Sunday, March 04, 2007


Sometimes I wonder how I would handle a life threatening illness. Would I be the drama queen, demanding that everyone pay attention to me? Would I be stoic and brave, carrying on with my life as usual? Or, would I chuck everything and go live in Spain with whatever time I had left? Regardless of health, the idea of chucking everything and living in Spain has appealed to me for more than twenty years now. The only thing stopping me is: A) I know I’d miss my friends and family, B) Lack of money, C) Perceived lack of work opportunity, D) Missing friends, missing friends, missing friends.

A couple of weeks ago I found a lump in my breast.

And. I. Freaked. Out.

My freak out was quiet and internal. I didn’t want to mention it to anyone until I had it checked out, because, heaven forbid, I did not want to be an alarmist. Or a drama queen for that matter. So, while I appeared fairly normal on the outside, ('fairly' being the operative word here…I did snap at a coworker for no reason), on the inside I was a wreck. I did not sleep through the night for days, and I awoke every morning and ate Tums for breakfast to combat the stress-induced nausea. Then I worried that the nausea wasn’t really stress induced, but the result of the cancer; undetected for so long that it had metastasized and, concurrent with the lump discovery, was rearing its ugly head in some perverse Twilight Zone aligning of the cancer symptoms.

Oh the places my mind will go. One of the reasons I can barely stand to watch suspense movies is that as the suspense builds up, my mind is wandering to horrific places the likes of which the director has never dreamt. I want to shout at the screen, “Don’t do it!” “You fool! You’re going to regret this!” And, “No! No! No!” By the time the movie is over I am emotionally spent. I am also relieved that the fate of the characters is not the one I had imagined for them. I still have never been able to sit through an entire screening of Play Misty for Me. I have seen the move perhaps six or seven times, but always, when Clint is driving the winding Highway 1 through Big Sur, knowing the psycho bitch was in his house with his long lost girlfriend... I have to get up a walk away. The first time I did this was in the theater with my big brother and my dad. I was so terrified that I went into the lobby and paced for what seemed like ten minutes, finally returning to the theater thinking that surely the worst was over...

Oh the places my mind went last week. The first thing I thought was how I needed to organize my life to make things easier for those who had to sort it out after I was gone. But how was I going to do this while suffering the ravages of the disease and the ravages of the treatment? I saw myself awaking in the morning and spending the first couple of hours hugging the toilet trying to get through the nausea without creating a mess to clean up. Then spending a half hour going through some pile of stuff, throwing out most of it and wondering why I accumulated it at all. Of course, this would be exhausting, so I would need to sleep for a couple of hours. Then there would be the doctor appointments and the treatments. These would definitely cut into my organizing time. But, with diligence born of knowing not the hour, but perhaps the month, and for sure the year of my demise, I would be able to complete the task. I would need a will. I would need a list of the people to whom I would give treasured possessions. This would be done before I die, because though I don’t really know what the laws are, I know there are some tax issues around inheriting something, and I wouldn’t want to burden anyone with unwanted tax issues, especially when they were trying to get over the loss of, well, me.

Then I worried about how I would tell my parents. Would I wait until the very end? Should I tell them right away? I don’t want them to worry. And, I don’t want them to come to Seattle and camp out, waiting for my eventual death. While I would like to see them, I don’t think my need for solitude would lessen with illness. Then I wondered with all the organizing I had to do, how was I going to finish the stories and book I was working on? Would I have the strength to write? Would an eternal deadline make it easier?

The places our minds will takes us… imagination has been my friend for these many years, but now it felt like my enemy.

One problem I needed to solve immediately was the lack of a doctor. My insurance had changed and the new policy didn’t cover the doctor I’d been seeing for the past few years. I sent an e-mail to all my girlfriends to find out if they had a doctor they liked and if so, was the doctor near my home, or my work?

I did find a great doctor and though I was a new patient, when I explained what was going on they scheduled me for the next day. When I told my boss that I needed the next morning off, I also told him about the lump and burst into tears. He said I could have any time I needed then asked, “Have you told your girlfriends?” I admitted that I had told no one until now and he insisted that I call my girlfriends. He is a wise and compassionate man. I called, and they reassured and I was able to sleep that night. Lesson learned: We must always call our girlfriends.

Well, it turns out that the lump was nothing really. In fact, by the time I got to the doctor we couldn’t find it. She suspects that I’m having some hormonal fluctuations, because even though I feel 22, I am really at that age when women have those changes. She suspects that as I have these fluctuations, I have a duct or cyst that fills with fluid, becoming lump-like and causing some pain and discomfort, and that it then drains. Lesson learned: Pain + lump = almost 100% guarantees that the lump is not malignant. The really scary thing about breast cancer – aside from the places your mind will take you – is that there is no pain associated with it. Just a lump, no other indication that something is very wrong. Scary.

So, the lump was nothing, but my doctor sent me straight to dermatology to have “that mole on your stomach” looked at. She didn’t “like the look of it”. Neither did the dermatologist. He showed me a picture of melanoma and it looked like the mole on my stomach. The good news for me was that this mole has been there forever and it has always been weird looking. If it was melanoma we might not have been sitting there having the conversation. So, biopsy time. It reminded me of a few years back when I found myself in the ER for a broken leg, but was hooked up to an EKG and surrounded by a bunch of cardiologists. Seems my blood pressure was so high that they were afraid I was going to have a heart attack right there on the table. That broken leg saved my life. My phantom lump has saved me from skin cancer. The biopsy was “slightly abnormal”, which on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being normal, my mole was a 2. I had it removed Thursday and I’m back to life as usual. I am still awaiting the results of the final biopsy, but I am not concerned. I have gone to the dark place quite enough for now, thank you very much.

Maybe I'll go to Spain instead.


At 12:37 PM, Blogger Miss Kris said...

Christ, Patti! So freaking scary! Please start getting mammograms regularly and have your new PCP check your skin annually. And please, please, please tell a girlfriend sooner. If you keep something so scary inside of you, it will make things worse. I am so glad that everything is turning out OK.

BTW - I have had a handful of girlfriends who found lumps in their breasts including my mom, my sister and my stepmom. My stepmom's the only one who was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, she's a survivor because it was caught early enough. Both my mom & my sister have had malignent moles removed from their bodies - my mom actually has had several.

My motto: Prevention and Early Detection. It's a good motto to have.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Patti Auburn said...

Kris - Rest assured I am on the yearly plan(s). It's definitely easier to go to the doctor when you have one you like, and my new doctor is 100 times better than my last doctor (it's not that he wasn't good - I just didn't like him, but I don't know why).
I suppose I should get a colonoscopy too...Yes, I am at that age...

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Heidi and Sandi said...

Sandi, the kitties and I are happy to hear that everything turned out okay. Next time talk to your friends to get some support so you won't feel so alone.


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