I love the start of a new year and a new month. I think most people do. It’s a kind of ‘get out of jail free card,’ a release from bad habits we have formed, a fresh start. No matter whatever your past failures the past week, the past month, the past year, here is a new, fresh, first day on which to start.
The first day of the month is important to me for another reason, too… a slightly more intimate reason.
My grandmother was born in rural Indiana on August 8, 1931. She was an only child. She was remembered as being extremely quiet & polite, which was basically a front, covering up for the fact that she was the nosiest child you’d ever meet. While your back was turned, she’d be snooping through all your doors and cabinets, but you’d be never the wiser. One year for Christmas, she sneakily unwrapped and re-wrapped all of her presents. She said it was her worst Christmas ever, because she had to fake surprise & delight over presents she already knew she was receiving. She went on to study at Ball State University & Wheaton College. She became a school teacher in Michigan & in Arizona before meeting, falling in love with, and marrying my grandfather. Together they had seven children. And then one day, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died at the age of sixty, when I was just three months old.
Eleven years after my grandmother’s death, her second daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, and survived. Twenty years after my grandmother’s death, her eldest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she too survived.
And so I always wonder, what would have happened if my grandmother would have survived?
And, what will happen when the specter of cancer comes for me?
In February 2018, while performing a breast check, I felt a lump. It was little, round, and the size of about a pea, as far as I could tell. It worried me. I called the doctor, who sent me for an ultrasound, and after reviewing the ultrasound, I was sent to see a surgeon. The surgeon said watch it. It’s small and round, so don’t worry. If it gets big and jagged, then we should worry about it.
I worried anyway, doctors orders regardless.
It grew. It got nubby. The pea became a pecan which became a hard knot of ginger. It hurt a bit, hard tissue inside of soft. I felt it covertly and constantly.
And so I went back to the doctor, who sent me back to the surgeon, who recommended an excisional biopsy.
“It will have to come out,” I texted my family, including a Monty Ptyhon Gumby brain surgeon GIF.
And come out it did… shockingly quickly, after it was decided. On week before Easter there was a lump, and the day after Easter, by noon, it was gone.
I wasn’t too worried about the results of the biopsy. I was pretty sure it would be fatty tissue, a fibroid cyst, or something like that. But there’s the part of me that wondered, “Is it cancer?” After all, I have the family history for it, and a blood test proved I have the genes for it, too.
The first of the month… a time to re-focus, to re-prioritize, and to begin again.
Ladies, I’m sure you all know you should perform a monthly breast exam. When you’re young and don’t have the family history of risk that I do, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. It’s not until you hear a story–a story of cancer, or a story of not cancer like mine, that you’ll remember to even check.
I didn’t check my breasts on February 10, 2018 because I was sticking to a great schedule of checking routinely (either every month or as recommended by my female health app). I found it… because I heard a story on a podcast about a woman whose family history for breast cancer led her to genetic testing, which led her to a preventive double mastectomy.
That’s what it takes to remember to self-check. It’s stories. It’s new months. It’s kitschy hashtags like #FeelItUpOnTheFirst. It’s period tracking apps.
But, I’m biased. I think it’s mostly stories… grandmothers, aunts, mothers, sisters, even daughters.
Months after my first surgery, I have a new lump, in the same place. I’ve been to my doctor and had another ultrasound. Scar tissue, fatty tissue, they say. I hope they are right. The lump is hard but smooth, and I remember my first visit to the surgeon when he said smooth and hard was fine. And so, I keep feeling it… not out of anxiety so much this time, but out of a certainty that knowledge is power… my knowledge, and my power.
What’s your story? If you don’t want to share in the comments section, feel free to send me an email through my blog or DM me on social media. I want to hear it. And, if you feel comfortable enough to share it, I think that’s wonderful, too.
The New Year is a time of resolutions and growth. And so I hope that all women everywhere, for their own sake, will commit to taking steps to prevent cancer. If you haven’t had a mammogram and you’re due, pick up the phone and make an appointment. If you want to know your genetic risks, get tested. It’s not that expensive; I didn’t pay a dime.
And hey, men who are reading this… you can get breast cancer, too! There are some genes that increase the risk of male breast cancer. It’s wise for you to do a monthly self-exam, too, if there is a history or genetic mutation in your family.
Best wishes to you all, men & women, survivors & previvors,