The Journey Continues: Two Full Moons and the Inner Glow

Writing through the process of becoming cancer-free.

Images used with permission from the author.

Austin has a lot of quirky—ok, weird—things. It was something I accustomed myself to very quickly when I moved here as a single mom back in 1998. My favorite fess up – Eeyore’s Birthday Party. Now how fun does that sound? I needed fun, free things to do with my then 5-year old so I told him all about it, had him excited that he might even get to see Winnie the Pooh and off we went. Yes, most of you reading this obviously know what I discovered upon finding parking and walking into Pease Park – there was no Eeyore, Winnie, and for some of the ladies – clothing. As you smile, just know that my son was still wondering where Winnie was for the next few days.

There have been other humorous moments with my rowing background as well. A perfect example was an invite to a “full moon” row. I should have known with the snickers that came along within the verbal invitation what I was in for but no, little Miss Innocent showed up thinking we were going as a group out on the water on a night filled with light due to a big full moon to have a splendid, quiet water row. That was all true but it was also done sans clothing. Once I found out the gist of the evening, I didn’t partake.

But the moon was beautiful and that is the topic of this piece and more importantly, how I went from cloudy skies to two full moons.

This is an important, “Ladies, READ ME” piece as it delves into the seriousness of early detection and mammograms for all of us in our 40+ somethings. If you have a link to cancer in your family (and it does not matter if it is your dad’s or your mother’s side of the family) take a more serious approach to your own health. I erroneously believed that the breast cancer that struck my aunt down at a too young age couldn’t happen to me simply because she was the sister to my father. Here I am a year out of a bi-lateral mastectomy discovering that while there may not have been a cancer gene link between us, I did have the monster growing within me.
I went through the removal of breast tissue and the expansion process so I could have new “girls” but the process that came after these procedures and time was one that had me shaking—my first post-cancer mammogram.

To remind everyone: I had that fabulous trip to Italy and France planned when a mammogram caused a sudden change in direction so when I scheduled the post-cancer one, I made sure to get my vacation out of the way first. Of course, I chose to visit my family and went off to see my sister and her family on the lovely island of Oahu. I figured I would go escape for a week and come back with a healthy glow. No such luck as I caught the rainy season in full, and for the seven days of science fairs, dancing lessons, school runs, and pizza parties with my nieces, we only found one day where we ran like crazy kids through the waves. I had an inner glow from it, for sure.

When I came home, I was off to this appointment and here is where some of this gets really funny – the forms I had to fill out are anything but specific to the person’s situation. There was no box to check if I had a bilateral mastectomy, only for a single side so that got filled in with “Other; See Patient.” Then there was the “do you have implants?” box - Well, yes, yes I do – Check! If this had been a test, I figured I was 80/100 knowing that the essay I was going to give her for the first question was going to carry more weight than two implants answer.

So, the technician comes out and I get to tell her my story – breast cancer, DCIS Comedo Grade 3, in three different areas of my left breast; right breast removed for obvious, not letting this killer go to work on the other side, reasons. August was the date of original surgery with implants about three months (November 2013) later. I wanted assurance that she would not let the machine pop them (yes, I actually requested this and anyone who has had a mammogram on a real breast knows that it isn’t called a “Smash-o-gram” for nothing) and I also wanted to know what they could be looking for since there was no more breast tissue.

“But there is,” she calmly replied to me. I recall slowly sitting down as she explained that the surgeons can’t take everything – they try but no matter what, there is always some left and if any of that might have had the cancer cells, that is what they are going to look for. This started to sound strangely familiar and coincided with what I recalled being told by my cancer surgeon way back when. I realized that I had conveniently stored that in my, “don’t need to worry about this” box as I had convinced myself that I had gone above and beyond for my treatment choices.

As I stood back up, I got my muster back and decided, fine, I’ll get these scans as often as they want in order to keep on top of anything that might decide to raise its ugly head. I bravely went toward the machine and watched as she carefully and with very little pressure, trapped my first jelly boob in the machine for three quick photos. Then we did the other side. The absence of nerve endings as well as the lack of vise-like smash on the skin made the process simple and painless. As I write that I realize that it wasn’t so bad when I had real tissue – I just wanted to find something to make it uncomfortable but with all my past year has provided, I would happily go through the pinching process if I could have the old girls (sans cancer) back.

But I can’t get that and life is moving forward. So, while I was standing there, I was able to see a quick image of what was just taken off of the monitor and I started cracking up. I asked her if I could look at what the scan looks like now since there was little tissue compared with fatty areas and implants – two full moons appeared up on the screen.

And it suddenly all made sense –I have more glow than I think I have ever had and here is why. I have celebrated many milestones on this journey and am proud to finally be cancer free for a whole year. August 13 is a big day for me. It matches in importance the enormity of the day my son was born. I realize all too profoundly that on this date, I was given a second chance and I will not waste it.

I celebrated my first anniversary – which I lovingly refer to as my “Boob-A-Minus” day (there will be another party in November – the “Boob-A-Licious” day as that will mark a year since the new set was installed.) I was happily surrounded by good friends and the must-have tequila shot. My friends helped make the night fun and I will not forget anytime soon, the men in the group fashioning their own version of “falsies” and cleavage. Photos were mandatory but to save them any embarrassment, none will be used here. These people and the humor they provide me are the backbone I have relied on so heavily this past year. On that night and as I have often reflected, I am so grateful to know I have chosen remarkable friends.

I ask as I end this piece that any woman reading this also not waste your chance to early detect any issue. Do your self-exams and get signed up for something that I know first-hand saved me. The cloudy days of my old self have been lifted (right off my chest) and while I have these new girls that provide me with a little bit of bounce and man, do they absolutely fill out my swimsuit, they have also given me a double glow because I know I’ve got a lot to smile about.

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