Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last night for the first time, exactly seven weeks and four days after I was given the diagnosis of breast cancer, I felt immense shame.

I am not afraid to cry and grieve and yell at the God’s in my self-centered moments of “Why me?”  In fact, I don’t think I ever even had the “Why me?” thought cross my mind.  Yes I have cried and grieved….but, “Why anybody?”  Why the little children with the bald heads and innocent hearts, who were being wheeled around Stanford by grieving parents, trying to be strong themselves while I knew, in every corner of their hearts they were crumbling? Why them??

So, I digress, I never thought “Why me?”  But through my shock and fear and, my defense mechanism of cracking jokes and making light of my situation (although God forbid anyone else make light of it), my desire to be a good patient and to keep the passengers feeling safe on the crashing jet, I proudly operated in my usual fashion. I did my best to keep everyone calm; after all, we are not supposed to panic during an emergency.  If Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger had panicked even for a split second, US Airways Flight 1549 would have been full of screaming hysterical passengers, the plane would have crashed into the Hudson River, the 155 passengers aboard would have most likely died, and his signed book would not be standing at a place of honor on my great-grandfather’s antique table.  He didn’t panic, nor did his co-pilot.

Lucky for me, I had so many co-pilots by my side, that even had I panicked, they would have taken the wheel for me.  In fact, had it not been for the amount of support I had at the hospital alone, who I referred to regularly as “My body guards," a veiled threat to the outnumbered hospital staff in the unlikely case that any one of them considered treating me with anything but dignity...I may not have had the good fortune of having my very own private room. Personally, I think we were so loud that they wouldn't have given me anything but a private room.  So that's the secret.

I have been very fortunate.  Beyond the countless people that were there holding me up as I was wheeled into the OR (and nicely drugged I might add), the faces of my Aunt Katie, my cousin Becky, my cousin Eileen (all cancer survivors), my beautiful man Richard, my daughter Monica and her dear Marine friend Jeff and my daughter Nicole and possibly my future son-in-law Phillip were all there, reminding me that in this world, I will never be alone.

And before I forget….did I mention that prior to surgery I received in the mail a nine page single spaced letter from the Genetics Oncologist, which by the way was so full of facts and figures and family history that I had to read it twice?  Yes, I have a serious family history of cancer. Yes, I have a 23% chance of recurrence…but after two in-depth readings do you know what I actually took away from this letter?  Hold on, let me get the letter….Under Physical Examination the letter said “The patient is very pleasant.” I was so flattered.  Then, at the end of the nine page letter, the Attending Physician’s Statement said, verbatim,  “I appreciate the chance to be involved in the care of this very pleasant patient.”  I walked around for a day calling myself “a very pleasant patient.”  23% chance of recurrence? Who cares? I’m PLEASANT! They like me! They really like me!  And I laughed as I went on with my day repeating the word “pleasant” to myself as many times as I needed reinforcement that “hey, I’m okay in their book!”  Which takes me back to the Japanese proverb that our dear friend Margaret Donatello shared with me about kindness….”One kind word can warm three winter months.”  For a full day after reading the letter, I forgot I had cancer, because of that one word that validated everything I want to believe about myself as a human being.  That I am good.

And so…the earth turned as usual, I came home a day after surgery, the relatives showered me with love and gifts and said their good-byes, the daughters went back to their 20 something year old world (as they should), and with the exception of my selfless, loyal, and unconditional Richard, the silence set in. 

