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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The "plot twist" I did not want



I never got around to blogging about all the places I visited in Europe or sharing all the wonderful experiences I had there. I went over for my 50th birthday, looking to renew connections to all my friends and family in Denmark and hoping to spend a wonderful time with my sons.

I did have a wonderful time. It was beyond my imagining. I came home feeling fully alive for the first time in perhaps a decade. I was full of inspiration and hope and determined to transform the parts of my life I still needed to transform. Before balancing my checkbook, I ran out and bought $300 in art supplies, determined to bring painting and drawing back into my daily life. Committed to being healthier, I also scheduled an appointment for a physical, including a mammogram, blood work, and an ultrasound of my upper abdomen, which often hurts.

The blood work came out better than it has in years, proving that walking everywhere and running up the countless stairs of the French RER and Parisian Metro systems is actually good for you. The ultrasound came back normal, as well. Whew!

But then I got a phone call from a nurse telling me that my mammogram had an “asymmetry” in the left breast that concerned them. I had to go back for more films.

In the week between the phone call and the appointment I prayed a lot. I spent time with people. I tried to distract myself and tell myself that it was nothing. Some 5 to 10 percent of women get called back after having a mammogram, and most don’t have cancer.

My mother came with me to the appointment. I was shown the area of concern on the mammogram — a little half-circle of white dots that could represent calcifications or cancer. Yikes. They took more films. And when the nurse came back she was no longer looking me in the eye.

“The radiologist wants one more image,” she said, her smile tight.

And I knew.

I went straight from there to ultrasound, where the tech marked a dark area on the screen, and then told me the radiologist would be in to see me.

I felt absolutely sick and shaky and angry. I had such a terrible feeling that this was it. And it was.

The radiologist sat down and said, “It looks like we have a small, stage one breast cancer.”

There were no visible abnormalities in my lymph nodes, he said, and that was good news.

My mind glommed the words “small” and “stage one,” but my thoughts turned to white noise at “breast cancer.” I started crying, while he began outlining what came next. Biopsy. Pathology report. Meet with a surgeon. Possibly just a lumpectomy with radition. Maybe not even chemo.

I managed to send a quick email to my sister and a text to BFF Jenn LeBlanc, who responded with “WHAT????”

I kept my eyes closed throughout the biopsy — injection of numbing medication, insertion of biopsy needle, three clicks for three tissue samples, placement of a metal clip to mark the biopsy site. It hurt more than I was prepared for, in part because lidocaine doesn’t work well on me. I was unable to stop my tears, those words whirling around in my mind. And then it was over.

I had to drive myself and my mother back to my place. I was stunned and felt almost numb. And then the waiting began.

I got the official pathology report the next day: a 2cm mass that was invasive ductal carcinoma and in situ ductal carcinoma that was estrogen and progesterone positive. It was, the nurse told me, the kind of breast cancer you want to have IF you have to have breast cancer.

But the nurse also said they wouldn't know what stage the cancer was at until they had more information. IF the mass is mostly the invasive form of ductal carcinoma, it will probably be considered stage 2, so probably chemo. If the mass is a mix of both invasive and in situ, then it could even be stage 0 or stage 1. If there are microscopic cancer cells in my lymph nodes, it would be an early stage 3 and definitely chemo. At stage 2, my chances of survival are about 85 percent. At stage 3, they drop to 65 percent. The nurse said she thought it looked like a probably stage 2 cancer that has been there for a while.

I asked how something like this could be so advanced when I’d had a mammo a year ago and three breast exams since, and she said she thought it was probably there on my last mammo but not yet discernible. The moral to that story? I don’t know. I did everything I was supposed to do, and here I am.

Now I’m waiting again — waiting to see the surgeon and the plastic surgeon, waiting to get the official pathology report that will tell me what kind of a battle I have in store for me, waiting for surgery and reconstruction, waiting to see how much of the life I rediscovered in Denmark and Paris will still be mine.

They’ve done studies to show that attitude does not affect the outcome of cancer treatment. People who tell me that “attitude is half the battle” apparently haven’t read those studies. Even so, I want to have as good an attitude as possible. I’ve survived childhood sexual assault, two men breaking into my apartment in the middle of the night with switch blades, death threats, two stalkers, a serious mountain-climbing accident, a major operation on my cervical spine. I can survive this, right?

I hope so. I pray so.

