I only have one problem with this book. It wasn’t published soon enough. I have, you see, gone through Breast Cancer myself. Not like Margaret’s – hers was Stage IA, a very mild form of Breast Cancer, while mine was Stage IIIB, the last stage before becoming metastatic (spreading to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, etc.).
This is not to say that I in any way am belittling Margaret’s mild cancer. Rather, I applaud her for her strength. Other than a very few friends, I had no family. She, on the other hand, has a loving husband and, at the time of her first bout with cancer, a two-year old son. She had a lot more to lose than I. And that is what matters in all cases, isn’t it? Our loss as it affects our families.
It felt as if I were walking to the gas chamber or gallows.
In December of 1999, when her son was two, Margaret had her first bout with breast cancer. The terror must have been horrific, even if she bore it well and doesn’t make a big deal of it in her book. She had a lumpectomy and radiation, and then lived a normal life, enjoying her husband and child and life itself, until 2012, when a ‘possible’ lump showed up again in the same breast that had given her trouble before. Now, things were different. Now, some serious issues would have to be addressed, and things would be different. It was time for the breasts to vacate the premises. And so begins her story of her diagnosis, treatment, and reconstruction.
Sometimes the only way to deal with horrific things in life is through a dark sense of humor. – Margaret Cho
The thing I truly admire about Margaret’s story is how she lays it out in a humourous manner. Oh, believe me, this story is not a funny one. The fear, pain and nausea, the surgeries and drains and pain, (oh, and did I mention pain?) is terrifying. At times, it is horrifying, and at others simply humiliating. I am right there with her on the nurse who looks at you like you are a bug to be squished on the floor for asking for a bedpan when you are too drugged and too agonized to make it to the bathroom. I was fortunate – I had the services of some of the best doctors and nurses in the world, at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Littleton Colorado, for my chemo treatments and multiple hospital visits (nothing like internal bleeding and constant vomiting and fainting to land you into a bed with multiple wires and tubes sticking out). I never had a single nurse or doctor treat me with anything less than compassion and respect (well, except for one doctor, and I think he was just a jerk, no matter what. Well, he was the one sticking the tubes up my bum and down my throat to find the bleeds. I suppose if I worked with people’s bums all day, I would be bad tempered too…)
Sometimes I say the medication is even tougher than the illness. – Sanya Richards-Ross
While some parts of cancer treatments can be different, interesting and ‘cocktail party worthy’ (take baldness, now I found that funny in and of itself, and never wore a wig. Hey, might as well laugh at yourself, right?) what isn’t funny or fun or anything even remotely pleasant is the chemotherapy. Sitting in a lounger for hours at a time while poison was being pumped into my veins was sure to send me into a full-blown panic attack, even at my weakest. Bring out the knock-out drugs! I told you, I had the Best. Chemo. Nurse. EVER.) Chemo is not fun. It leaves you weak, sick, tired, unable to eat or drink without having it come right back up again. Margaret covers the issue with her usual kindness and panache, pointing out the problems, but refusing to let it drive her down into the dark lands of her psyche. I admire that. I mostly just slept. For days and days. . .And that whole “you are going to go into menopause at the speed of the Shinkansen (the Japanese High-Speed Train System)” complete with hot flashes and weight fluctuations? So not fun. Margaret didn’t say how much weight she lost – I lost 60 lbs. Now, if I could have kept off about 30 of those! LOL
One of her nipples was lying on the bathroom tile.
The part that Margaret went through, that I didn’t, was the reconstruction. I was 53 at the time, and hadn’t had a lover for over 20 years – why did I care? (We could get all up in the childhood and later sexual abuse, etc. but that doesn’t fit here.) The point is, I have to admit – the double mastectomy, in my case, was much easier than her reconstruction! I still had the pain, and the drains, but she went five months getting doses of saline injected to ‘stretch out’ her tissue, building new breasts. Nah, I will take my ‘barely there’ scar, the occasional odd look, and some ongoing tenderness across the chest. Hey, I can at least sleep on my stomach these days! When I was a D-cup, that was so not happening….. Her story of the reconstruction was sort of creepily fascinating to me, as I didn’t have it done. And of course, hearing the story of her friend who had reconstruction, and then one of her nipples fell off when she was toweling after a shower? (You have to read the book just for that part of the story.)
Overall, if you have the slightest interest in what your friend, family member, coworker, etc. is going through, you have to read this book. If you have the possibility of Breast Cancer yourself, are going through treatment, or have had cancer previously, you have to read this book. It is by turns scary and funny, but always compassionate.
http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/diagnosis/staging To learn about the stages of Breast Cancer
http://www.breastcancer.org The main site, this is the be-all and know-all site for Breast Cancer information
http://www.cancer.gov/ The home site for the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health. There is Breast Cancer information here, but also research and information regarding a large number of different types of cancer.
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/druginfo/breastcancer Another segment of the NCI website, you can find information about different chemotherapy medications. Margaret was on Tamoxifen. I, on the other hand, had ATC therapy. A combination of Doxorubicin (Adriamycin), Taxol (paclitaxel) and Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). You can find additional information on any of these drugs at:
https://www.navigatingcancer.com A great site for more info on cancer and cancer treatments