We went to bed.  I had three layers on top…a grey sports bra, a pretty pink floral stretchy tube top courtesy of Stanford and Anthem Blue Shield, and my snuggly long-sleeved button-up Liz Claiborne pajamas courtesy of my cousin Eileen.  I needed to get the blasted sports bra off, it was cutting off my ability to breathe.  I didn’t think much of it.  I asked Richard to help me because I can’t lift my right arm.  Gently and tenderly Richard helped me remove all three garments.  He said not a word.  I got up from bed and walked to my mirrored closet.  I was a deer in headlights.  My breathing became shallow, my bottom lip began to quiver, and without the jokes and false bravado, reality came, and it came with a vengeance.  I wasn’t so brave.  I stood, unable to look away, yet horrified to look, quietly and in shock at the site of my breast.  Like driving by an accident only you realize at that moment the person in the accident is someone you know and love.  I could barely speak but managed to get two words out through my tears… "I'm deformed.” First the shock, then the tears, then the reality, then….the shame.  The cruel, cold, horrible, almighty shame.

Richard left me standing there, momentarily, so as not to disturb my need to process my new truth.  It’s hard to celebrate being alive when one feels shame.  “It’s so ugly. It’s so fucking ugly."  Richard waited just enough beats, as though he was in rhythm with my grief and knew exactly what to do.  He stood up and quietly put his arms around me, still not saying a word.

How can you ever look at me again?” I knew all along, these feelings would come, I just didn’t know when.  Grief is an inevitable parallel of life.

I felt like a child who was falsely accused and carrying shame that I had no part of "It's not my fault" I said.  And then I said it again as if trying to convince myself and Richard that it really wasn't my fault.  In my warped mind, I was quietly begging him not to hold it against me, to love me anyway, to not hold me accountable for this....this ugliness that was now my own.

Richard held me carefully, like a china doll that might break at any moment with one wrong move.  He rubbed my hair and let me sob into his neck.  It was an intimate moment in my most vulnerable of states. The type of moment that you pray when it comes, if it does come in your lifetime, you will have that perfect person that knows exactly what to say to make it all better.    Without a second thought and ever so genuinely he whispered in my ear, “You will always be beautiful to me.”  That was what I needed to know. That was what I needed to hear.

It is in those intimate moments where pain and fear and shame meet at the cross-roads of life, where we are faced with our truest of selves, in the rawest of form, at the darkest of hours….it is in those moments, by the people that love us, genuinely and is only then, that we are made real.

"...Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly..." said the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thank You For This Christmas

As I write this, it is officially five days before Christmas Eve and nine days before my surgery.  My life is a paradox of mixed emotion. I love Christmas, I hate the commercialism.  But then maybe I secretly love the commercialism, even though admitting to it is like admitting to enjoying the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. I like that while perusing the aisles I am serenaded with the sounds of feel-good "Oh Holy Night" and "Jingle Bell Rock" and that even when Christmas begins for the retailers the day after Halloween and I am undeniably annoyed (how could they?) I am thrust into the spirit  anyway.  I’m just glad I don’t work retail, or then I would hate Christmas. 

You know they do it for marketing; corporate marketing brilliance that is meant to prey on our emotion of giving…and buying….and we do, because we love to give. Their little marketing ploy is downright evil if you think about it, maximizing the goodness in our hearts even when our pocketbooks lack the necessary padding to accompany our desires to buy for others.  So out come the charge cards.  I shuffle through, wondering which has the lowest interest rate; the lowest balance so that when the bill comes after the spirit has long passed, I can tell myself the little lie that I didn’t spend that much.  It’s brilliant really, just plain brilliant.  Then, I secretly hate Christmas.  Did I just say that? Yes, I did.  Sometimes I hate Christmas. 

But this year is different.  I am strong enough to know that the real spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with charging gifts; so I am giving only three gifts.  So take that you, you big bully commercialism.  I am giving to the three children in my life who deserve to know the Christmas’ that I had as a child, and the joy of opening gifts.  Auntie Renae will not disappoint.

Then without fail, I am reminded of my upcoming surgery and the spell of the spirit is momentarily destroyed; but not for long.  Christmas isn’t just another day that my family celebrates, but a time of tradition and a reminder of, well, who we are as a family.  The girls have learned to expect a big double batch of homemade chili beans and eggnog; last year I added the ham and I think the rolls.  There will be laughter, and there will be arguing, and then laughter again.  It is Christmas after all, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. 

