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Friday, October 31, 2014

Elizabeth Street

HOW I TOLD MY KIDS THAT I HAVE BREAST CANCER

Oct 25, 2013

How I Told My Kids That I Have Breast Cancer

My routine mammogram is hardly a favorite task on my to-do list, but I faithfully go to the doctor every year for some less-than-pleasant squeezing. Because my paternal grandmother and my mother’s sister both had breast cancer, it was recommended that I get a baseline mammo at 35 and continue annually after that.

The appointment was in August this year, just before a long-planned family trip to Maine. The technician loaded me up to the machine for the usual four pictures. When she finished, she said she needed an additional shot for a closer look...my first clue that this time would be different.

Once home from Maine, I received a letter asking me to return to the imaging office for a more in-depth mammogram and a breast ultrasound. My anxiety levels creeped up and I dreaded making another appointment. This time, the technician couldn’t get a good shot at one angle and called for help. The second girl crammed me in to the machine, practically cracking my rib cage in the process.

After the second look, the ultrasound was performed and I was told I had an irregularly shaped calcium deposit that needed further testing. A biopsy was scheduled, which entailed multiple attempts to position me in the mammogram machine so that the doctor could then insert a needle into my flattened breast and draw out cells. Frankly, it was gruesome: I was hugging cold metal for nearly an hour, trying to breath with my breast squashed beyond recognition while listening to a horrific drilling noise.

The results were not ideal: DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ. Cancer in a milk duct is bad news, though ‘in situ’ makes it slightly better. This means that it’s completely contained and hasn’t spread out of the duct. Removal of this spot, in the form of a lumpectomy, would be the next step.

Telling my kids the news was even worse than the biopsy. They knew I was having a few extra procedures, but saying the word "cancer" in a conversation with them was more difficult that I’d imagined. My 12-year-old daughter took my words on faith and wasn’t too upset when I told her it was the "good kind" to have. I explained that it was caught very early, presented in a tiny way and would be quite treatable. But my 15-year-old wept, saying she was worried and scared. I told both girls’ teachers and school division heads so they would be aware and help to monitor their efforts and moods.

The lumpectomy was at the end of September, and while I was hoping it would be a breeze (I imagined I’d just wheel into the room, get knocked out and emerge with a tiny bandage), it turned out to be the first of two surgeries I needed to have. The margins weren’t clear after the first lumpectomy, which meant that some of the cancer was outside the cut and a second trip under the knife was required to remove more. I’m recovering well from these operations and will be scheduled for six weeks of radiation once I’ve healed.

My daughters have been great and even cheered up a bit; they’re helping around the house, preparing simple dinners, and making sure I’m relaxing. My husband is a trooper, stepping in to walk the dog more than usual, make his excellent tofu and pork stir-fry and draw me a bath whenever I ask. Friends have rallied around us with calls, emails, cards, books, flowers, food, a lovely bathrobe and a big box of beauty products. And one thoughtful neighbor even brought me a batch of homemade gazpacho.

I’m lucky to have such super family and friends, people who care and stop by to help. I know I’ll come out of this ordeal healthy because of their love and kindness. More than anything, I'm lucky to have checked that routine mammogram off my to-do list. 

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes

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