Monday, August 31, 2015

Knock, Knock. Who's there? Cancer.

UPDATE: The tumor is out and the lymph nodes are clear. Second surgery is Tuesday.

There's an old saw that Ziggy used to count as one of his favorites:
The flood waters are rising and Sam, standing on the front porch of his house, sees a man on a raft floating toward him. “Sam!” calls the man, “get on the raft and I’ll get you out of here!”
“Not to worry,” Sam replies, “G-d will take care of me.”
The flood waters continue to rise, and Sam is standing at the window on the third floor. He sees a man in a large motor boat coming toward him. “Sam, jump in! I’ll get you out of here!
“Not to worry,” Sam replies, “G-d will take care of me.”
A day later, the waters are still rising and Sam is standing on the roof of his house. He sees a helicopter coming toward him. It hovers over his house. “Sam,” calls the man on bullhorn, “I’ll lower a rope, lift you up, and get you out of here!"
“Not to worry,” Sam replies, “G-d will take care of me.”

The next day, the waters cover the roof and Sam drowns.

Before he knew it, Sam was standing before the Throne of G-d. “I was a good guy! I was a faithful husband and good father. I gave to charity willingly and anonymously, “cried Sam. “I observed mitzvoth and went to shul. What were you thinking?"
 G-d shook Her head sadly. “Sam, I sent you a raft. I sent you a motor boat. I even sent you a helicopter…….”

There is a raft waiting for me, and I am hopping on. I am not waiting to see what happens. Nope. Not me.

At my annual mammogram on August 11th, the radiology tech spotted a spot. It was teeny-tiny. It wasn’t the first time this has happened; I was not surprised when I got called back for an ultrasound. At the ultrasound, the radiologist looked at the spot and said, “I’m not so sure this one's a cyst.... Your biopsy is at 1:00 this afternoon.”

Within 24 hours, I knew it was an invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. 

Now, before anyone freaks and tries to sign me up for the Kult of Komen, take a breath. It’s tiny; less than a centimeter. My estrogen and progesterone staining factors are 95% and 85% respectively. My HER-2 is 1….and there appears to be nothing in the lymph nodes based on that very pushy ultrasound. The oncologist surgeon and the radiology oncologist have both classified the IDC as Stage 1A with a grade 1 tumor….with the understanding that it won’t be confirmed until they biopsy the sentinel lymph node. Either way, the prognosis is excellent...and probably won't involve chemo. 

Being an Ashkenazi woman…as in Jewish from Eastern Europe…this diagnosis is not exactly a surprise. Our risk is very high. Too many of my friends have been down this road. Before you ask, I already have my BRCA-2 kit and will have blood drawn on today. Here’s something I didn’t know. If I am BRCA-2 positive, I can pass it to the boys, and their risk for a variety of cancers increase, plus, it can then be passed to their children. 

So, here's the plan. The lumpectomy is on Wednesday. There will be some "adjusting" to the size of the shelf, set for the following Tuesday, and that is the really exciting part of this whole process. Both are out-patient. Six weeks after that will be a course of radiation. The radiology oncologist promised I would not glow in the dark when it's over. He said that so seriously. He's a really nice man, but has no sense of humor whatsoever. My next goal is to make him laugh. 

My job has pretty good insurance. I have access to Virginia Piper Institute at Abbot Northwestern Hospital and their Breast Care center. I have a job that allowed me to bank all those sick days I never used, and they will cover my leave-of-absence and then some. I will have a job to go back to when the surgical part is through, and then they will work with me during the weeks I have radiation. In other words, I am fairly well protected. My out of pocket may be about $6K after all the deductibles. Compared to what it's going to be billed (which is no reflection whatsoever of what the procedures actually cost,) $6K is chump change. Good thing I have it. 

But never mind the out-of-pocket stuff. Being considered high risk, I am well versed in the importance of regular mammograms. If I didn't have insurance, I would go to Planned Parenthood...assuming there is Planned Parenthood to go to. If there wasn't one available, I might not have been able to go. And not going would definitely be a death sentence....just like it is for other women without access to health care for women

I'm already pretty radicalized about affordable health care, but the ease with which my diagnosis has been processed, together with the seamless transition into an excellent facility make me realize how damn lucky I am. 

