What Goes Through Your Mind When You Think You Have Cancer

Three years ago my friend Jane* went to our mutually beloved OBGYN for her annual check-up. She asked Dr. A why she was spending so much time on her left breast. Dr. A said she “felt something” but that it was “probably nothing.” She sent her straight over to the women’s imaging center for a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. Jane had cancer. She went through it all – the chemo, the mastectomies, the rebuilding of her body inside out while juggling two young children and a career. And now she is fine.

It would take me all the fingers on both hands to count just the friends under 45 who have gone through cancer. And that’s not counting the acquaintences. Just the actual real life friends. One was diagnosed with cancer while she was trying to get pregnant. One was diagnosed while she was pregnant. One had breast cancer and THEN sepsis.

All of them are OK now – relatively speaking. There is always the fear of recurrence. Some have lost the ability to have children. Some have damaged immune systems from the chemo. Some just have hair that has grown back inexplicably curly. But they are “OK,” going to the beach with their children, working out at the gym, traveling for business, smiling at baseball games…and meeting me at the hospital after Dr. A feels “something” on my left breast.

“It’s probably nothing.”

“You told Jane it was probably nothing.”

“I lied to Jane.”

If you follow my blog or know me in real life, you know that I just recovered from a very weird life-threatening case of Sepsis that put me in the ICU for four days. I am not trying to have cancer right now. This is simply not happening.

I text Jane, “Meet me at the hospital NOW.” I walk the two blocks in a daze and arrive at the doors covered in paper pink ribbons. “Oh for God’s sake. I’m going to have breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. People are gonna buy toxic perfume and fried chicken with pink ribbons on them in my honor. Perfect.”


“I’m sorry, miss. We can’t see you until 2:30. We need to take our lunch now.”

It’s 11 a.m. “The hell you are taking lunch! Where is the mammogram machine? I’ll work the damn thing myself!”

“Um, OK miss. We can take you now. Please fill out these forms.”

  1. Are you of Ashkenazy Jewish heritage? Um, yes. 100%. Is that bad? Haven’t my people been through enough?
  2. In total, how long have you breastfed in your life? Maybe 14 months? Not enough? Damn, I knew I should have kept going.
  3. Has anyone in your family had breast cancer? Probably? I had a great aunt die from it well before I was born. I don’t know if my grandmother has ever even had a mammogram. She won’t take a Tylenol. 

“Please put on a gown and wait here.”

“I might be able to survive this, but my parents won’t. And if I have to tell the kids I’m sick AGAIN they are gonna need so much therapy.”

“Maybe I’ll just write a book about it. No, that won’t work. I’ve just released a book that could have been titled ‘How To Try to Avoid Getting Cancer.’ I’ll be like a joke. Everyone who read it will just go back to eating fast food and using dryer sheets.”

“Ma’am, you’ll need to wipe off any deodorant before getting the mammogram.”

“This isn’t even real deodorant! It’s special ‘anti-breast cancer deodorant! Great, now all the people who switched to this will just go back to using Secret.”

“Please place your breast in this vice.”

OK, this is no big deal. Dental X-rays are far worse. This is cake.

Now, wait for the doctor and the ultrasound.

“I don’t think a wig is going to work for me. Maybe I’ll just get a really beautiful scarf.”

“Jane, can I use my laptop during chemo? Do they have WIFI there?”

“The doctor will see you now.”

“Your mammogram is fine. You just have weird breast tissue. This can happen with age. You don’t have cancer.”

“Are you sure?”


“Jane, what do you want for lunch?”


So here are the takeaways from this very brief brush with a cancer scare:

  1. If you or your doctor feels a lump, don’t panic. Only 20% of lumps are malignant. Many lumps and bumps are benign and caused by fibrocystic changes can also cause breast tissue to thicken. They are the most common cause of benign breast lumps in women ages 35 to 50. That said, get it checked out!
  2. Now I can’t tell you not to panic if it is cancer. And I can not speak empathetically for something I have never experienced. But what I do know is that every one of those friends I have counted on my fingers and toes has gotten through it. Some have only had to go through minor chemotherapy that required little time off from their lives and didn’t even cause hair loss. Some have gone through major chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery. All of them are still alive and in good health, hiking and biking and swimming and dancing.
  3. Support breast cancer organizations working toward meaningful change. I believe the best cure is prevention, and while no one is “safe” from cancer, Breast Cancer Fund works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals linked to the disease. They believe in “going beyond the pink” to turn awareness into action for prevention. Another great one is Breast Cancer Action, which spearheads the “Think Before You Pink” campaign  to demand transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising. Breast Cancer Action’s mission is to achieve health justice for all women at risk of and living with breast cancer.

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*Name changed to protect my friend who has no desire to share her cancer story with the world. But loves me for sharing everything.

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