Recently, Forbes writer Susannah Breslin disclosed on her blog that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In a post called “The Business About my Breasts,” she describes the harrowing experience of getting a bad result from her mammogram, the follow-up ultrasound, the biopsy, and finally, the call from her doctor:
I’m at Costco when the call comes the next day. The call was supposed to come between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., but the call comes at 2 p.m., so as soon as I look at the phone, I know something’s wrong. The radiologist asks if this is a good time to talk. I look around. I’m in a Costco. What am I supposed to say? No, let’s talk when I’m at McDonald’s. Or, How about you call me back in a week? Or, If it’s possible to not have this call at all, that will be preferable. Instead, I tell her, Yes, now is a good time to talk.
Are you sitting down? the radiologist asks.
I consider there are a variety of things you don’t want a doctor to say, and Are you sitting down? is one of them. I am not sitting down. I am standing near 50-pound bags of dog food. I brace myself against one of the Costco-sized bags of dog food, and tell the doctor to tell me what she has to say.
I don’t remember exactly what she says. The basic idea is, You have breast cancer.
This is not what I want to hear. This is not what anyone wants to hear. This is not good news.
A few weeks after Breslin made her announcement, Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing decided to go get a mammogram in solidarity. She live-tweeted the procedure, and shockingly, found out that she also has breast cancer. In a post entitled “The Diagnosis,” she writes:
Dr. Kristi Funk is her name. How can anything go bad when the doctor’s name is Funk, and there are so many funny things to tweet? She told me to lie down, put some goop on my chest, and waved a wand through the goop. The waves appeared on a screen. It looked like NASA video, something the Mars rovers might transmit home to a JPL engineer searching for distant water.
She showed me a crater in the waves, a deep one, with rough edges and a rocky ridge along the northern rim. Calcification. Badly-defined boundaries. Not the lake we’d hoped to find.
“The first thing you’re going to learn about working with me is that I’m a straight shooter,” Dr. Funk said. Her voice was steady and reassuring.
“That’s how you know you can trust me. I’m going to tell you everything, and I’m going to tell it to you like it is.”
I forget the rest of what she said, but it added up to this: the crater was cancer.
As the words sank in, the Mars rover crawled over another steep ridge, out of the crater and into a valley, and found one of my lymph nodes, larger and darker than the others. A rocky prominence. A sentinel node. No water there, just fast-dividing cells that kill.
Both accounts are heartbreaking, and although I don’t know either woman, I do know their writing and probably for that reason I found myself feeling stunned and sad as I read each post. And I’m sure I’m not alone; for these two ladies to give voice to their experiences will give a lot of people a better, close-up understanding of what women — particularly younger women — go through with a breast cancer diagnosis. We’ll be following along.