A love note

Read this.

And then, I have another question to ask you. It’s the one that comes after “Did you check your boobies this month?” and “Do you even know how beautiful you are?” but before “Do you have enough life insurance?

Ready? Take a deep breath, girls, this is a big one.

I’ll start with a little story.

Last month, to celebrate my oopherectomy (I know!), my husband took us all back to the beach for a week. My mother-in-law and father-in-law came with us, and we spent a week together in the shelter of the house, watching storms rage on the beach and winds blow the waves higher than we’d ever seen. We ventured out when the weather let up, to dig on the beach, dip toes in the surf, and dash from little shop to little shop between the raindrops. It was incredibly relaxing and wonderful.

My mother-in-law and I slipped off to a little shop at one point while the kids played and dad and grandpa watched them on the playground. We popped into the beach-wear shop and tried on sundresses. (Yes, in September. That’s just the way I roll.) I fell in love with a beautiful deep blue number with stars and swirls. I loved it — but I was hesitant for one reason. My chest. No, not the lack thereof — but in fact the radiation burn to the skin (where my breasts had been) was showing, peeking out of the neckline as if to say, “Hey, remember me? Ha, ha, I’m still here and it really hasn’t been that long since treatment!” Or something like that. It’s a nice deep tan, now, but still obvious.

Or at least obvious to me.

So I came out of the dressing room and asked my mother-in-law if it was obvious to her.

And then I realized that I really didn’t care all that much who it was obvious to. I have a radiation burn. I don’t have boobs. I wear a funky arm wrap. That’s just the way things are. That’s just who I am and what I look like now. And I’m tired of covering it up. So there.

I twirled in the dress, and I felt better.

But the clerk heard us talking and came over to join in. (Slow day at the beach.) After reassuring me that she didn’t see anything, I told her why I was concerned, and told her that I’d had cancer. (To me, it was obvious. Silly me.)

Turns out that she’d had a bad mammogram 2 years ago and never followed up. Never got the biopsy. Never saw an oncologist. She just didn’t follow up. And now she’s wondering about the pain in her breast, and worried about going to see someone.

My jaw dropped to the floor. My mother-in-law and I both urged her to go see the doctor and get checked out, if just for reassurance, but I don’t think we were successful. I considered bargaining with her, kind of “I’ll buy this dress if you’ll go see the doctor,” but, in the end, I didn’t. Cause that’s rude. And cause I really wanted the dress.

But you, my friends, are so important to me that I’m going to be rude and ask you what I regret not asking her:

Are you putting off a doctor’s visit?

If you are, can I encourage you to go? Please?

18 Responses to A love note

  1. So I was going to email to ask if it was ok to use your name as part of my “do your monthly self-exams” post scheduled for tomorrow, but seeing this I am thinking you’ll be ok with it.

  2. De in D.C. says:

    Oh the poor woman. I do hope your talk helped her build up the courage to see her doctor. I’ve BTDT with putting off appointments (nearly 2yrs between dentists visits anyone?) but the guilt eats at me. I can’t imagine not following through on something like a mammography with a possible finding.

  3. Kristin says:

    I’m 33 with a rather large lump in my breast. Huge, even, and not exactly alone but multiple mammograms over the past three years (“Aren’t I too young?”) and ultrasounds and needle biopsies have shown it OK or not bad, at least. Just… lumpy. Like bad mashed potatoes.

    My doctor decided I *probably* have the genetic markers based on my family. All of the women on one side and a couple on the other. She said I should have my breasts checked by a professional at least once every six months for the rest of my life, so I do. And I will. For the rest of my life, because that might make the rest of my life that much longer.

    Knowing is scary but not knowing is worse.

  4. I found a lump a couple of months ago. Went directly to my doctor. Had it checked by ultrasound. It was nothing (yet), but we know to keep an eye on it. It was no big deal.

    It was because of people like you urging young women to check themselves and ask their doctor immediately if they are unsure, that I went. And I’m glad I did.

    I hope that woman in the store is ok.

