Fair warning, this post is not about writing or books coming out. I’m going to veer from my typical path of keeping my private life private and share something personal with you, my readers.
February 2012, I lost one of my best friends to breast cancer. It’s not a topic I discuss lightly. Donna wasn’t just my friend, she was family.
When I was homeless and living in my car, she brought me into her parents’ house. From that day forward, I had a safe place to sleep, a family that loved me, and a sister who’d have done almost anything for me.
More than that, she introduced to me a world where I learned to believe in myself. The two of us quickly became three. The Trio, as we were called, consisted of Donna, Kim, and me.
We were all headstrong and idealistic Aries. So different in our personalities and our music tastes (except for Great Big Sea—we all loved them). Yet, somehow, we bonded.
We’d attended the same college. After graduation, we managed to remain close, even though we lived in three different states.
For over twenty years, we were there for each other through marriages, births, deaths, and of course, family holiday dinners. But the best were our birthdays. Since we were born within eight days of each other, we always did a yearly celebration.
So when Donna entered hospice on a cold, Friday afternoon in February, Kim and I were both there. We didn’t think, didn’t discuss it. We just went. We stayed with her through the long weekend as she quickly deteriorated. By Monday evening, she was gone. She was only forty years old.
Kim and I remain close today, which made the next part so much harder.
Because Donna and I weren’t genetically related, I never dreamed I’d be facing my own breast cancer scare.
Four years and three days after she died, the doctor found something in my mammogram. He called for a biopsy.
Four years and twelve days after she died, I was given the news that the pathologists found Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia. NOT cancer. No, not cancer, but on the cancer spectrum; the first step toward the disease. A marker that indicates a risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
Four years and sixteen days after she died, I met with a surgeon to discuss my risks and my options. After a full assessment, it’s been determined I’m considered a high risk. The next step is an MRI, after that, surgery and preventative medicine.
I struggled with telling Kim about mammogram. I didn’t want to cause her pain. I didn’t want her to do what I had done…relive the memory of saying goodbye to my sister, our best friend. But I needed Kim to be a rock one more time. I needed her to keep me laughing while we waited for the next bit of news to come in. It’s been only sixteen days since the mammogram but it’s felt like months. And she’s been my rock. My daily dose of laughter. My best friend.
What I have trouble articulating is the guilt that I feel. See, while I’m relieved that I stand a better than average chance of beating the disease before it can take hold, I feel guilty because my sister didn’t have that same opportunity. And I feel guilty for reminding my best friend and my loved ones of those terrible days four years ago when we had to say goodbye to Donna.
If she were here, she’d tell me to get over it. She wouldn’t blame me for escaping her fate. She’d be thrilled. I know this. No one has to tell me. But…guilt and cancer are insidious beasts that eat away the soul.
So perhaps, I’ll allow myself the one thing I’ve denied. Time to grieve. It breaks my heart to know that if only she had been diagnosed today, she could have survived. We’d still be the Trio.
Since she didn’t, it’s my job to follow the surgeon’s advice. Get the surgery. Keep up with the mammograms and MRIs. Take my preventatives.
It’s been four years and nineteen days since Donna died and it’s time for me to spread the word.
Get your mammograms regularly beginning at age forty. If the doctors recommend a six-month follow-up, do it. Don’t put it off. After all, it’s easier to beat back the disease if you don’t give a chance to grow.