Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Girl, resumed

So how did I spend my first anniversary of a cancer diagnosis? In China.

It was a work trip--I accompanied 76 MBA students (with several faculty & staff colleagues, too) to Shanghai, where we spent 5 days meeting with companies from Starbucks to APL shipping and 2 days seeing the sights. Shanghai is like a few New Yorks piled on top of each other: busy, bustling; horrible traffic (less volume than LA, but much more insane); and, from what I hear, more construction cranes than in the rest of the world, combined.

It's a shopper's paradise where you can get North Face jackets for about $18 each, and knock-off Birkin bags for about $40. A one-hour foot massage that was the best of my life was about $3.50. About halfway through, I began feeling really, really guilty about the guys who were sitting there giving the massages. When I pay $3.50, you know he is getting at most half of that (and probably less) for his hour's great work. And Starbucks--which is all over Shanghai--still charges $4 for a latte. China is getting rich on the backs of its poor. The gifts I bought for people are pretty much all handmade, because labor is still cheaper there than machinery. I could hardly stop purchasing, but there's definitely a guilt factor involved. And for all the great service we got everywhere, there's not even a custom of tipping!

Shanghai is not traditional China; we made a brief visit to SuZhou, nearby, and that was much more quaint and old-fashioned. Still, Shanghai has great energy and a breathless feeling of hastening progress. It was exotic and invigorating, and everyone we met was looking forward with a lot of hope. As a place to mark my first year AD, it was perfect.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Girl, interrupted

February 26, a year ago.
I'm in the shower, shaving an underarm, and my fingers slip in the soap, down just a couple of inches. It feels like I have a knot, like a raised bruise, only it doesn't hurt. I check the other side--no knot. I say aloud: "Shit." Just doesn't seem normal.

Out of the shower, I put lotion on Noah's fingertips, place his left fingers over the knot, his right on the knotless other side. He feels it immediately, nods--but sure, of course, that it's nothing.

February 27, a year ago.
I call the faculty clinic. My voice rises, a little shrill, when it looks like I can't get a same-day appointment. But it works out.

Fibroadenoma. That's what Dr. Sapkin says, after finishing the exam. "I'll refer you for a mammogram to be sure. Don't worry if they also do a biopsy--they are abundantly cautious at the breast center."

A year ago today.
In previous days, I've had my first mammogram ever. The knot showed up as suspicious, so I've also had an ultrasound and biopsy. Also suspicious, but then I had to wait several long days for the lab results. Now I'm back at the Norris Cancer Center, Noah with me for the first time in the series of appointments (since we've been sure, 'til now, that it was really nothing). We're still waiting to hear "fibroadenoma" confirmed, and we've planned a celebratory lunch afterward.

When the nurse comes in, she's surprised to learn that we are there for the results. I'm asked repeatedly for my family's cancer history. We're shown to an exam room, I'm put in a gown. We wait.

Dr. Silverstein, the surgeon, surges into the room, all breezy confidence. He examines me, leaves the gown down like I might not even notice, draws a boob on the whiteboard. (We quickly realize that he spends his days drawing boobs. Every exam room has some of his boobs on the board.) He leaves to check the labs, and no one has said anything to reassure us, and we look at each other, and I am finally scared.

Then he comes back, still breezy, and announces it just like that. "The bad news is, that thing is cancer." He points with his pen, like a sword. "The good news is, we're gonna cure you." Noah and I lock eyes across the room, jaws hanging, faces pallid.

Talking follows, lots of it, the 40-minute crash course in breast cancer, the first dozen decisions made in fog and haste. We meet my oncologist, talk about surgery in 2 days. After an hour in the maelstrom, the medical staff all leave, and we're alone in the exam room, with pictures of boobs--front, side, whole circles, circles with pie-shaped wedges removed, circles with a dark blotch of tumor on the right-hand side--looking back at us.

I say to Noah, "My life is gonna suck."

We go to the lunch anyway, and I taste nothing.