In days gone by, it was just the three of us, and they were little, so the single batch of hot chili with melted cheese and crackers was sufficient while I attempted to put them in matching dresses, even though there was no company in site trudging up to knock on our front door.  I took many memorable pictures and for 18 years my only request was that they sat on Santa’s lap so that I could display 18 years of Santa photos with pride.  They have never let me down.

Fortunately, the family has grown with dogs and cats and boyfriends and friends and our tradition continues…only I had to throw in the ham and rolls and actually call it dinner, sort of.  I love Christmas because it is a tradition that we have built over the years.  I never knew that the time and angst I put into the details over the years would become the traditions my children love and look forward to as adults.  See, we groom them for later years, while we fuss and worry, and sneak around the house at 4:00 a.m. hoping they won’t hear the sound of Santa filling their stockings – we are actually making memories that will live with them forever.  What seemed at times obligatory and overwhelming, turned into so much more.

Yet, three days after Christmas, I will be in a hospital room awaiting the fate of my future to be determined. Will the cancer have spread? Will I need chemotherapy? What stage am I?  Will I be one of the lucky ones to celebrate Christmas for years to come, while watching my family grow and adding a bigger ham, making a triple batch of chili, and watching my grandchildren tear open their own gifts in delight…or will I be faced with a reality that I am not ready to face?  I have enjoyed 50 Christmas’s after all.  Am I asking too much to want 50 more?  God let me have 50 more.  I promise I will always love Christmas, even the chaos of the holiday, if you will only give me 50 more.  Okay, I’ll take 20, we’ll go with 20; but if it’s only 10 that you're willing to give me, that’s okay too, but that’s my lowest offer.

No one ever really knows when their time will come, and I think that’s a good thing because, there is a sense of bliss in being able to take life for granted.  This year, I have been stripped of that bliss and have come face to face with the fear of my own mortality, and I am holding on ever so tightly.  I will sing and laugh and rejoice and celebrate Christmas as though it is my last and I will bask in the moments…and then I will cry without doubt because that’s what I do when I’m grateful.  And I will be ever so grateful to God and the Universe and whatever powers that be, that no matter how many more I may have, I am celebrating another Christmas, right here, right now….and oh how I LOVE Christmas.  Yes, I do.  And I am ever so thankful.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Everything's Gonna' Be Okay

I just woke up from a night of really bad dreams, a reflection of my life perhaps, except I was young again.  I had gone alone to see a Lady Gaga concert in my mother’s new Subaru.  It was yellow.  The same Subaru my parents bought new and let me borrow when I was 21.  Funny how your life creeps into your dreams.  I ran into a friend at the concert and she kept handing me a bottle to drink, but I didn’t know it was Everclear so I got stinking drunk and during a serious moment on stage when Lady Gaga was giving a profound speech about the hours of hard work put in by her dancers to make her performance what it is, the audience was hushed, and in my loudest voice I shouted “Shake it Lady Gaga!”  I ruined the concert.

Afterwards I tried to find my car, but I couldn’t remember where I parked it.  The crowd was disbursing and I was alone, looking for the yellow Subaru, and finally when I found it, I couldn’t find my way home.  I kept asking people leaving the concert “How do I get to San Ramon?” and I ended up on some bridge far away from home that if I didn’t get over quickly enough the Bay was going to rush in and I would drown, inside my mother's brand new Subaru. 

