Ostriches, Beaches, and Boobs.

Daisies (3)

Cindy loved daisies. Simple, lovely daisies. I love them too.

With a title like that, how can you NOT read this post? Well, it’s not directly about ostriches, or beaches. It is, however, about my sister, about being smart, and yes, about boobs. You may now make the choice to read on…or not.

Still here? Good for you.

Let’s start by introducing you to my oldest sister, Cindy. I learned a lot from Cindy. That’s what big sisters are for, right? They teach by example. They blaze the trail for younger siblings.

My sister was nine years my senior, so during my early conscious childhood, I just remember torturing her. A lot.

Seven-year-old Nancy had that perfect timing that could destroy a sister’s first good night kiss with a new beau. This was the same little Nancy who would do cartwheels through the living room as teen-aged Cindy attempted to entertain friends. I was the annoying kid sister who could get Cindy’s boyfriend completely engrossed in playing Etch-A-Sketch with me (our early form of video games) instead of paying attention to his girlfriend.

Baaaaad Nancy. Naughty little sister.

But you know what? She still loved me. Somehow she still did.

I think my middle sister, Terry, dodged a lot of this stuff. I was a bit older when she started dating. Perhaps I showed mercy. Perhaps she would disagree. That, I am sure, is another story.

Cindy helped me with my homework. Cindy was often my built-in babysitter. Cindy taught me how to silly dance—and went on to teach the same mad skill to her own kids. Cindy helped me learn how to file my first income tax returns. She taught me about being quick to smile.

Cindy showed me how to have grace in difficult times. She showed me about strength, about believing in yourself, about finding your personal best and pushing even that benchmark. Most importantly, Cindy taught me that fear is a pretty useless emotion. She taught me that burying your head in the sand in the hopes that adversity might just go away—well, that’s just not an effective action plan at all.

Cindy always met life head-on. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer she put fear in its place and faced her disease intelligently, with determination and good humor. When she and I went wig shopping prior to her first round of chemo, she joked about it being the perfect opportunity to sport the short hair style she had been too chicken to try out “in real life.” We both tried on wigs. We tried on every style and color in the shop. We laughed ourselves silly—the absolute best medicine of all.

I’m not going to share more of that specific journey in this post. It’s a story for another time. However, this post is about loving Cindy, losing her, and then realizing that I never  really lost her her at all. She is still teaching me. She still finds ways to talk to me when I need her the most.

So we all know that if you have had a direct relative diagnosed with breast cancer, your personal risk of developing the disease ratchets up. Add in other relatives that suffered different, but significant forms of cancer and that personal risk factor just keeps climbing. Oh yeah, and if you forget to have kids, like I did, guess what? Increased risk factor.

I am not one to focus on negatives. I can’t. I’ll make myself crazy if I do and what’s the point in reminding myself every single day of what could happen? I could get trampled by the 800-pound hog living in my barn, but I’m not planning on it. I’m also not planning to get cancer. In fact, thanks to lessons from Cindy, I’m pretty darn devoted to making damn sure I stay on top of my big C risk factors.

I go to all of the appropriate check-ups with great dedication–gynecologist for some parts, mammogram for the girls (Raquel and Lolita…if you have read some of my previous posts you know I do name everything), dermatologist for my skin, primary care physician for all of the left-over parts. I even experienced the joy of the colonoscopy at the appropriate age (it’s not so bad people, there are very happy you-won’t-remember-a-thing drugs involved…suck it up and go get yours when you turn 50).

Beyond a couple of spots the dermatologist resolved with that freezy spray stuff (thank you to everyone 30 some-odd years ago who gave this fair-skinned, freckled girl the idea that she could actually tan), I’m healthy as an 800 pound hog. All tests have always come back clean and happy. Until last July, that is.

I got the call that my mammogram showed something and they needed me to come back for a breast ultrasound. I was assured that it was probably nothing. Words like fibroid and cyst were tossed around. We were just playing it safe. Ok. I’m all about playing it safe.

I will tell you this, get diagnosed with a breast mass and suddenly it seems that everyone wants to feel you up. Seriously, to this day when I walk into any doctor’s office I just immediately strip from the waist up. I will say my dentist was a tad shocked by this behavior.

Ok, back to July. Questionable mammogram led to an ultrasound. Questionable ultrasound led to a breast MRI. Breast MRI garnered “everything looks fine” results. Seriously? After going through all of that, I get a little pat on the hand and a let’s-do-this-party-all-over-again-next-year report? There truly was not much detail offered beyond that—and I still had a lot of questions swirling around in my brain.

