Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nice girls don't talk about boobies

This is going to be a long confusing rant that you may want to skip if you're a guy. Unless you have a wife, or sisters, or a mom.

Tonight on Facebook I saw a picture of a bunch of oranges that was photoshopped to show various symptoms of breast cancer. It was a very cathartic sucker punch.

(side note: Kerry Anne, I love you and don't doubt that for a second, please)

It's sad that we can't just show PICTURES OF ACTUAL BREAST CANCER without it being tee hee, boobies. And I wish I had a nickel for all the people who were embarrassed FOR ME that weird cells grew deep down in my breasts and not in, say, on the surface of my pasty white skin. PEOPLE. It doesn't embarrass me in the least. Breast cancer, Breast cancer, breast cancer. It's not dirty. I'm not immodest if I tell you where my tumors, all four of the fuckers, chose to set up shop.

But what stung just a little is that one of the photos was right on target. And I have blamed myself for it, far too long.

The orange in the photo that I'm referring to was leaking. Drip, drip.

So was I, for a while.

One day in the summer of 2009 while I was visiting my sister in Pitt, I woke up and my tshirt was wet. Just a little bit, near the right nipple. It was annoying. It happened every now and then. I assumed that at age 45 (seriously, how long have I been writing this blog?) I was perimenopausal, and rolled my eyes whenever the topic came up. Old bag. Sigh.

The year before, I'd gone for my annual lube/oil/ and filter check (come on, joking is the only way to get through that ordeal) and dutifully said to the ob/ gyn's nurse practitioner "uh, you know, sometimes I leak, and my kids are teenagers, so what's that about?" and they did a few extra blood tests, and found... Nothing. And I let it drop.

I let the matter drop. My family doctor glanced through the bloodwork and basically shrugged.

I am only starting to forgive that now. Him, me, all of of the medical people who failed me that summer in '08.

The following summer, in Pitt, I started to worry. But it was in a long line of worries at that point (helloooooo unemployment!!!) - I was depressed. I didn't WANT to go for another checkup. They had said the year before, everything was fine... I assumed still that I was just getting old. I really did live in denial then. But that was in part because both breasts leaked (because, my dumb luck, I got cancer in BOTH OF THEM....) so it probably *was*just me getting old... Or so I thought.

I am writing this to tell you: it's not fine. Your breasts should not suddenly start to leak, years and years after your children start school. Don't settle for "eh, it's probably just..."

My surgeon told me that it would have been five years before I could feel my tumor doing a breast self examination. Five years.

Five years. And it had already spread to the nearest lymph node.

I am grateful to myself for pulling it together in November (my birthday month) that year and saying to myself "Carly, get your damn mammo and checkup done already.". It was a few months later than I usually did it.

I wonder now, if I'd done it in the summer, would they have seen anything? I wonder if I'd have gone another year, not quite feeling right and not knowing why, while the cells marched onward through my lymph system.

But I am starting to forgive myself. For not jumping up and down and demanding REAL ANSWERS. For waiting a few extra months in 2009 to get that mammo- because I might have skipped the ordeal of chemo. But I might also have missed my relatively early diagnosis. It's just something I'll never know.

I'm starting to forgive my family doctor (who I stopped seeing when he told me, without seeing ANY of my biopsy info, that I would need a double mastectomy, and radiation treatments were horrible and to be avoided and so much other bullshit, that I should just sue his balls off. )

Mostly I am leaving him in the past, as a distant memory. I got a second opinion from wonderful doctors who actually LOOKED AT my tests and knew what they were doing. They are my personal heroes and I hug them both whenever I see them.

But the point of my long rant is this: okay fine, if it takes a photo of weird oranges to get people talking about breast cancer symptoms, then so be it.


Talk to your wives and your sisters and your mothers. These are the facts: anything that is different or unusual is a sign that needs to be checked out. Puckering? Check it. Weird skin texture? Call the doctor. Leaking? Stand on someone's desk and demand to be heard. Fight for an MRI or at least an ultrasound.

For me, tell even ONE PERSON today about what I've written here. Please.

We need to stop being embarrassed by breast cancer. It's hard enough to fight it.

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