The next thing I know, my mother was there and she was disgusted because I had been drinking at the concert.  I told her I thought somebody slipped something into my drink.  Then, because dreams are cool like this, I turned my head and asked the girl that shared her bottle with me what she put into my drink and she said "It was Everclear!"....something we used to sneak into the punch at high school dances because it was clear and the teachers couldn't smell it.  Which reminds me of the most horrifying shameful day my freshman year when my mother really did discover that I had been drinking alcohol. I had shared a bottle of Boones Farm with a group of my high school friends as we sat on the stairs of a highway overpass and talked about all of our "problems."  We passed around the bottle, one problem at a time, until we had polished it off.  I was sufficiently buzzed.  We headed back to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor and played video games and ate pizza and laughed because, we were cool, drunk, and in high school now.  Then, the demise of the beginning of my high school journey happened.  The electricity went out. Shakeys went dark (yes, this part is real life) and suddenly I hear my mother’s voice…."Renae, Renae, are you in here?” My friends starting shouting “Renaaaeeee, your mom’s heeeerrrreeee” and laughing.  My heart sank.  I wasn’t so cool anymore AND I was drunk. 

Simultaneously, as my mother was getting into the driver’s seat and I was getting into the passenger seat, our eyes momentarily met over the hood of the car.  I quickly looked down.  “Look at me Renae!” Yup, that’s what she said.  “Look at me!”  I looked up.  “Have you been drinking?” "No." I responded.  "You've been drinking! I know you have.  You can't even look at me!  Just wait until we get home. I'm going to tell your father!"  Because that's what she said when she didn't know how to handle me.  There is nothing worse than having my all loving, accepting, sweet, biggest fan I’ve ever had, my mother, disappointed in me.  We drove home in silence.  I went immediately to bed and then proceeded to have my dad come in my room and give me "the lecture." I actually got off the hook pretty easy.  I thought I was in big trouble, but instead, somehow, my dad had gotten it in his mind that "the boys" had gotten his daughter drunk and unlike his usual two hour lectures, I got the short version.  "Boys will get you drunk just to take advantage of you and you dang well - only dang had an "m" and an "n" better know that now loud and clear because that's what boys want when they're in high school."  ….because of course, I was innocent and they were big bad wolves.  Five minutes later the lecture was over and I wasn't completely responsible for what I had done.

So I’m back in my dream now and my mother is disappointed. I was driving the Subaru after the concert and Lady Gaga in all her glamour couldn’t save me now.  In fact, Lady Gaga was furious with me.  I had ruined her concert by shouting at a critical and profound moment.  Her dancers started giving me the evil eye and concert-goers were scolding me…I had ruined it for everyone.  And the water was about to come over the bridge, and suddenly, the head librarian Kathy and my coworker Kathleen came up and the look on their faces were nothing but shame.  Shame and disappointment.  I had ruined the concert for them too. I was embarrassed, I didn’t know they were there.  And the water kept rising to meet the bridge.

The parallel is that I’m so afraid to disappoint, to not be the person that can keep everyone happy with me, to let go of holding up whatever tent pole I think I have to hold up to keep the world revolving as it should.  That I am solely responsible and I haven’t returned phone calls, and what if Peggy or Julie or Carol or anyone of my various friends feels that I’ve betrayed my loyalty to them because I haven’t called them back, and I missed two hours of work yesterday because I’m so exhausted, and what if they think I’m making excuses and that I’m really not exhausted but just didn’t want to go in and they feel disappointed that I am not holding up my end of the bargain, and I haven’t been on Facebook and what if I miss somebody’s nice post to me and then don’t thank them and they think I’m ungrateful?  And I haven't sent out thank-you cards for all the wonderful notes and gifts and books that I've received and what if they too think I'm ungrateful.  And then I forgot to pay my tax bill, and now I’m fined over $200 for being late and I’ve disappointed myself because I’m the girl that pays my bills on time.  I’m the girl that calls my friends back, that’s responsible, that says "thank you" and hates missing work because I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care.  The water is coming up over the bridge and I can’t find my way home.

But in the end, the news…the good news, is that really, it’s all in my mind.  No one is mad at me, everyone understands, I didn’t ruin a Lady Gaga concert or drink Everclear, and my mom forgave me years ago for getting drunk my freshman year on Boones Farm at Shakey's Pizza Parlor. 

