I received a text from my sister on Friday, January 31st. Out of the blue, very matter of fact, she informed me that she has breast cancer.
There was no warning. I didn’t even know she was heading in for a mammogram, biopsy, or any sort of check that would point to something abnormal. She never let on that something funky was happening on her left side.
My sister is a stickler for checkups. Every year at the same time, she heads into this doctor and that doctor to get poked, prodded and scanned, just to make sure everything is still working as planned. Her questionable shadowy smudges showed up during her annual mammogram. The masses were so small, she hasn’t felt any lumps at all yet. But there they are. Twenty or so of them, nestled in and migrating up to her armpit. Thank you, early detection!
At her biopsy and follow up visit, she was informed about the type of breast cancer she has and surgery was scheduled for early next month. In an effort to stay on top of her new vocabulary, I hit the internet to research terms like “lumpectomy” and “ductal carcinoma in situ” and “dense breast tissue” and “calcification“. You see, with the end of her marriage, she is without an emergency contact. Now I am the one who will make life decisions for her if she becomes incapacitated. I’m honored. And it’s a position I’m familiar with. I’ve known her all of her life and I’m used to taking care of her.
On a scale of 1 to 10, she’s not surprised with the diagnosis. I think she’s ranked herself as a 9 on the “I kind of expected this” meter. She’s lived a hard life and punished her body with smoking and alcoholism. After two years of traveling on the wagon and a year without cigarettes, it looks like the stress of her contentious divorce is the factor pushing her mutant cells into overdrive.
Which brings up an interesting question. Does stress cause cancer? The jury is still out. For now.
As we talked this weekend about advance directives and operations, she mentioned the idea that her divorce stress helped to cause her cancer. Like many before her, she’s pointing to her bad lifestyle and recent stress. She was surprised to hear from friends and acquaintances about how many people had completed their divorce only to be diagnosed with the next demoralizing punch in the gut: The Big C.
I’m proud of her. She’s scared, concerned and remarkably strong in the face of her big, questionable future. We won’t know much more until the medical team goes in and starts to cut and scoop out the offending cells using radioactive markers to light the way. It’s very high tech. I can’t help it but I have a mental image of a melon baller.
I have to throw out some major kudos for my boss and my job. The thing about cancer is that it is so common you can’t help but know someone who has been impacted by the diagnosis. My boss is one of them. He generously offered up the ability for me to work remotely and take all of the time I needed to help my sister through this surgery and recouperation. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And way back in the dark corner of my brain, I wonder if breast cancer is contagious. Of course, I know it’s really not. It’s hereditary so my Spidey Sense is on high alert now and I can never again say that I don’t have any cancer risk factors or family history in my medical background.
But why would cancer hit my sister and not me? We’re both in highly emotional situations with our failing marriages. Even though I never smoked or used drugs, and my alcohol consumption can best be described as “very minimal”, I do have lots of job stress…both now and in the past. My fitness regimine is relatively new. I can’t say I’ve been big into exercise for the first 45 years of my life. What is it that spares me from the cancer lottery and gives her a “winning” ticket?
For now I’ll ponder my luck and do my best to support my sister as she travels her journey. It’s a familiar position, I’ve been with her since the day she was born.