• October 2012

Breast Cancer: What Happens When You Are the Statistic?

Editor’s Note: Being that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to dedicate an article to the cutting-edge research being done. While our Inkandescent team was in the midst of investigating, I got a call from a dear friend, Debbie Gee. We had planned to meet that evening to attend a networking event, but around 2:30 she’d gotten a call from her doctor informing her that she had breast cancer.

In the days that followed, we talked about how she was plowing her way through the stages of grief. “It’s nearly impossible to wrap my head around this,” she said.

Clearly, Debbie isn’t alone. It’s hard for everyone to wrap their head around the statistics: “Every day, one in eight women is diagnosed, and 108 die,” according to Susan Love, MD, a former breast surgeon and the president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. “To change those stats, we have to move our awareness forward. Click here for more from Dr. Love. And also find additional information at www.cancer.org.

We want to keep the conversation going! So we asked Debbie if she’d be willing to share her thoughts about the experience of coping, and curing, this disease. She bravely agreed. Below is the first installment in a series that we’ll be publishing about her fight, and the fight of others who are overcoming adversity. — Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher Be Inkandescent


WHEN BREAST CANCER HAPPENS TO YOU

By Debbie Gee

I must admit that writing this article is very weird to me—just like this news I got on September 12: I have breast cancer.

I want you to know first that I have spent my whole life just trying not to have a heart attack—literally. My father died of his third heart attack at the age of 46, and so my siblings and I have been sure to live a lifestyle that would not bring it on us on account of our own selves.

But genetics is always there, trying to catch up. So my siblings and I watch it. I regularly have echocardiograms, EKG’s, cholesteral checks, and the like to make sure my heart is healthy.

I am not one of these people who smokes, drinks lots of Diet Coke, or eats a ton of
processed food. I have worked out regularly through my 20s, 30s, and 40s. But lately, my good habits have fallen off, especially the exercising part.

Granted, I am in my 50s, have recently been through a divorce, a move, and just landed a dream job—I am weary. And I am paying the price with an extra 25 (at least) pounds. Honestly, though, I think I have earned them rather than gained them.

But, apparently, trying to stay as healthy as possible doesn’t matter when it comes to breast cancer.

The statistic that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer—today—is breathtaking. And since my own diagnosis, it seems that those tiny pink ribbons are everywhere. While I always noticed them, I never thought they’d be for me.

So while it’s a little intimidating to be sharing some of my most private thoughts and this experience with the world through this article, I do hope that in doing so I can be a source of strength for others.

Here’s the chain of events, which has some good news and miraculous timing.

  • I had been self-employed for a number of years, and as a result have had to buy my own health insurance. It was a struggle to get it, pay the premium, and realize it doesn’t cover enough stuff, then fight the insurance company when I used it, and ultimately pay the remaining bills for what it didn’t cover. In recent years, I have given up on the whole endeavor and just gone without insurance, hoping for
    the best.
  • Fast forward to July 2012. I took a great full-time job as the director of business development. I love it! And, for the first time in years, I was enrolled in a wonderful health insurance plan.
  • August: My new boss encouraged me to get a mammogram. I balked, because I didn’t think I was at risk. While lots of cases of diabetes and heart disease run on both sides of my family, few of my family members ever had breast cancer. Yes, there were two cousins who had it, but that never lit a fire under me to check myself.
  • September: I finally go for the mammogram. Excuse me, but who in the world invented this thing? You put one of the most tender parts of your body in a vice! Then you are told not to breathe while they take the picture. Side squeeze, top squeeze—all the while some strange woman is handling your breast and getting it to lay on a small table like a piece of chicken. Unbelievable. As if the GYN exam is not bad enough. OK, so I go, I get it done. I leave.
  • Only, no, that is the beginning. I’m told something is abnormal. I go back for more
    pictures. My wonderful GYN doctor’s office calls. Come in to talk about the pictures.
    First, I have to go to a surgeon. I go see him. I have to go for a biopsy. OK, schedule the biopsy. THAT is another story altogether. What a procedure. Steriotactic biopsy. Needles in both breasts, computerized cutting for sample tissue (inside!), lying down on a hard table, with both breast hanging down for all to see for about two hours. At least I got some Valium from my surgeon, who recommended that I go in for the biopsy relaxed. Good thing.
  • Long story short: Breast cancer. In the right breast. And it’s in a few places.

The good news

I am pleased to report that this is Stage 0. I can handle that. Of course, because it is in several spots, I could lose the whole breast. I can’t really say the words. It would be a mastectomy.

Me, breast cancer, surgery, mastectomy, cutting off a body part. Me. Not someone else. Me. How did this happen? It doesn’t matter. It is.

Yes, I’m a little vain. And I wonder how I will feel about them cutting into my body and taking a piece of my flesh from me that makes me a woman. No, it’s not the flesh that makes me a woman.

Granted, I’m past the age of displaying what I have. I now focus on just making sure it is propped up appropriately so that I can wear some decent tops!

Here’s what I’m grateful for:

  • I am working hard now at this job.
  • I am thankful for it and the people I work with, who have been wonderfully supportive. I could not ask for more.
  • I have incredible friends who have gone to these doctors with me, driven me there, been there, asked the questions for me, written them on a piece of paper and called to make sure I have made more appointments that have to be made.
  • I continue to go about my life, which is what that nice surgeon told me to do. “Take it one step at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed,” he said, and he is right.

Here’s what surprises me:

  • While I’m handling the big thing, I find that I get easily frustrated by the little things in life—like putting pantyhose on, or struggling to quickly get my computer in that stupid bin while going through security in the airport.
  • And I can’t always find my damn reading glasses because I can’t see a damn thing anymore. Cleaning my bathroom when I don’t feel like it.
  • And, I’m finding that all those little things of life that have to be done to keep order in my life are truly the things that are helping me get through this.
  • I’m keeping quiet about this diagnosis (well, except for this article). But I’m not the kind of person who revels in attention when I have bad news. I don’t call everyone I know and tell them. I don’t post it on Facebook. Twitter is ridiculous. I have a few close friends and my sister and brother-in-law, who know how to help me in the hard places of life. And they have been there before.
  • I am newly clear about what brings joy into my life. Joy, love, friendship. This is what matters. I am fortunate in this way.

And, this is not new.

I have not mentioned the most important person in this scenario with me: God. The Creator of Heaven and Earth and all things living. I am not angry with Him because of this news. I am clinging to Him because of this news. He is always with me. In the day, in the night. “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

He put me in this job I love. He put me with great people. He provided health
insurance. He gives me peace of mind. He made sure the timing was now so that I
found this cancer early.

Stage 0. Remove it and I go on with life. Depending on the surgery, I may not have to have radiation or chemotherapy. That means I get to keep my hair. Very important. Did I say I was vain?

Do you have thoughts or comments for Debbie Gee? Click here to send her an email, and we’ll pass it on: Email Debbie Gee.

Do you have a story about overcoming cancer, and other adversities? We’d love to hear about them, too! Click here to share it with us.