by Riss Ryker
art by Dark-Fantasy
If there’s one thing a woman doesn’t want to do is feel a foreign object where there was never one before. It’s creepy, somehow. It’s like, you weren’t there last week, and now you are? But, nevertheless, this foreign object was on the outer aspect of my left breast. The dreaded LUMP. It’s amazing how one little word, and a funny sounding one at that, can inspire such dread and foreboding. A lump. I have a lump. It could mean anything! You bump your head, you get a lump. A bunch of cash is a ‘lump sum’, but when that single word turned into a noun is felt inside of your breast, it instantly becomes something awe inspiring and terrible. You feel it there, lurking, wondering if it’s listening, growing as you speak.
I made an appointment the following day for a mammogram. My first. Nervous, I called my mother, the prophetess of doom.
I asked, “What does it feel like? Does it hurt?”
My mother, never one to sugar coat anything, says to me,”Picture, if you will, throwing your boob out in the middle of the road, and letting it get run over by a tractor trailer.” Then, to top it off, ends with, “You poor thing.”
Okay, so now I’m terrified. Not only do have I have the dreaded ‘lump’, I have to get my boob smashed in some machine. Lovely. What if the machine malfunctions and doesn’t stop at the bursting point? I’m attached to these girls! Literally! I undress, put on the funny paper ‘gown’ with the opening in the front, as instructed, and approach the machine with dread. The technician instructed me to, “Place your breast on the platform and hold on to the bar.” I gingerly lift my breast, as she told me, and place it on the very cold platform, pressing my body as close as I can to the machine. She says not to breath, and the top part slowly starts to lower itself until my breast is squashed. She goes even further to the point where I KNEW it was going to be flattened to a pulp. Tears fill my eyes as it pinches and it’s about as flat as it’s ever going to get. After three more positions, and more flattening, I just know my breast will never be the same. Will I have to get a 36 WIDE in bra size?
The mammogram shows a mass about three centimetres in diameter. It’s big. I go home and and it still doesn’t hit me that I may have the big C, and my life could be in danger. Not yet. The next day I’m scheduled for a biopsy. I thought the mammogram hurt? Well, a biopsy is about as much fun as playing with a baby alligator and having it accidentally rip a piece of your flesh off. The biopsy confirmed it then, I had breast cancer. Now what? Am I dead? Do I only have months to live? Will my only chance at losing some weight come from lingering in a slow, painful death? I had a million, zillion questions roiling around in my brain that I wanted answers for. NOW.
Onward ho to the hospital for surgery. Time to remove the dreaded lump and see if it had infiltrated into the lymph nodes. If you can picture what cancer looks like in your head, I bet everyone pictures it differently. I see this black, web-like substance, creeping through your body, kind of stuff. Penetrating all that it touches like ‘The Nothing’ in the movie, ‘The Neverending Story’. As they prepped me for surgery, my least favorite thing being the IVs. I wondered if I would wake up with one breast or two. Would I be disfigured for life? Not only that, but my surgeon had the bedside manner of a troll. I seriously don’t think that his eyes met mine even one time during my whole surgery experience. He was impatient, never smiled, and ordered the nurses around like some type of prince in a harem.
Then, the most unexpected thing happened. A beautiful Golden Retriever walked into the room as if by magic. She had a little vest of some sort with her name on it. Hannah. A woman followed her in shortly after, and introduced me to Hannah. She was called a ‘comfort prayer dog’. Without being prompted, Hannah put her front paws gently on the bed, and put one great paw over mine, looking into my eyes with her gentle, light brown eyes. My heart melted, and I felt a feeling of calm come over me. It was truly magical. Then the lady suggested to Hannah that she pray for me. Incredibly, the dog sat back on her haunches, placed both paws on the bed, then bowed her head down, nose touching her paws. She stayed that way until the lady finished praying. By then, I was a combination of warm, fuzzy mushiness, and apprehension. Less of the latter because of the former. I was ready.