We take on too much, we worry about what everyone thinks, we find shame if we can’t keep up even when we are in the midst of a crisis….and we forget.  We forget that our friends are forgiving and understand more than we think, that we don't have to hold the world up over our head, that the thank you cards can wait, the phone calls will be returned, and no one can ruin a Lady Gaga concert but Lady Gaga herself.  Take a breath, it's all just our minds working on overtime.  There is no water coming over the bridge, I am in fact "home," and it was all just a bad dream.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Behind The Pink Ribbon

Recently, I came across an article in The Huffington Post that hit the core of one of my emotions about having just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  How I feel now is completely different then how I ever thought I would feel under these circumstances, not that I ever put much thought into it.  In my little world of defense mechanisms and naivety, cancer only happens to other people.  But having a family of cancer losses and cancer survivors, I thought I knew the disease well.  I was wrong.  I have learned that no matter what ails a person’s life, whether it is physical or emotional, until we have walked in their shoes, we simply cannot truly know.  Even if we have walked in their shoes, we still can’t fully realize the profound impact that each person experiences because no two people share the same experience on even the most similar of journeys.

Before I go on, let me qualify what I am about to say with a statement I strongly believe, so as not to have my words misunderstood.  If not for the pink ribbons, hats and t-shirts, Susan G. Komen, long days of dedicated, relentless, and determined people raising money and walking for the cause, a full month dedicated to breast cancer, and all the awareness that goes with it, I would simply not have the options that I have before me now.  If not for the advocacy, I may be destined to plan my own funeral, just as my cousin Rosina did in her early 40’s, some twenty-five years ago.  On that grievous day, “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston was dedicated by my cousin to her two young daughters, while they wailed and clung desperately to her casket before it was lowered into the ground.  It was a day, a cruel day, that is forever etched into the sorrow of my heart.  Thus, for all the people that have fought to make changes in the world of breast cancer, so that my survival rate and those of others would be greater, and so the loss of my cousin and the grief of her family and that of others  would not be in vain, I am truly indebted.

With that being said, let me be frank.  As contradictory as this seems, after learning of my diagnosis, for the first time ever, and to the shock of many, I abhor the pink ribbons that have come to represent breast cancer. I know that’s hard to digest.  Clearly because you, probably like I, have supported the pink ribbons with every ounce of passion and heartfelt emotion while donating money or cheerleading the “Power to the Pink.” Please know that I don’t blame you for questioning my extreme hypocrisy in what I saw once as and still clearly is, an honorable and progressive cause….which leads me back to the Huffington Post article that brought me relief to know that I am not alone in my sentiments, or lack thereof.

Fashion photographer, David Jay, after witnessing one of his regular subjects having been diagnosed at the young age of 32, decided it was time to give a face to breast cancer.  The thought that so many women were being diagnosed at such a young age, motivated David to make a decision to reflect, through his art, the raw reality, the suffering, and the unglossed version of breast cancer to the public.*

For the first time after reading the article about David’s mission, I felt a tremendous sigh of relief. Someone on the outside got what I’d been feeling deeply for the last month, and expressed it in a way that I could never have done myself.  Pink ribbons in all of their nobility, make me feel…minimized.  My journey has only just begun and yet I have already found there is nothing pretty about this ugly disease, no matter how we try to dress it.

As my cousin calls it, "The double edged sword," I feel there is no way of escaping the pink ribbons that are there to help me, but a painful reminder at every turn I take.  Short of staying locked behind closed doors and watching Netflix (as my surgeon recommended to "get my mind off things") there is no escape from the blasted pink that is supposed to 

Sooner or later most of us in our lifetime will find out that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon, but a harsh reality of fear, suffering, grief, surgeries, treatment, recurrences, financial worries, and an incomprehensible list of emotion and exhaustion; hopefully one day leading to self-acceptance, no matter how badly our bodies have been deformed while fighting for survival.  I pray those of you reading this never have to find this out, but it is in fact, the raw truth behind the ribbon.

