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The Places You’ll Go (After a Diagnosis)

By on February 15th, 2013 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey

I’m sorry to say so

but, sadly, it’s true

that Bang-ups

and Hang-ups

can happen to you

from Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

I love traveling to new places, beaches, mountains, cities, historic sites — they’re all enchanting to me. But the journey I navigated this last year was a far cry from any other I have ever taken.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 2, 2012. One day earlier and I would’ve thought it was a not-so-funny April Fools’ joke. My husband was the one who told me I had cancer, right before I was going to bed that night (I’m not recommending THAT timing for the cancer-talk to anyone who wants a tranquil night’s sleep). He is a physician at the hospital where I had had my biopsy and couldn’t refrain (who could) from peeking at the results immediately after they were posted. Note to hospital where he works: no need to reprimand him for privacy violations (we need the health insurance!) — I DID sign for him to have access to my reports. Because oncology is not his specialty, the only thing he could readily decipher from the biopsy report was “breast” and “cancer,” which at that moment summed up our collective knowledge of the disease that was about to take over our lives.

That began my journey, like the one traveled by so many women (and some men) before me. What begins with the dreaded finding of a lump or a mammogram return call moves to traversing through what feels like endless testing, ultrasounds, biopsies, blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans, and genetic testing; through some tough phone calls and nerve-wracking decisions; and then winds down the road to surgery and, in too many instances, nasty chemo and/or radiation. My itinerary included a diagnosis of stage II invasive lobular cancer, a bilateral mastectomy with a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction, six rounds of chemo, and continues with a year-long clinical trial of herceptin and hormone therapy: a “bang-up” adventure for sure.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked,

Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.

A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!

Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

How much can you lose?  How much can you win?

How much can you lose? Ouch, how about your hair? It’s not enough to lay in your bed drooling and feeling wretched after chemo, too afraid to stray even 6 feet from the bathroom. No, once you’re safely through the first round of chemo and most of its loathsome side effects, your crowning glory falls out and you’re left looking like a molting chicken.

When my hair started to fall out, I shaved my head into a Mohawk to try to inject some humor into that otherwise cheerless event. You need every laugh you can salvage when you lose your hair. The picture of me with my Mohawk was passed around via smart phones a little quicker and in a little wider circulation than I had hoped. And I could only think there went my chances at the Supreme Court (or, for that matter, any respectable job as a lawyer). In my mind’s eye, that picture of me with the Mohawk would surface just when the confirmation hearings would be near conclusion, and the opposing senator would stand up and shout “what respectable woman jurist sports a Mohawk”?? MY response: someone battling a disease that requires every ounce of humor that can be mustered, even shaving your head into a Mohawk for laughs. You see, you can’t laugh and be afraid or depressed at the same time. Finding those precious laughs on this journey is the “how much can you win.”

So each of us on this journey through and around breast cancer will travel to places we never wanted to visit, but at every stop on our route we’ll try to learn all we can to make the journey as smooth and successful as we possibly can, find comfort in the people who surround us, laugh any chance we get (after all, it‘s supposed to be the best medicine), and support our breast cancer “sistas” in every way possible. That’s what I hope to do by writing a regular blog for Breastcancer.org. An organization I value immensely, because I relied on it so much when I was in the throes of treatment. In this blog I hope to address issues and events that matter to us, the breast cancer community, in a way that continues the great work of Breastcancer.org. Together, as it says in one of the last lines of Oh, The Places You’ll Go, let’s move mountains (no pun intended!).

Jean Heflin Kane lives in Devon, Pennsylvania with her husband, four children, and the real star of the family, their fluffy, fun-loving dog Toby. Jean is an attorney who founded and directs a non-profit aimed at supporting sustainability initiatives in K-12 schools. She is actively striving to be a breast cancer "thriver." She blogs at striving2thrive.wordpress.com. She welcomes comments and suggestions on blog topics.

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