Last week felt surreal. Everything started out just fine. Things were normal. I got up one day, saw my daughter off to school, went to work…yada yada yada. Once I was at work, everything was status quo there too, until I checked my Facebook page. I noticed that an old college friend had posted a link to an article that a mutual acquaintance had written. Wow! She’d written an article and it had been published in a widely read, well-respected paper. I was impressed, especially since writing is a hobby of mine, one that I immensely enjoy.
I clicked on the article so that I could read the full title. Yikes! The article was about her cancer and how her child is able to Google her prognosis. Oh geez….I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t really know this woman, but I was still pretty unnerved. I continued to read her very well written article and noticed that by the time I was done, I had chills and felt goosebumps all over my body. I then Googled her name and saw that she had a blog. Oh good! Maybe I can get the whole scoop from there. Maybe she’s in remission now and the article had been an old one. No such luck.
What I read on her blog was that she’d battled breast cancer several years back when she was also going through a divorce. My heart immediately went out to her. I knew the divorce world only too well and I couldn’t imagine also battling a life threatening illness. I felt like crying. She made it through that battle, however, found new love, got married and had been healthy for several years, until the beginning of this year. She wrote that she started having some shortness of breath and soon found out that the cancer was back….STAGE IV! STAGE IV? What does that mean? Well, it means that the cancer has now spread to other areas of the body and is considered incurable, according to my online research. From what I’ve read, the focus for someone with Stage IV breast cancer is treatment to prolong life for as long as possible, sometimes even years, and to try to keep them comfortable.
I felt numb. This woman is around my age. I started wondering when I’d had my last mammogram. I knew it hadn’t been long, but the panic made me call my doctor’s office anyway, just to be sure. I was in a fog for the rest of the day. I kept picturing her face…this woman I barely knew….this woman who probably wouldn’t even remember meeting me many years ago. I felt scared.
I thought about her on and off for days. I decided to check my Facebook page again. After the page opened, I saw the first post and it was a big, gorgeous picture of an old high school friend. She and I had lost touch after I’d moved from Miami to Connecticut right before my senior year of high school. We’d reconnected on Facebook about a year ago. I remember looking at her posted pictures and thinking how wonderful she looked…very fit and seemingly living an active lifestyle with her husband and young children. However, the huge, gorgeous picture had been posted for a horrible reason. She was gone. She’d passed away the day before.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the heartfelt post by her niece about her wonderful aunt and how much she’d miss her. I then read the many comments from people offering their condolences and talking about what a cherished friend she had been. What the hell had happened?! Had there been an accident? I read more posts and looked at more pictures that people kept posting on her page, but couldn’t find an answer. I started leaving personal messages for her friends, trying to find answers, explaining that I was an old friend and was shocked to see what I was seeing.
The responses came quickly. My old friend had been battling breast cancer and had lost the battle. One woman even sent me a link to an article that had been published about my friend, when she had been in remission and was hopeful for the future.
I remember wondering if these two women were diligent about getting their mammograms. While I don’t know the answer to that question regarding the first acquaintance, according to the article about my high school friend, she had been. However, while her mammograms had been normal for two years, she’d been having terrible migraine headaches and unexplained weight loss. Eventually, her mammogram result showed an abnormality and that’s when her battle had started.
One woman is fighting her battle and one woman has lost hers. I haven’t yet been able to shake the feeling of my own vulnerability. While I’m good about getting regular mammograms, there have been times when I’ve let the appointments slip a month or two. Do I give regular self exams? Not so much, but I hope to be better about that too. I realize that there are no guarantees and mammograms can give false negative results, but mammograms and self exams are all we’ve got ladies. I truly believe that our chances are better if we’re pro-active about our health. I know I’m going to try harder and hope for the best. In the meantime, my hopes and prayers are with the many women still battling their wars.