  5. Donna W says:

    I had a bad mammogram a few years ago. The lady breast specialist (ever hear of one of those?) thought she was comforting me when she said, “I’m not so sure it’s cancer; I’d say a 50/50 chance.”

    I had the biopsy and it wasn’t cancer. But there for a few days I sure thought I had it.

    I do have my mammograms. Not yearly, but at least every other year.

  6. margaret says:

    Oh wow, I can’t imagine finding something and not have it checked!

    I’m glad your feeling more comfortable in your body. A week after I had my thyroid removed (no cancer) we took the girls to the zoo. There was a school group from Providence there and I remember having kids stare at the bandages across my neck. At one point one kid said, I think she had her neck slashed. The scar formed keloids (most of my scars do) so it’s still noticeable. However, I never let that bother me and usually don’t even think about it. I remember my dad saying once that it made him feel uncomfortable seeing it. And I’ve had other family members ask if my scar embarrasses me. Nope!

  7. Alyce says:

    My mother-in-law refuses to go to a doctor (for pretty much anything). I talked to her about her family’s medical history and was surprised to find that there is an extensive history of lumps and breast cancer in her family, yet she refuses to go for a mammogram and she’s 51.

    It’s so frustrating to me. I tried to tell her how much we love her and would hate for anything to happen to her, and convince her to go. She just said that her sisters and mom have been nagging her for years to get it done, and left it at that. I just can’t believe she doesn’t take it seriously.

    I hope that your comments were an encouragement to the lady in the shop. I would think (and hope) that the more people hear from others about the importance of exams, the more seriously they would take it.

  8. Spacemom says:

    Oh man, that is rough…

    I do a self-check every month and I have my baseline mammogram from when I turned 35. Next one at 40 unless I request because I notice something…

  9. Cheryl says:

    I just don’t get that. I always figured better the devil you know, than the one you don’t. I started getting mamograms at 30 since my mom had breast cancer at 48. She had 12 cancer free years and now it is back. 3 years and still fighting it, but unfortunately it is winning. But still that is 15 more years we had with her and she got to know her only grandson (my son who is now 3).

    Yes cancer is scary, but I would want to know all of my options, rather than sticking my head in the sand.

  10. magpie says:

    Oh, that is awful. That poor woman.

    (And yes, I got all felt up professionally in August – mwah!!)

  11. Catherine says:

    I haven’t visited my OBGYN since my daughter was born and she is now six. I have an appointment this afternoon, however I am the queen of not showing for appointments. I will take your strength and courage with me today and I will make this appointment happen. Thank you.

  12. NoRegrets says:

    Kinda reminds me of my dad who never ever went to the doctor because he likely didn’t want to hear anything. His family had a history of heart attacks. And of course he died of a massive heart attack. I do hope she goes. And enjoy the dress!!!

  13. I swear I don’t understand why women – especially with insurance! – wouldn’t run to the doctors for a mammogram!? We run our kids to the doctors at every sniffle they get, but taking care of ourselves so we don’t drop dead and leave out kids with no mothers (or grandmothers) is just assine. Getting xrays of you boobs is WAY easier than a screening for colon cancer – and you gotta do that too!

  14. lee says:

    Great point Susan. For those of us who were trained to treat ourselves as useless, following up on a perceived health issue seems like a waste of time. Rather hope to die soon : )

  15. Becki says:

    Alas, no. I’m scheduled for a targeted mammogram, a colonoscopy, and to have fillings replaced in one week. I’m tempted to put off or cancel some of it, but I won’t. Not now.

  16. How scary. I hope she went back to the doctor. I’m absolutely with you – if you don’t know what’s wrong (or IF there’s anything wrong), you can’t fix it.

    I’m glad you bought the dress. I’m sure you look smashing in it.

  17. erica says:

    Oh my, I pray she went back in to get it checked out!

    I found a lump myself in 2006 – no mammogram, no ultrasound, just had my ob/gyn confirm it and took his suggestion to have it removed. Turned out to be a harmless ol’ fibroadenoma. Could be the same for this poor lady too. My goodness, I hope she gets it checked either way!!!

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