But there’s no glossing over the shock, the rage, the grief, and the fear. It’s real. So many people say, “Keep your chin up!” But I’m going to let myself feel whatever I feel, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

My sister, who lives in Stockholm, is flying home this weekend to be with me for seven weeks. She is my best friend, and no one makes me laugh the way she does. My mother is an RN, so she’ll be able to help take care of me. My friends, readers and family have rallied around me. And that is a huge blessing.

Benjamin, my younger son, will be home from Paris on May 8, and having him home will be a huge help, too.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remember the joys of visiting my friends, the happiness of eating pizza on the banks of the Seine, the bliss of dining in the Eiffel Tower with my two sons.



Thank God I took that trip, because the more than 2,000 photos I took, the conversations I had, the places I visited — they will live in my soul throughout this time, as will your kind words and good wishes.

But FUCK! Cancer sucks!





15 comments:

Jackie said...

<3 <3 <3 So unfair. So absolutely, positively sucks. I'm furious on your behalf. In fact, my first response was, "You have GOT to be FUCKING kidding me!" I won't say, "but." You know all the buts. I will say that I am so super proud of you for how real you're staying through it all. That's what separates the women from the girls.

I am so so sad about this. And I'm so pissed. At least once a week I hear about either someone I know or someone a friend knows being diagnosed with cancer. Why can't it just leave people alone? Why can't it just die? I firmly believe in the power of prayer and I know that a lot of them are going up for you. I'll be sending up some too. Prayers for you and your family and for all the doctors and nurses taking care of you.

Thanks, Jackie. You have been so sweet with all your posts on Facebook. Everyone's kind words are helping me to continue going when I just feel broken inside.

Southerngirl, I've had so many women email to tell me they've just been diagnosed. I just can't believe the 1 in 9 statistic can be true any longer. Breast cancer is like an epidemic, or it seems that way. I really appreciate your prayers!

Kristi said...

Well said, as usual. Although I am glad I now have a more robust picture of what all is going on, I just am freaked you are going through this. Sending love, hugs and healthy vibes/prayers to you, GB. Xo <3

Bobbie B said...

As a mother of a special needs child and friend/daughter of many cancer peeps, I am glad you caught it now and yes, even if you do all the right things, it can still happen out of the blue. Cancer does suck indeed. But, you are keeping a great attitude, surrounding yourself with an awesome support system, and fighting with everything in you. I applaud your strength and will have my purple sparkle pom poms cheering for your recovery.

Pamela:
Yes, you did everything you were supposed to. You did not skip your mammogram this year. And that means you are getting treatment now.

I am so glad you went to the doctor. I'm glad you had this news sooner rather than later.

And yes, cancer does suck.


angel said...

My mom had a cyst removed when I was in high school or early college. She made sure each of us girls felt it so we would know what it felt like, which was a little weird. I'm glad she did.

Peggy West said...

One of the things that those of us with a diagnosis can do is to describe the whole thing to others, something that I think lessens the blow (information reduces fear). Your blog really spells out what happens and what comes next.

Lori said...

I'm so glad you got your physical! You are so strong, I know you'll come out of this kicking cancer's ass. And you haave the support of a huge community who cares. Praying for the best outcome of all.

And I agree. That statistic cannot be right anymore. It's a huge epidemic. Sending lots of love from SoCal.

Pamela, over the years I have had 8 lumpectomy procedures, the last, over 10 years ago was the scariest. The last one was a papilloma in the milk ducts. I was extremely fortunate that they were all non-malignant, but I still lost half of my right breast and 1/3 of my left. 8 times I went through the waiting game, not knowing if it was cancer and if it was, how bad was it. In my opinion, the waiting is the absolute worst part.
I am praying so hard that what they found on you is easily treated and that the treatment is as simple as removing the tumor, nothing more. After reading all the comments on FB and here, you know we are all here for you for whatever you need.

You're so lucky (ok--wrong word!--maybe fortunate is better) to have a sister who cares and a mother who is an RN. You have a good support system!
My mother was in a nursing home when I was diagnosed-after 50. But my sons were great! They made me music CDs to listen to on the way to/waiting for radiation. (John Mayer has some great songs to listen to...I'll look for specific titles :--)
Thinking of you daily...having a blog and a writing outlet are helpful too, I'm guessing.

Phyl said...

I'll be adding my prayers, too. Your strength and determination is impressive and inspiring. I believe it will make a difference. Thank you for sharing your story.

KarLynP said...

Oh Pam! So sorry to hear this, but so glad you caught it early. ((((HUGS))))

CMD said...