For a bit there, I admittedly took the good news and just ran with it. I stuck my head firmly in the warm sand and celebrated. Woo hoo! Everything looked fine. Fine. Fine is a perfectly good word, right?

But the mass was still there. And really, what did “fine” actually mean? Fine as in that lump is nothing at all and never will be? Fine as in you’re fine for now…let’s see if it turns into something next year? And if it’s fine…why do we have to do the whole MRI thing again?
So here’s the deal—no one could really define “fine” for me.

Meanwhile I was getting bombarded with pink ribbon messages. The Race for the Cure. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Turn Tulsa Pink Campaign.

A loyal patron of my dog care business started chemo. There were two dear friends I’ve never actually met who bravely detailed their diagnoses and subsequent treatments for breast malignancies in beautifully honest blog posts.

Then there was the reporter on Good Morning America who documented her first routine mammogram on air. She stepped into a mobile unit and emerged moments later in triumphant “it was no big deal” glee, only to later find that she did indeed have breast cancer.

For goodness sake, even Angelina Jolie shared the news that she had an elective double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed that she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.

It was as if breast cancer awareness had decided to smack me in the face at every turn. Or was it that my sister still had something to teach me? Ah yes. Leave it to my dear, determined sister to reach repeatedly from the great beyond to yank my head right out of the sand.

I heard you sister, and you were right, “fine” was just not good enough.

Long story shortened, I found a new primary care doctor who LISTENED to my concerns. He referred me to a wonderful breast specialist and guess what? She LISTENED to my concerns. She reviewed my case. She looked at my family history (one that goes beyond just my sister…my dad, my aunt, my uncle…and yes, other types of cancer in your family DO factor in). She reviewed all of my films and test results.

Then, after doing her own ultrasound on the mass, she decided that we needed to do a little more than just “wait and see.” Hallelujah! Proactive finally won out over reactive.

On my first visit she decided to perform a needle biopsy on the mass in Raquel—I didn’t even have time to get nervous about that one. A needle inserted in the breast—sound scary? Painful? Well, it’s neither. Beyond a tiny sting as they numbed Raquel’s right side, there was nothing. Yes, we knocked a bit of the sand out of my ear with that one.

As I was lying there on my side trying very hard to keep my active mind calm, the doctor asked if I could see the screen. I did not actually have a clear view of the monitor and even if I had, who really, besides doctors and radiologists, can make heads or tails out of anything in that grainy image? Seriously, when someone shows me the ultrasound of their baby, I kind of just make the appropriate cooing sounds, but I really just see a blobby grey shadow.

Anyhow, Dr. Smith informed me that in that very moment, there was actually nothing to see. Nothing? Yes, nothing. When she inserted the needle into the mass it deflated. She likened it to piercing a water balloon. It just went away.

I am here to tell you that I don’t know when I have ever heard more beautiful words than “It’s completely gone.” Well, I’m going to still give the nod to the first “I love you” from my sweetie, but “it’s completely gone” is a definite close second.

We sent the fluid from the mass-no-more off to the lab to be sure all was truly well, and as the doctor suspected, it came back clean. I believe the technical, medical term she used was “nasty old cyst.” That’s Latin for nasty old cyst.

Based on my family history and the fact that Raquel and Lolita are dense (the girls were initially offended by that description, but they got over it), we decided to pursue genetic testing to see exactly what my risk factor looks like so we can better plan for my ongoing health. Trust me, if I have that crazy gene that puts my risk factor off the charts, the girls and I will get a divorce. If fake boobs are good enough for Angelina, they’re good enough for me.

And so I knocked the sand out of my other ear with that resolution.

For now, I am basking in the joy of a very good outcome. “Fine” has been defined. I have a wonderful new doctor who is as committed to the health and well-being of my girls as I am. Raquel and Lolita are doing great. They don’t have to have any further testing or public exposure until next July. Oh sure, there’s always a chance I’ll decide to rush to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to participate in the old “hey lady show me your tits” tradition for some beads, but I’d say that is highly, highly, definitely unlikely.

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Did I mention my tattoo?

I will close by telling you that the FIRST person I talked to after hearing that the girls are a-ok was my sister Cindy. I called right out to her and shared the news, though I suspect she was right by my side through the whole ordeal.

Thanks, sister-friend. Thanks once again.