Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 1997

We met with various doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital yesterday, and have finally made a plan. I’m having a mastectomy on June 19, without reconstruction. It is likely that I’ll have 6 months of chemotherapy after that, though this may be optional. I’m also going to have Tamoxifen, hormone therapy. There is a good chance I can have CMF instead of CAF, which has fewer risks and side effects. All the doctors are very optimistic about my prognosis, although we’ll know better after the surgery. Test results showed that the cells are slow-growing and estrogen and progesterone receptor positive – all these are good signs.

We’ve chosen a wonderful surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian – Dr. Alison Estabrook, the head of their Breast Cancer Center. We really like and respect her, and appreciate how promptly she returns our phone calls, how clearly she articulates our choices and her recommendations, and how thoroughly she knows the research in the field.

We gave a great deal of thought to whether to have pre-operative chemotherapy in hopes of being able to have a lumpectomy with radiation, or whether to have reconstructive surgery, and finally came to the very clear decision that Ken and I prefer to sacrifice the breast and avoid the risks of complications from either radiation or reconstructive surgery, at least for now. Someone on the Compuserve Cancer Forum wrote to me that I can get a breast prosthesis that attaches with velcro, and I am delighted with this idea. We are naming our plan the “Mrs. Potato Head” approach to cancer treatment, in honor of Sarah’s toy (I had one like it when I was little) where you can attach noses, eyes, or ears to a potato-like base, and move them around as you like.

Read Full Post »

5/30/97

We met with various doctors at Columbia Presbyterian┬áHospital yesterday, and have finally made a plan. I’m having a mastectomy on June 19, without reconstruction. It is likely that I’ll have 6 months of chemotherapy after that, though this may be optional. I’m also going to have Tamoxifen, hormone therapy. There is a good chance I can have CMF instead of CAF, which has fewer risks and side effects. All the doctors are very optimistic about my prognosis, although we’ll know better after the surgery. Test results showed that the cells are slow-growing and estrogen and progesterone receptor positive – all these are good signs.

We’ve chosen a wonderful surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian – Dr. Alison Estabrook, the head of their Breast Cancer Center. We really like and respect her, and appreciate how promptly she returns our phone calls, how clearly she articulates our choices and her recommendations, and how thoroughly she knows the research in the field.

We gave a great deal of thought to whether to have pre-operative chemotherapy in hopes of being able to have a lumpectomy with radiation, or whether to have reconstructive surgery, and finally came to the very clear decision that Ken and I prefer to sacrifice the breast and avoid the risks of complications from either radiation or reconstructive surgery, at least for now. Someone on the Compuserve Cancer Forum wrote to me that I can get a breast prosthesis that attaches with velcro, and I am delighted with this idea. We are naming our plan the “Mrs. Potato Head” approach to cancer treatment, in honor of Sarah’s toy (I had one like it when I was little) where you can attach noses, eyes, or ears to a potato-like base, and move them around as you like.

Love,

Harriet

Read Full Post »

5/25/97

To my dear friends,

I’m writing to let you know that we learned last week that I have breast cancer. I’ve been thinking of you and knew you’d want to know what’s happening to me and our family – but I find it hard to rehash the facts on the phone – so I’m telling you all at once here. I know I can count on your love and support.

While the kids are still home, we’re trying to keep lots of free attention for them, so I’m trying to limit phone calls until they leave for camp and summer travel. So please respond by e-mail for now, and save phone calls until after June 26.

My spirits are high, and I’m actually sort of enjoying the challenge of learning about what I need to know, figuring out how to coordinate my care, appreciating how good my life and health are right now, etc. I understand that my feelings may change if I have to have chemotherapy and start feeling lousy – or when I really lose my breast or my hair (the latter would be temporary) – or if my prognosis gets worse. But for now I’m following in Pollyanna’s and Pauline B.’s footsteps. [My mother outdoes Pollyanna in making the best of things, and in taking one day at a time and avoiding “anticipatory anxiety.”] We certainly have had our moments of shock, fear, grumpiness, and fatigue, but overall we’re all doing fine so far.

It happens that this news came just after I had completed work on our last funded project, and before I had submitted proposals for new work – so this is currently my full-time job [I continue to host my Internet listserv and Web site]. We are very fortunate that family finances and health insurance are not problems for us – we can afford to say to ourselves, “Now that I have cancer, let’s get tickets to see the ballet.” [Normally Ken would be grudging about the ballet, but now I get a majority vote on Saturday night plans].

