My Grandmother Helped Save My Life

I posted part of this on Facebook a couple of days ago, but since at least some of my readers might not see it there, I’m posting the news here as well, along with some extra thoughts – which I’ve posted beneath the indented part below.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a routine mammogram in preparation for spending most of 2018 living and writing in Japan (more on that in the days to come). The mammogram resulted in a totally unexpected diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer (triple-negative, which means it can’t be killed with the pills like Tamoxifen that many women take).

Two days later, I opted to undergo a double mastectomy. Fortunately, the post-surgical pathology report showed no lymph or lymphovascular involvement, which means the surgeon removed all of the cancer. However, I have opted to undergo voluntary chemotherapy to ensure there are no future recurrences due to random cells too small to test for that can float around in your body like killer ninjas.

There is only room in this body for one ninja, and I have first claim.

I was truly blessed that we caught this at a stage where I could be cured, rather than merely treated, but I’m also highly aware that many women (and men) are not so fortunate. Please, do not be one of them. Get regular screenings, live healthy lives, and love yourself and the people around you daily.

In the months to come I will probably lose my hair. I may feel lousy. But I’m also still spending most of 2018 in Japan, working on a new book project that’s going to blow your socks off (in addition to the next Hiro Hattori mystery) – so stay tuned. It’s going to be a WILD ride.

Many of my friends have told me they consider me brave for choosing a double mastectomy rather than trying to save my breasts. For me, it was not a matter of bravery, but of survival.

The year I turned twelve, my paternal grandmother, Margaret Ross (I called her “Mama Peggy”) died of breast cancer that metastasized into her bones and brain. Throughout my childhood, I loved Mama Peggy more than anyone in the world except my parents. I visited her (and my grandfather, Papa Ed) at their home in Texas, and once spent an entire afternoon sitting on my parents’ lawn waiting for them to arrive when they drove to California for a visit.

My final memory of Mama Peggy is visiting her in the hospital. She had no hair, and her chest was flat, and she seemed so tired–yet her loving smile remained as warm as ever. I don’t remember what I said, or what she said to me, though I do remember taking a needlepoint canvas of a dog that I had just finished sewing. She taught me to needlepoint, and I wanted to show it to her before she died.

Her death remains so painful and so raw that, 44 years later, even writing this makes me cry – and I’m not a crier.

From the moment I had breasts, I feared one day they would try to kill me. Even then, I knew that if it happened, I would kill them first. When the radiologist told me he had found a lump, and that “although we have to wait for the biopsy, I am confident this is cancer” I never doubted the course I would pursue.

My grandmother, who I loved and who loved me so deeply, has now helped to save my life.

She did not have the option to make the decision early enough to save herself, but she gave me the courage and resolve to sacrifice my breasts to save myself–and I believe, when I see her again, she will be proud.

2 thoughts on “My Grandmother Helped Save My Life

  • December 3, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I did not take the route of a double mastectomy. I live with pain from scar tissue post surgery as well as the constant fear it may return…even after 17 years.

    I say “Bravo on your smart move!”

    • December 3, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      I’m sorry you still live in fear of a recurrence – I think I may as well, even though the breasts are gone (I’d fear a distant metastasis somewhere else, though). Thank you, and hello to a fellow survivor sister!! Congratulations on 17 years!

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