A Pink Ribbon Tale For Disbelievers

C. Coimbra photo

C. Coimbra photo

This tale of why I wear a pink ribbon is for those who don’t believe in mammograms, for those who don’t believe their lifestyle would foster breast cancer, and for those who believe conventional cancer treatment is a bunch of hooey and a sweet deal for the companies that provide cancer care.
I’ve never published my personal experience with breast cancer. Maybe because I consider myself a lucky victim of the rabid cells because I caught it early.  Well, I didn’t exactly catch it early.  Someone else did and it wasn’t from an annual mammogram.

When I choose my OB/GYN she was a medical doctor and open to alternative medicine. This fits into my philosophy about health.  One won’t normally hear me discuss my body’s circumstances because I try to keep those thoughts under control.  In other words, I believe if I speak health, I will live health.

For instance, if there is something going on with my body, I’ll call it a challenge, or phrase it like, “Yes, my knee has been a bit of a challenge giving me less comfort than I choose.”

During my mothering days I recall a young woman who quickly passed on from breast cancer.  It freaked me out because it seemed so random and she was younger than me.  My lifestyle promoted prevention or  positive action for my health.   At the time, the books about breast-feeding suggested that natural childbirth and breast-feeding was the best prevention against a woman’s potential for cancer.

Check.  Breastfed my babies.

Less meat, organics (including growing much of my food), vitamins, herbs, antioxidants, the great outdoors mixed with healthy thoughts kept me shielded, I believed.

Check. Healthy diet.

As menopause crept closer with all of its symptoms, my doctor suggested my first mammogram, stating that she did not believe annual mammograms were the best route to breast health, but a baseline mammogram was a good idea.

Check.  Baseline mammogram.

Other mammograms followed, at about 16-18 month intervals.  Besides, with my small breasts an anomaly would be found quickly, I believed.

In June 2003 I closed in on finishing my first book, “The Gathering Basket.”  My energy levels dropped, but we had a small apple orchard, a booming business and I had a book to finish. So, duh!
 
About this same time our young cat took to snuggling against my left breast and kneaded into it all night. Ouch!  I reported to my doctor in July that my left breast hurt when my cat kneaded into it.  I was less than a year out from my last mammogram; the doctor gave my breast a thorough exam and explained that at my age (54) my breasts were changing and that as my hormone levels dropped, I could experience some discomfort. 

When spouse and I began our September apple harvest, I dropped my tools to the ground and declared, “I’m too tired to do this.  I want to sell the farm and move back into town.”  We decided that the pressure of getting the book written and out to the public was getting to me, and yes, it was probably time to sell the farm.   Meanwhile, while I canned, dehydrated and juiced those organic apples, the cat insisted on jumping onto the kitchen counter and rubbed his head against my left breast.  Spouse determined, “Your cat’s a perv.  What’s with the booby rub all the time?”  

New Year’s Day 2004 we moved into our new home in the city limits.  The cat curled up against my left side and kneaded deeply into my left breast. The pain from that pressure ejected me from my bed.  I rolled over, and as if I was testing how bad an aching tooth might be, I took two fingers and shoved them deep inside my left breast to see what was going on.

There it was!  A tubular knot best described as the size of a Good ‘N Plenty piece of candy.  But it wasn’t candy. It was ductal carcinoma in situ—breast cancer in its earliest form.

I explored every option I could find, interviewed different treatment centers, received advice that ranged from treatment that included drinking an oxygen treated water, mistletoe, and Chinese herbs.
Then I interviewed a team of doctors that included the surgeon, the radiation oncologist, and the oncologist.  Fire burned in their eyes and it was clear to me that they hated cancer and had every intention of ridding patients of the scourge.  They also believed that some alternatives are positive choices.

I chose the team with fire in their eyes and went into treatment as if I were a soldier on her way to battle with one objective—to win.

I began Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of emotions.  The secondary pathology report said the cancer my surgeon removed was the highly invasive kind and recommended additional surgery.  Okay, that really freaked me out.  Except…after my surgery, my cat no longer obsessed over my left breast.  He just curled up next to me, as he does now every night and purred.

My point in this retelling is that breast cancer happens to anyone.  One day while beating myself up in the exam room the oncology nurse grabbed hold of my shoulders, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Charmaine, I’ve been in this business for 25 years.  Every kind of woman possible—skinny ones, fat ones, athletic ones, couch potato ones, holy ones, unholy ones, you name it—has been in this room fighting breast cancer.  Do not beat yourself up.  Breast cancer happens.  Treat it and move on.”

Breast cancer changed my life in so many ways, that I can’t possibly write about it in a simple blog.  But I am firm in my belief that the disease requires diligence on the part of every woman and man alive.

I understand those who criticize breast cancer research nonprofits and the commercialization of the pink ribbon, along with the high cost of treatment.  But now that I am a breast cancer survivor, I’m grateful for the research funded by donations; I don’t care if a large corporate gives a just penny from a profitable sale to breast cancer research (pennies add up), and the day your doctor says “you have cancer,” it may well become the worst day of your life.  So when asked if I’d take conventional treatment again, I answer, “In a minute.”

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