I had had a lump in my left breast for a long time (I had a biopsy that was benign in 1985), so I hadn’t worried about it. The doctors had said it was benign even at my mammography last November. But I thought it was getting a bit bigger, so I made an appointment to check it on Monday, May 12. It isn’t yet clear whether this is a new (and fast-growing?) lump or whether there is a smaller malignancy around the edges of something benign.

The lump looks about 3 cm, though part of it is fibrous tissue – so I’m hoping they find on surgery that the malignancy is really smaller [the radiologist says this is possible]. I had a needle biopsy that confirmed the cancer, but showed that a worrisome lump under my arm was really normal muscle tissue, not a lymph node.

At first we were scheduled to start pre-operative chemotherapy yesterday, but when the lump under my arm turned out to be normal, the doctor changed his recommendation. Now the doctors are recommending surgery first [since the surgery results might possibly allow us to decide I don’t need chemotherapy at all]. We’re waiting to meet with the surgeon to figure out which kind of surgery – the lump is right under my nipple, and my breasts are small, so a lumpectomy may not work well. Also, I’m ambivalent about whether I’d rather undergo radiation or lose a breast (with lumpectomy, I would need to have radiation as well). I have an appointment with a surgeon this Friday, May 30 – and then she’s going on vacation and could first do surgery June 17 or 18. We might pick another surgeon who could operate sooner. Or I may decide I’m happy to wait until June 17, so I can be well for Margie’s graduation and for Sarah’s moving up ceremony from lower school to middle school.

My mother, as always, has risen to this occasion. She has been really very sick with congestive heart failure and a bad and inoperable mitral valve – but since my diagnosis she’s been feeling better! She’s hired a driver each Friday to drive her into the city to spend Shabbat with us – and she’s been well enough to go to Saturday morning services with us.

I’m enjoying the self-indulgent notion that everyone who loves me would love to be told what they can do to help. So whenever I think up any crazy wish, I request it. For example, I needed to know how to buy a wig [thinking then that I was about to start chemotherapy], so I told Margie’s fashion-crazy 18-year old friend to figure this out for me. She had it all figured out in about 2 minutes. Similarly, I asked if my cousin’s daughter, a fashion expert, would take Margie shopping for her prom dress, since I didn’t expect to have the time or energy. [It turns out that Margie has discovered that she likes shopping by herself, and bought herself a lovely and reasonably-priced prom dress very independently].

The assignment for my sister and brother-in-law, Naomi and Ed, was to go ballroom dancing with us last night. We had a great time. [We are looking for additional ballroom dancing companions for as soon as I’m ready].

Sarah has also risen to this challenge, and is talking about it openly and being very supportive to me. Yesterday she measured out all my gargantuan vitamin pills and arranged them in a smiley face on my plate. She also showed entreprenereal skills while giving me e-mail time when she and two friends built their own lemonade stand and then earned $52.37 in one afternoon.

As expected, Ken and Margie are wonderful – though I think that so far it is harder for them than for me. Ken is wonderfully attentive and available, and I know he’ll love me and always be there for me with or without hair, breast, or health. As his friend Carl said to me this morning, if this had to happen to me, he could wish nothing better for me than being married to Ken.

I am really sorry that this walloped Margie just at the time when she was supposed to have a light-hearted last few weeks of high school. And my relentless good spirits are sometimes hard on Margie, who wondered if there was something wrong with her when she felt uncharacteristically “bummed out” when she first heard the news. [Nevertheless, Margie insists that she would prefer my response to a more “gloom and doom” role model]. Margie has since cheered up and is back to her usual happy and sociable self.

I’ve become active in the Cancer Forum on Compuserve, which is a fabulous source of support, 24 hours a day.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m about to post it on the Internet. . . .

Love,

Harriet

Read Full Post »

Starting Out

To my dear friends,

I’m writing to let you know that we learned last week that I have breast cancer. I’ve been thinking of you and knew you’d want to know what’s happening to me and our family – but I find it hard to rehash the facts on the phone – so I’m telling you all at once here. I know I can count on your love and support.

While the kids are still home, we’re trying to keep lots of free attention for them, so I’m trying to limit phone calls until they leave for camp and summer travel. So please respond by e-mail for now, and save phone calls until after June 26.
(more…)

Read Full Post »