Waking up from surgery is an experience in pain. Your body is slashed open, roughly handled and manipulated. Then, stuff removed. Next, you’re sewn, or in some cases, stapled back together again. It’s medieval! The first thing I did was reach my right hand over, wincing in pain as I did, to feel what was over there. Would she still be there? As I felt the familiar mound of flesh, I sighed with relief. Still in business. The doctor told me that there were some lymph node involvement, (that sounded incredibly funny to me at the time, like he was describing something animate. Involvement. As if the lymph nodes were co-conspirators.) but nothing that would affect me too much in the future. He informed me that he had removed all of the cancer, and for that, I was very grateful. Sore, but thankful the surgery went well.
My next stop was the NY Oncology/Hematology office, which, luckily for me, was in my own home town of Amsterdam, NY. I had a consultation with my cancer doctor, and she went over my treatment plan. But first, I thought about the words ‘my cancer’
The operative word here is ‘my’, as it’s become very personal now. It was MY cancer. No one else’s. I went over the list of extremely toxic poisons that were going to be introduced into my body via a port placed just under the skin on my chest. I would come in for treatment five days a week, they would draw my blood to see if my white blood count was OK, get my chemotherapy, and leave. She handed me a stack of papers, all about the medications, and another stack with information about breast cancer.
Numb, and in a daze, I drove home, sat in my kitchen with my sky high stack of information and it that’s when it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I had cancer. Surgery removed the cancer you could see, but it could come back and kill me. All it would take is for one cancer cell to be lingering in deadly silence. I had four children that desperately needed me around for a few more years! I had a real cry fest, then. Edged with a deep mortal fear of dying, I cried so hard that my one of my best friends, who lived downstairs at the time, came up to see what was wrong. Telling her, we both cried in each other’s arms for a long time.
I might die! My cousin, Annette, the same age as me, just recently succumbed to breast cancer, leaving behind four small girls. Will I be next? My great aunt Eileen also died from breast cancer. So that means that I have the marker for breast cancer on both sides of my family! My body shook with my sobs as I poured out my fear and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
The Oncology/Hematology Office is a very strange place. Women and men coming in with all kinds of cancer, and not just breast cancer. Women wearing scarves, wigs, hats, and some not feeling self conscious, went for the bald look. But we all sat there in different stages of treatment. All of us, though, understanding the fact that we are NOT immortal, our bodies are NOT indestructible, but are in fact, a fragile temple of flesh and bone, easily compromised. We wait for our name to be called, get our blood work done, and we are herded into the treatment room to receive the healing poison that will kill the evil cancer cell.
I think that the worst part of my whole ordeal was the feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t, for once, control the situation I was in. I could only go with it. Radiation was a lesson in pain. They don’t tell you that you will get second and third degree burns. I definitely had a new respect for burn victims. Even the just movement of air flowing over the burn made me cry with the excruciating pain. I still have the scars as a memento.
Today, I am alive. I have beat the Big C and I am living my life with a new respect and a better awareness of now fragile we are. If I could tell women one thing from this experience, it would be to make it a point at least once a month to do a self exam. Timing is everything. If you catch the cancer in it’s early stages, your good to go. If you wait, put it off, your chances of surviving are significantly lower. My cancer was a stage two. I was lucky. I caught it in time and was able to do something about it. I’m more humble, grateful to God, and above all, I am more loving and kind to others. Life is so fleeting, a flash in the pan. We should treat life as if everyday is your last day. Embrace it, live it, and be thankful for it.
My name is Riss Ryker. I’m 50 yrs. old, and I love to write and share. I’m a native of NY, home to Adirondack Park, a 6 million acre park of mountains and lakes. The biggest state park in the US. I am a shelter dog advocate, animal lover, and a die hard fan of all that is good and beautiful on this Earth. I am a freelance writer, and an affiliate marketer. To be honest, I make money online however I can. This means long hour typing, thinking and creating.