Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best Case Scenarios

"Do you feel it?"

I'm standing in my mother's kitchen pressing my fingertips against her right breast looking for the thing that left her sleepless the night before. Searching in a circular motion, the way the brochures they hand out at the gynecologist tell you to. At the 2 o'clock position, I find it. Nestled against her breast bone, a tiny object - a cross between a pebble and a marshmallow. I've felt similar things in my own breasts, when I still possessed them. I remember laying supine on my bed, topless, doing this private work. Every ridge or bump causing my heart to beat faster, my mind to orchestrate the worst possible thoughts. In the moment of discovery, I am already in a chair with an IV pumping chemotherapeutic chemicals into my body. I am already composing my last will and testament. I am already the deceased mother of a motherless child.

But for everyone else I offer best case scenarios.

"Yeah, I feel it." My brow furrows. "It feels too soft to be cancer."

"Would you be worried? I mean, if you found this in your breast?"

I almost laugh because when you have a BRCA2 mutation, you don't even need to find something suspicious to worry. You spend every moment of your life waiting for the axe to fall. You are on high alert, tensed and pretending to be ready for the inevitable moment your body betrays you.

"I would definitely get it checked out. I mean, I've had similar lumps that were biopsied and turned out to be nothing. Just get it checked out. It couldn't hurt."

It is October 1st. The first day of Breast Cancer Awareness month. In my family, we don't need a government sponsored month to remind us of the horrors of breast cancer. I don't need to buy a pink kitchen appliance or a ribbon magnet or hot pink M&Ms. Nothing I could see or buy could make me more aware. Because I am constantly made brutally aware of breast cancer by what is not there. My breasts and, more terribly, my sister. The savage memories of Amy's death and my mastectomy linger tenaciously in the brain.

This is why I hate Breast Cancer Awareness month. I don't need more reminders of the things I have lost. I don't need to watch perky women recount how they've conquered breast cancer and reassuring doctors sing-song how early detection saves lives. I don't need to see shelves of pink goods at the grocery stores. It is infuriating that some corporations are exploiting a disease to increase their profits. Breast cancer cannot be represented by a cutesy candy pink Kitchen-Aid. Breast cancer is a horrible, disfiguring disease that destroys lives and the emotional health of families. Fuck Breast Cancer Awareness month. How about living Breast Cancer Awareness life?

In the kitchen, there is a quiet. We are both thinking the same thing, my mom and I. Not this again. Please God, not this again. Cancer has taken his seat at the table. He is sticking his dirty finger in a fresh wound.

"Just call Dr. Kr--sher. Tell her what's going on and I'm sure she'll order a test right away."

"I'm scared."

"Don't be. I'm sure it's nothing. Just for your own peace of mind, get it looked at. You're due for a mammo anyway. You'll get the test and it will be nothing and you'll feel better." Best case scenarios.

But it isn't nothing. It's cancer. Confirmed by biopsy. My mother has breast cancer. My stomach does a sick flip to see that in writing. I had lied to her the way I lied to Amy a million times.

You're going to be fine.

I'm sure it's nothing.

It's probably been caught early.

They have so many medicines and treatments now.

You won't die. You can't die.

Sometimes I lied so well that I even convinced myself. What I want to know is, Why? Why is this disease attacking my family? Why doesn't it leave us the fuck alone already? Haven't we given enough? Haven't we lost enough? Haven't we cried enough? Haven't we watched a beautiful, young woman deteriorate into a sallow, dead shell enough?

For my mom's sake, I will keep spinning out best case scenarios. Maybe this time they'll turn out to be true.


  1. Oh my God, Gwen, I am SO sorry to hear it. I pray that it really IS the best case scenario. I truly wish that you and your mom didn't have to go through this.

  2. Oh Sweetheart. I will hope for you and your Mother that it is only a fatty cyst. My daughter found a lump in her breast the week that my mother died and I remember thinking that I wasn't strong enough to deal with cancer again. Luckily for us it was only a cyst and we dodged the bullet. Cancer runs stongly in our genes as well. I will think of you when I am in the garden today. xox Kim

  3. thank you both for your kind and encouraging words! Kim - unfortunately, the cancer was confirmed via biopsy :( I'm so glad your daughter was spared.

  4. Oh no Gwen. I am so sorry. It really is one thing after another for you. Ugh.

  5. I'm really, really sorry you and your family have to go through this.


  6. Oh for christ's sakes. Why can't cancer leave your family the hell alone, now. I'm just really sorry Gwen. I'll be thinking about your mom, and about you.

  7. This post made me tear up and I never cry. I'm really sorry for what you are going through.

  8. I am so sorry Gwen. You and your mom are in my thoughts and prayers for a speedy full recovery. It's not fair and I shake my fist at the universe with you. I wish I could do more.

  9. Gwen, I've been thinking of this since your email to us girls re: Philly Cares.

    I don't even know what to say. I want to say I wish she would have gone in with you when you got yours "taken care of"
    I want to say that every thing is going to be alright, but that's not for me to say.
    I want to say that _____ but _____
    Insert 758 things in each one of those slots. All interchangeable, all wrong, all heartfelt.

    Christ. (clearly has his back turned on breast cancer despite all the annoying fucking pink stuff all over the goddamned place)

    I love you

  10. I'm so sorry. You are both in my thoughts and I will also be sending up wishes/prayers/vibes for a swift recovery.

  11. FUCK. I'm so sorry. This totally sucks and I don't know what to say.

    How about this? I'm fucking pissed off for you.

  12. Damn, I'm sorry Gwen. I hope she gets it checked out and finds out that it's nothing.

  13. Ditto Rassles' comment. I wish for you and your mother the strength to fight this new battle, the courage to live with it day by day and the power of many, many people praying for a cure.

  14. I'm so fucking sorry, Gwen. Sending healing thoughts and courage.

  15. All that pink shit pisses me off too. It's total exploitation. Or maybe I'm just jealous because there isn't something similar for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Whatever. So what's the protocol for your mom? Has she been staged yet? Here's hoping it was found early and a few zaps take care of it.

    Extra tough for you to deal with when you're pregnant. Like Rassles said, strength. Remember the internets are on your side.

  16. I hope it's nothing. But I'm thinking of you.

  17. I am sorry, Gwen.

    Cancer fucking sucks.

  18. Gwen. I've missed you. I've been a suck ass blogger and commenter lately.
    I've missed your total honesty. I believe your mom will have a best case scenario too. I think you are right.
    And, you know what, I've never once bought anything pink for breat cancer awareness either. I just don't get it. Sometimes because I'm a cynical old bat. Sometimes because I don't want to think about it. Sometimes because it's already 2 months later before I realize the month went by. Sometimes because I do regular checks anyway.

  19. I really thought I'd responded to this sooner. I'm sorry. And I'm thinking of you.

  20. Just wandered onto your blog and found tears in my eyes reading this post. Even though I'm a stranger, I wish I could offer you profound and comforting words, but there is nothing to offer that would even come close. The best I can do is say, "Fuck Cancer" because that pretty much sums it up.