Lucky? That is fundamentally wrong. No one should have to be lucky to get health care. Everyone should have access the same way I do. Period. End of argument. 

For the record, I really do think Susan G. Komen is a cult and want no part of that juggernaut. There are plenty of other organizations that need your support to do good work for women's health. Like Planned Parenthood. 

Rest assured this blog is not going to become a cancer journal. The usual outrage for all things politically and socially absurd will continue unabated. This includes but is not limited to Trump-l'œil and the GOP Clown Cavalcade.

Meanwhile, Spartacus is learning to ask for help. Not an easy thing. 

With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just around the corner, I can think of no better time to renew a beginning. 

The WP's tip o'the Week
Widowhood taught me to set aside money for a rainy day. 
Sam would have to agree - this is a rainy day. 


  1. Sorry to hear this, but I had so many tiny spots and then one suspicious one, a needle biopsy and nothing else. It may turn out to be nothing to worry about.

  2. You are Spartacus! And yeah, Komen is a cult and a crooked one at of the worst charities one can waste money on. The boyz should probably assume they are carriers without getting tested. If ACA is repealed, genetic mutations like this may cause people to be unable to get insurance. My 1st cousin has CHEK2 (another Ashkenazi mutation) and so does her father. It increases risk of breast and colon cancer (she's had breast). I refuse to be tested for just that reason. I get a mammo every year and a colonoscopy every 5 years because of family history (grandfather). So what would a definitive test buy me other than a potential scarlet letter by insurance companies as soon as they have the chance again?

    Then you have my sister, who refuses to get a colonoscopy because "they cut stuff out of you that probably won't turn cancerous anyway."

  3. Just remember that you are Spartacus....let me know when you want company

  4. Your health is precious, so happy you have a great team behind you.

  5. I wish you success in making your doctor laugh:) To have to pay 6K out of pocket despite insurance coverage -- just doesn't seem right. I don't know you but I do know you must be a mighty special person to take all this with such a wonderful attitude. Spartacus indeed! Wishing the best for you!

  6. Best to you. And thanks for putting Planned Parenthood in this piece. Generous of you!

    1. PP is first, last, and in the center of women's health care. I used to volunteer in a clinic while I was in college and in grad school. No one does for women what they have done. And those who wish to shut the does of PP clinics anywhere are misogynists.


      PP does provide health care but they don't provide mammograms. Please get your facts correct.

    3. Your citation is incomplete. From Planned Parenthood's website:

      "Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses teach patients about breast care, connect patients to resources to help them get vital biopsies, ultrasounds, and mammograms, and follow up to make sure patients are cared for with the attention they need and deserve".

      Additional information can be found at -

  7. So, here, we celebrate the truly strangest and most bizarre e-mail in the now-available files from the presidential contender and former Secretary of State’s e-mail archives. Keep in mind, this wasn’t sent to a friend or to Chelsea or Bill. This was sent, according to the Washington Post, to adviser Jake Sullivan and former assistant secretary of state Richer R. Verma.

    The subject line? “Gefilte fish.”

    The body? “Where are we on this?”

    And that is all!

  8. Wendy Garon BaldingerSeptember 1, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    I hope your path to full good health is smooth and quick.

  9. Wishing you only the best of health in the New Year - Good Luck tomorrow :)

  10. As one of your followers, I feel a kinship to you. I also realize that doesn't make us personal friends. But, I do wish you well and look forward to reading your posts much into the future!

    1. Thank you so much for that! I really do appreciate your comments!

  11. Cheer up; the worst is yet to come !

    Your writing is magnanimous, Wifely.

    Make that oncologist laugh; humorlessness is deadly.

    All good things to you.

    1. If I am upright and taking air, it's all a clear win. And the radiology oncologist _will_ laugh before I am done with him. You have my sacred pledge!