Deciding what to do when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer is one of the loneliest decisions you’ll ever make. Your doctors will give you their best counsel, but it’s ultimately up to you.
Although you’re the star of this horror show, if you have a family, breast cancer affects all of you. Both my husband Bruce and I felt hounded by pink ribbons in the early days of my diagnosis. We decided to escape by watching the John Adams miniseries on HBO and wouldn’t you know it, his daughter had breast cancer. It was fine until they got to the 18th century mastectomy minus anesthetic. Bruce yelled at me to leave the room. When I came back, I said, How was it?” and he said, “I don’t know, my eyes were closed.”
Bruce was more scared for me than I was for myself, although he didn’t share his fears with me until I became calmer and stronger. At one point he asked me if I would consider the double mastectomy as prevention, and asked me to think about it. I waited for about 30 seconds and said, “I’ve thought about it. No.” He told me he didn’t want me to die and I told him I wasn’t going to die and preferred dealing with one breast at a time. But first and foremost, he told me he would stand by my decision, and he’s been true to his word. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to accompany me on the cancer roller coaster.
Bruce was amazing in too many ways to recount here, but I’d like to share what a great source of humor he was throughout this adventure. (Yes, cancer does lend itself to humorous moments and I would urge you to take advantage of them when you can. Sometimes that’s the only power you have over a situation that sucks.)
When we were waiting for our first consultation with the doctor who would become my oncologist, I said, “Well, at least nothing can surprise me now.” (We had been assuming for two months that I would undergo radiation and had just had a different oncologist recommend a mastectomy.) Bruce leaned over, lowered his voice and said, “I’m sorry–we’re going to have to cut off your head.”
One of my favorite stories about family decision making was in the October 2009 Omaha World-Herald Healthwise supplement. (I can’t link to it for you because it’s not archived online.) The woman’s family voted on a white board posted in the kitchen with headings “Save the Boob” and “Lose the Boob.” (In case you’re curious, they voted to lose the boob.) That’s a family I wouldn’t mind being a part of.
Your turn–how did your family members handle it? How did they prop you up or make you laugh?