Hence, David Jay, through his photography, created a project, an exhibit of photographs to bring awareness above and beyond the pink ribbon.  After David's exhibit “The SCAR (Surviving Cancer Absolute Reality) Project was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he went on to publish a stand-alone hardcover book depicting 50 women who had been scarred by breast cancer -- The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon, Volume 1.

David states in an article in The Huffington Post*, what I believe to be so true and so unrealized;  “…certainly in the West, a huge part of a woman’s identity is her breasts, which is unfortunate…if all you have to offer is your breasts and a nice $600 handbag – that’s sad.  Because both can be taken away as we see in The SCAR Project.

I am not saying that I would judge anyone who has the money to buy a $600 handbag or place an order for the breast size of their choice (although personally I would rather buy wheelchairs for those in need than own a $600 handbag).  What I’m saying is that these young women in David’s project who have gone through hell and back, are beautiful, just as they are.  In fact they are more beautiful in my eyes, for the hardship and loss they’ve endured while simultaneously fighting to hold onto their dignity.

The scars these women bare are a reflection of their courage while facing some of the most lonely, fearful circumstances, and harrowing challenges they may ever have to endure….and will continue to endure for a lifetime.

And so, I end this post on the note that I am not a fan of pink ribbons, pink hats, or the pink teddy bears that attempt with good purpose to represent breast cancer; not because they haven’t brought unprecedented awareness and money for research, but because they simply don’t tell the whole story.  And maybe for the millions of people that don’t want the raw truth in their face, pink is a pretty way to digest the indigestible; but in my humble opinion, the real truth is that breast cancer cannot hide behind a pink ribbon, which minimizes the suffering that truly exists, not just by the patient, but their loved ones as well. 

In fact, if I dare take my opinion one step further, pink cannot even begin to compete with, reflect, or hold a candle to the beauty of a woman who has had to endure breast cancer, who holds her head up high and claims her dignity and her womanhood -- with or without her breasts.  Now that is beautiful.

Sweet Dreams and Always, GOOD Dreams,

** Photo by David Jay

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life's Little Ironies

My father has always been an “outside of the box” kind of guy as he likes to describe himself. I say he is eccentric, but call it what you will, he is who he is.  My brother and I came to accept his idiosyncrasies at such a young age that I believe we just thought the lifestyle we lived was how everyone else lived.  As we got older I think we started realizing that our life was a little different than most.

To the credit of my father, sometimes he had such ingenious ideas that I was left ecstatic with delight.  For instance, one day when I was around ten, and mom was out grocery shopping, dad and I sat in the living room and I could tell he was creating something great in his mind. The moment I saw the light bulb go off, dad exclaimed, “I’m going to put a swing in the living room!” It didn't occur to me that "other" people didn't have swings in their living rooms, not one bit.  All I could think was “Yes! We are going to have a swing in the living room!”  But my dad, being who he is, didn’t care what anyone else had or didn't have, he did as he dang well pleased.  My mom, on the other hand, wasn't always so pleased, especially when she came home from shopping and found things like....swings in the living room.  On that particular day, dad crawled up in the attic, performed whatever magic he had to to make sure the swing was stable, and hung fancy ropes and a padded seat cushion from the ceiling close to the south wall with the window. From there on out, I spent hours on that swing, right side up, upside down…sometimes laying on the floor while hanging my feet over the swing and falling into a deep sleep as the rays of the afternoon sun warmed my dreams.  Oh how I loved that swing.

Then there were other things…inventions, ideas, odd creations laying around our house which left visitors raising an eyebrow and asking “What is that?”  My dad loved that question.  He would then proceed to explain the greatness behind his cup holder invention, or his magnetic engine that would change the world as we know it.  He isn't crazy, he is just one of those guys that given enough time in life, might just do something to change the world.  When everyone else is exclaiming that the world is flat, my dad is insisting that the world is round.

But the most eccentric "invention" of all, were the nipples.  Yes, that's what I said...."the nipples."  My dad didn't just follow brilliance, he also followed the market. During the 1960’s when bras were meant to be burned dad decided if he could create rubber stick on nipples to enhance the sensuality of women who went braless, he could sell them in the back of magazines and ultimately make a fortune.  He never sold them because, somewhere along the line, I imagine the nipples took the back burner to a more lucrative and ingenious invention. Consequently, rubber nipples were left hanging around our house, side by side with magnetic engines and the multitude of other creations that are too many to list.  I thought nothing of it; that is, until the cheerleading squad came to practice at my house and someone pointed out the which I'm sure they went home and told their parents leaving me unknowingly by far the kid from the weird family.  I would always respond with “Oh, my dad’s just inventing something” and shrug it off like it was the norm.  Only in my world it was the norm.

Fast forward to yesterday and my nine hour appointment with at least a dozen Stanford surgeons, radiologists, geneticists, oncologists, and every other fancy term for doctor one can imagine.  I met with a “tumor board” which really is a group of some of the greatest medical brains in the nation. They ooohhed and aahhed as they felt “the tumor” and took turns as if they were children giving one another turns at inspecting the first rock that had ever fallen to earth from the moon.  “No, no, go ahead, you can go next.”  They stood in line with almost a sense of anticipation, “Go right ahead Dr. Oz, you can feel it next.” “Why thank you Dr. Welby” and then the next one would inspect.  I sat straight up, in my best form, feeling confident that these men and women who work for the 12th ranked Cancer Clinic in the United States were using their brains to determine the best course of action for my treatment.  How lucky was I?

The problem came when my surgeon met with me an hour later to tell me the Tumor Board could not agree on the best course of treatment.  At that, I imagined a conference table with highly opinionated medical staff puffing on big cigars while saying “Put the money on the red!” “No! Put the money on the black!” (Sorry, but all I know from gambling is playing odds and evens, red and black at the roulette tables in Reno).

Finally, my surgeon, Dr. Frederick Dirbas, big brain Dirbas who received all of his credentials at Stanford and was named one of the best doctors in America by Best Doctors, Inc. from 2009-2011, and one of America’s Top Oncologists by the Consumers’ Research Council of America in 2009 and 2010, offered me not one possible treatment option, but four.  Yes, four. They all have serious implications, permanent and long term.  Being one to trust my gut after asking some very pointed questions about recurrence with lumpectomy and radiation vs. mastectomy, etc., I chose "Door Number Two," praying I won't get a donkey and a pig. 

Door Number Two involves a central lumpectomy and radiation with a biopsy of the lymph nodes and five years of hormones.  If there are no nodes involved then I may not need chemo, but of course, we won't know anything until after the surgery. 

Yes, I know this is all serious stuff, but somehow, seeing so many people in wheelchairs, and young women going through chemotherapy who will be thrust into the throes of menopause with little hope for ever having children, my problems seem insignificant in comparison.

But what I didn’t tell you is that a Central Lumpectomy means, they take my nipple.  There, I said it. Now everyone knows.  That was "Door No. Two. The cancer has simply grown too close and possibly into that part of my breast, and I'm not one to gamble with my I made my choice.

After I left the hospital I was relieved.  Although some of the doctors felts like a mastectomy was the best route, my surgeon didn't, and I trust him, and I trust the statistics in my specific case; so I was overcome with relief and needing so badly to laugh or cry, or do anything to offset the seriousness of my day.

And so, one of my first comments to Richard, who held my hand from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. when the last dose of blood was taken and the last doctor was seen, upon leaving the clinic was simply.... “Well thank God my dad has extra nipples laying around.”

If only you could have seen the look on Richard’s face.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,