She works so much, for such long periods of time, and all of it away from home, always traveling; so much so, that I nick-named her 24/7. We haven’t laid eyes on each other in what seems like forever. We went all through school together, I was a bridesmaid in one of her weddings, and we had our first born children one day apart, in the same hospital, right down the hall from each other; but we had somehow drifted apart and wouldn’t know it until years later.
The instant message comes across the screen, wanting to know am I busy and can I talk? I sent an answer right back that I am free and ask what is going on your way? The reply is a simple, “can I call?” And somehow, I already know this call is not going to be a normal, everyday, what’s going on, call. I wait in silent anticipation for my phone to ring; and then it does.
We began to go through the same ordinary greetings but I have become an expert in that tone, the one that carries a tremble with it, and a multi-layered range of fear. She tries to sound as if everything is as it always is, that she is so busy she can’t remember her name, she doesn’t get to see her husband near enough, and she is looking forward to the holidays and the resting of her weary bones that comes with them every year.
Somehow, we never did get to that part of our conversation. We have known each other so well, for so long, she takes the dive and plunges in, the words all but gurgling for air as she tries to speak them. My ears immediately began to reject what they were being asked to receive as she began with; “I haven’t told anyone yet, but I am calling to tell you, because I need your help getting the word out to everyone; I had my first chemotherapy treatment today.”
My brain is screaming so loud the roots of my hair are hurting, “How many more times will I pick up the phone and hear these words? How many more women that I love will have to live this horror story?
What she wants people to know is the rarity of her particular cancer; it is called Inflammatory Breast Cancer; one day it’s not there, the next day it is. It comes in the appearance of a bite on the breast, a bite that no antibiotic will touch or heal, and it almost always arrives in a Stage Three existence. All of these discoveries happened within a three week period of time; and without the help of family members in the medical professional, she could very well still not know what was going on. She wants you to know that you need to do visual checks in a mirror every day, just the same as you do your own physical checks in the shower. But she mostly wants you to know, that it can happen to anybody, any time, with no warning; just like it happened to her.
Although only one breast is affected at this point, she will have a double mastectomy to ensure all of the disease is gone. Reconstructive surgery is not suggested for this type of radical cancer, so she already is dreaming of tops that close tighter, bras without under-wire, and the comfort of all of the above. She is preparing in every way possible, because she will control this outcome; it will not control her. She has already cut her hair into a cutie patootie age-shaving cut; it may come out, but it will not be in depressing handfuls in a shower.
Get your regular mammograms, educate yourselves, and make every single little thing seem as if it could be EVERYTHING, because it just might be. We will pray in silence, out loud, and on our knees, until someone crushes this horrible disease. Amen.