Cancer Part 1: Vanity Saved My Life
Summer 2016 has been a challenging one for me thus far. First, there was the sudden end of a two year relationship - it was the first time I opened my heart after my marriage. Talk about vulnerable. Then, there was the very sudden death a week ago of a very close friend's spouse. So painful, so hard, so surreal. Still adjusting to these two finalities.
And then, just a few days ago, as I was putting my make up on and rehearsing the lyrics of the song I was going to sing at my friend's husband's funeral, the phone rang. It was my doctor. I honestly don't even remember what he said after I heard him say the words "cancer....positive". I was frozen. After we hung up, I tried to rehearse the song one more time, but half the lyrics disappeared from my memory.
In church an hour later, I clung to the pulpit while singing. My legs were trembling, my vision was blurry, and I felt weepy all over. Thank goodness for that solid wood pulpit and the large type lyric sheet I made the day before. I was able to pull it off. And for a long moment, I lost track of who and what I was weeping for: my friend's husband, the scary cancer inside me or the love that disappointed? It was probably all three.
But five days post my diagnosis I sit here today and can already consider myself very lucky. Lucky to be alive - lucky that my cancer was discovered by chance - and in its early stages.
Aesthetics have always been important to me but are more so now as my career takes me more and more into the public light. But being somewhat vain recently may have saved my life. Ten days ago, I had an elective breast lift and reduction. My amazing plastic surgeon, Dr. Paul Chasan, as a matter of practice, sent tissue he removed to pathology. And there it was: "ductal carcinoma in situ", which is the early stage of cancer, where the cancer cells are still contained in your ducts and no "invasion" has taken place to other parts of the body. However, my cancer measured as "high grade" - or aggressive. And by the way, just days prior to my surgery I had a mammogram. It was negative.
So that's the "good news" as far as cancers go. The bad news is that it is far from over. We don't yet know if we got it all in surgery, we don't know if I am genetically predisposed to the disease, we don't know if there will be more surgery, or a double mastectomy, radiation, chemo or other treatments. For now, the information gathering needs to happen by ways of different tests and many appointments. And even then, there'll be second opinion appointments to follow.
In the meantime, I will start making adjustments in my life on the path to healing, healing all of me. On the advice of my oncologist and others who have gone through this, I'll be replacing some of that favorite Sauvignon Blanc with tea and water, following a simple Paleo diet, slowing down, reducing stress and experiencing even more joy in my life. And also, leaning heavily on the love and support of friends, family and good people in general, while strengthening my faith in all things possible and making my insides steel-like. And putting to good use all this emotion and experience into my music and writing.
I am one of the lucky ones: vanity - and Dr. Chasan - saved my life. But I worry about others now who may not ever have this opportunity for early diagnosis and are diagnosed at a later stage, a later time in life, when treatment is even more challenging and aggressive and survival odds are reduced.
Prevention, awareness and early diagnosis of breast cancer is something I hope to learn much more about now and share with others. I want to demystify cancer, not keep it a "shameful" hidden secret. That's why I'm sharing my story.