I know exactly how you feel-- I was going for my routine physical when my doctor noticed what felt like a node on my thyroid. Ultrasound-- calcification. Biopsy--not fully conclusive, but tumour cells definitely present. Consultation with the surgeon (chief of surgery at the very prestigious hospital where I live)-- almost 100% certainty it was cancer. I was completely asymptomatic, no history of any sort of cancer (thyroid or otherwise) in the family, no major exposure to radiation... and not even 25 years old yet.

Recommendation: total thyroidectomy (since they can't do a full pathology study until they remove the thyroid) and removal of the lymph nodes to which the cancer commonly metastasizes, radioactive iodine treatment, hormone replacement for the rest of my life, and bloodwork every ~8 weeks. Turned out to be the "best" kind of papillary carcinoma one can have, with a great prognosis and the low(ish) recurrence rate of ~35%.

I was home visiting the parents for the Christmas holidays when I got the call about the inconclusive-but-probably-cancer biopsy results. The feeling of "that's a joke, right?" remains even 4 years after the diagnosis and operation. It feels incredibly surreal to realise I'm a cancer survivor and haven't even turned 30 yet. I was in the middle of doing my PhD at the time and went back to it three weeks after surgery, on my birthday. It's definitely changed the way I see things: now I'm much less prone to sweat the small stuff, because all I have to do is think "Hey, if things had turned out differently, I could be dead, so why worry about [insert insignificant thing of choice]?". I've stopped putting things off until some unspecified time in the future, because there may not be a future and just grab opportunities as soon as they present themselves.

Having a great support system (family, friends, healthcare team, etc.) is definitely essential. Cancer's a fucking bitch, a money sinkhole [that $27K bill that arrived in the post when the hospital misfiled the claim with the insurance company scared me shitless!], and hell on the emotions. So give yourself the freedom to feel however you want to feel whenever you need to feel it. I understand that people are only trying to help and be supportive and positive, but platitudes are useless and, unless that particular person is also living/has lived through a diagnosis, he/she has no clue about how you're feeling (or 'should' feel) at the moment. I'm glad you decided and were able to take that trip to Europe to 'rediscover' yourself.

I'll be keeping my fingers crossed

Mary Read said...

Pamela I am so sorry! You will get a lot of advice and I don't want to add to that needlessly but know you are not alone!

Your family, friends, and your fans LOVE you! You will have thousands of fans and readers praying for you and cheering you on.

You are also not alone with cancer! The newest stats are 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetime!! I have lost many family members to cancer and am a survivor myself. Some forms of cancer are much harder to treat than others. I was blessed and am a long term survivor of breast cancer. You can be too!

I ultimately had most of my breast tissue removed and got silicone implants as a preventative approach. I am not recommending this route per see as I am now needing to replace those implants as they are ruptured and leaking. But, as I was very young at the time, I just couldn't face a life time of constant biopsies and worse yet fear. Because I got the surgery early and saved all my muscle and external "features", they actually looked much better than originally and they have lasted me 30 years after all. So maybe not so bad a choice and maybe it saved my life in the log run but also was maybe was unnecessary and may have harmed me in other ways with autoimmune issues... Hard to say...

Excellent book on importance of attitude to read is called Love, Medicine, and Miracles by a top oncologist who saw time after time how attitude and faith unexpectedly changed the outcome for his patients. When I was almost diagnosed a second time with another form of cancer, I was depressed, and my amazing doctor realized this put me at special risk and recommended this. Smart doctor!

Just a heads up that Dr Feng in Chicago is top doctor in breast reconstruction. If I can afford her, she is the one I want to see! Also you can find wealth of referrals and info online etc. Loads more options now instead of just implants including flap and fat reconstruction.

BTW, alternative medicine and nutrition does work! Loads of raw broccoli and parsley veggie juicing will boast the immune and also kills bacteria and viruses that actual spread if not cause cancer. Many herbs used in cooking which act as preservatives are antivirus, anti-bacterial, anti fungal including tumuric, mastic, garlic, olive leaf, etc.

I know you know just how important you are to your boys and your family. But I suspect you probably don't realize just how much of an impact you have had with your journalism and your fictional romance books.

I LOVE your I-series books and how you have made ethics and plain old fashioned morality look cool and appealing to our romantic youth. Your books inspire real heroism.

The world needs people such as you!

You have a lot of work left to do and a long life yet to live!

So bottom line, you are not going anywhere - other than back to Europe or on vacation, LOL!

Seriously, I will be keeping you in thought and prayer. If I can offer any help, advice, etc., please let me know.

Your readers are here for you too.

Please keep us updated on how you are doing.

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"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale