.
- Sometimes it pays to be optimistic. Sometimes it pays to be pessimistic. And sometimes it pays to just let go and enjoy what time you have left.
- Five-year survival rates are crap. Sure, you might LIVE five years, but you sure as hell may not enjoy them. Check your 10-year survival rates. That’s gonna give you a more realistic picture.
- Breast cancer kills.
- Never forget that. Breast cancer kills.