I was taking a nice, luxurious shower in our Westport summer rental, exfoliating in anticipation of my weekly self-tanning application, planning in my head, the menu for a late afternoon barbecue for a group of friend who were driving in from the city, when I found it.
I know that hindsight is 20/20, but you have to believe me when I tell you that I knew at that moment that my life was going to change forever as soon as I got myself to a doctor. Which is why I didn’t call the doctor until later that week. Normally, upon making a worrisome discovery, I would call my doctor immediately, seeking reassurance. In this case, I knew that there could be no reassurance. This wasn’t a worrisome discovery; this was a black hole of dread.
My entire body simultaneously tingled with energy and went limp, a sensation that I could feel in my teeth, on my scalp, on the tips of my fingers. Suddenly the memory of a dream from the night before crept into my conscious mind. In the dream, I had discovered multiple tumors in my breast. There was terror in the dream, and yet somehow, I didn’t wake up screaming. Instead, I woke up, stood under a spray of steaming hot water and let my unconscious mind guide my fingers to the most prominent of what would ultimately turn out to be three tumors in my right breast, only one of which was palpable and only two of which were detectable on ultrasound. The third was discovered only upon the dissection of my amputated breast.
Had I not opted for a mastectomy, it is entirely possible that the third tumor would have gone undetected. Perhaps, in that case, chemotherapy would have eradicated all traces of breast cancer in my body, including the hidden tumor, which medically speaking, and quite appropriately, is referred to as an “occult” tumor (cue the sound of an evil cackle). Or perhaps, well, perhaps not.
All I know is that I am lucky to be here. Some of it was good planning. And some of it is just dumb luck.
I asked my breast surgeon how she measures a patient’s time of survival, and, as expected, she replied that to her, a patient’s survival dates back to the date the breast cancer was excised surgically from the body. But, of course. And, of course, it will come as no surprise that the way I measure my survival is to date it back to the moment that changed my life forever…the moment when I just knew.