Two years ago today, I went to sleep on an operating room table. I woke up a short time later, sore and bandaged. The only definitive information that I got from my soon to be favorite surgeon, Dr. C., was that I had tolerated the procedure well and that he had just removed a mass from my left breast. He wouldn’t tell Joe and Joe’s best friend, Keehn, an Ob-Gyn who drove from Birmingham after being on-call the night before to sit with Joe while I went under the knife, anything other than he was “concerned.” In medical-speak, that’s never good. He may not have been positive, but I think he suspected that he had just removed a cancerous tumor from my breast.
Less than two weeks earlier, I had seen the color ultra-sound pictures. I had seen the tumor and the blood flow that snaked out from it on the ultra-sound screen. I sensed the urgency in the radiologist’s voice telling me that, “This needs to come out,” when he brought me into the reading room less than two months after he’d first showed me something he wanted to “keep an eye on”. I’m not stupid or naive; I suspected what I was facing.
Dr. C removed the tumor that day, but, unfortunately, the damage was already done. We didn’t know it at the time, but cancer cells were already in my lymph nodes. It was only when he did the sentinel node biopsy and axillary lymph node dissection seven weeks later that we found that out. I went from Stage I to Stage III in the blink of an eye.
Dr. C gave me my diagnosis of breast cancer on September 9th, my best friend from growing up, Alissa’s, fortieth birthday. She hates that I got my diagnosis on her birthday, but I reminded her that if I hadn’t gotten it, I might not have been around long enough to wish her a happy birthday again.
September 9th is my official “cancerversary”, but I always remember September 3rd as well – my biopsy day. This year is especially poignant to me because a friend will not see her next biopsy day or her next cancerversary.
Our friend Melody died this last week after a hard battle with ovarian cancer. Melody was an old friend of Joe and Becky’s. Mel used to babysit Becky when she was little and was a fellow speech pathologist. She was so creative and kind and caring and upbeat, despite all the treatments and pain she endured. Melody always tried to put a positive spin on things. She would have turned forty-seven this coming week. Mel leaves behind her husband, Jay, and two beautiful little girls – Maddy and Bella.
I remember walking around Disney World after running the WDW Marathon in January 2010. It was freezing cold, literally, and we were walking across the bridge that leads toward Liberty Square from Cinderella’s Castle. I chuckled to myself as we passed a woman talking animatedly to her daughter while wearing a large pair of pink earmuffs in the shape of poodle heads. Shortly after that, we were standing in line to get on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with Carolyn and her crew and Lynn and her crew when I heard a woman joyfully yell, “JOE MATCHETTE!” at the top of her lungs. It was the crazy lady wearing the dog earmuffs. It was Melody.
Melody and her husband had taken Maddy to Disney World to celebrate a year of finishing treatment. Bella was too young and stayed at home with the grandparents. I’m so glad that Melody got to go on that trip with Jay and Maddy. I hope Maddy always treasures the memories of that trip. I hope Bella too has some memories of her precious mama to hold on to in her little three-year old brain.
When I got my diagnosis, Melody was one of the first people to reach out to me. Despite being back in treatment herself at that point, she sent me a HUGE box of breast cancer goodies – shirts, sox, hat, robe, etc. She called to check up on me. She laughed with me about chemo and its’ side effects. We made plans to go skiing when we were both recovered. I recovered. She did not.
Joe was lucky enough to see Melody occasionally when he was in Texas to fly with his squadron. Joe said that the last treatment the doctors tried to get rid of the stubborn cancer that had taken over Melody’s body made even her hands hurt. I’m glad she’s not hurting anymore, but I still wish she was here. I wish Jay had his wife and the girls had their mom.
Mel’s death has been hard for me to digest. I have been fortunate enough to not have many people in my life die yet. I think Melody’s death has affected me so much because she is the first person I know to have died of cancer since my own diagnosis. Her death reminds me of my mortality. My cancer was Stage III. I have a twenty-five to thirty percent chance of recurrence within the next eight years. I, like Melody, want to see my kids grow up, to get married and have babies of their own. Her death reminds me that I may not get that chance. I like to think that I will though. As Dad says, “Think positive and you’ll get positive results.”
So, as I celebrate the second anniversary of the biopsy that removed the source of my cancer, I can’t help but smile through the tears as I remember my friend Melody walking around Disney World wearing pink doggie earmuffs, living life to the fullest! I like to think she’s in Heaven laughing along with me. :-)
|Thinking of those earmuffs always make me smile.|