Biographical Non-Fiction posted March 22, 2009 Chapters:  ...57 58 -59- 60... 

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Valerie discovers a lump

A chapter in the book A Leaf on the Wind

Bad News

by Sasha

Sexually abused as a child Valerie grows into an adult with severe psychological problems. Despite the anomosity between herself & her mother, Valerie is forced to move back home. While working as a

"You can be a victim of cancer, or a survivor of cancer. It's a mindset."

~Dave Pelzer

While taking a shower, I discovered a lump in my right breast. At Mom’s urging, I reluctantly agreed to have it looked at. I was not particularly concerned. Twenty-five years ago, I had found a similar lump in the same breast, which turned out to be nothing more than scar tissue. I had a history of what I called benign lumps all my life. All of them turned out to be scar tissue. 

I arrived at the doctor’s office on time and was impressed with how quickly I was ushered into the examination room. Dr. S. came into the room and did a quick examination. 

“I have time right now to do a biopsy if you like.” 

I agreed. 

After prepping the area around the lump, giving me several painful shots of Novocain, Dr. S. proceeded to remove a small piece of tissue from the lump. While bent over me, I observed the expression on his face slowly change from quiet observation to one of concern. 

Handing the tissue to the nurse assisting him, he said, “Susan, run this over to the lab next door and get a quick preliminary result. There is no reason for Ms. Murphy to have to wait the usual four or five days for the results.” 

It didn't take a rocket scientist to notice something was wrong. Dr. S. and the nurse left the room and I waited alone for about forty-five minutes for the results. When Dr. S. came back into the room, I knew it was serious. His face was pale and he made a point of not making eye contact with me when he spoke. 

“I am sorry to have to tell you this but the preliminary results of the biopsy show you have breast cancer,” Dr S said gravely. 

To my surprise, I didn’t experience the panic or shock usually associated with someone learning they have cancer. Instead, I felt a strange sense of calm come over me. Common sense and logic told me it was pointless to get angry. I had cancer and now I had no choice but to deal with it. In my mind, it was that simple. 

“What’s the next step?” I asked. 

Dr S cast a worried look at me and said, “Today I did an incisional biopsy which will have to undergo additional tests such as hormone receptor assay, a test to assess if the cancer is sensitive to estrogen and progesterone.” 

Before allowing him to proceed, I interrupted saying, “That’s just medical mumbo jumbo and means nothing to me. Don’t make it so complicated. Just give me the basics.” 

Dr. S nodded and said, “I have to order several tests, one which will tell me how aggressive the cancer is.” Dr. S paused, and then continued. “We need to determine what stage your cancer is in. Once we know that we will have a better idea of the best way to treat it.” 

“Will I need surgery?” I asked. 

“Usually I wait for the test results before answering that. However, in your case, the tumor is approximately three centimeters which could mean the cancer may be at stage III. Stage III can be serious…” 

I quickly interrupted. 

“Don’t even go there,” I snapped. “I am not interested in statistics put together by a bunch of number crunchers with nothing better to do than scare the shit out of people. All I want to know are my treatment options. Do you recommend surgery or not?” 

“Yes, I do.” 


“I don’t recommend waiting much longer than a week,” Dr S said. 

“Okay. What do we do first?” 

I spent the next four hours at the hospital getting a mammogram of both breasts, an ultrasound, a CT scan and blood work. Dr. S. said he would call me as soon as he had the results. 

As I drove home, I experienced a brief moment of panic then it was gone. I never felt it again. Anger had been my primary reaction to everything my whole life but for some reason knowing I had cancer evoked a strange sense of calm in me. I found the prospect of a mastectomy amusing. 

Developing breasts had been an obsession my whole life. As a young girl on the edge of puberty, I envied Teresa’s large, voluptuous chest. Every night I prayed God would bless me with the same good fortune. As a teenager and throughout my twenties a pathetic 34B lay hidden beneath my padded bra, barely enough to warrant comment. I always felt cheated. I told myself that if I had larger breasts my life would have been different. Men would have noticed me. Larger breasts would have made me desirable, which, in my mind, was clearly the first step to love that, in the fifties, guaranteed a two-bedroom house, white picket fence, and the perfect life. 

Ironically I always found wearing a brassiere extremely uncomfortable and took advantage of the sixties by going braless. I remember how shocked I was a year ago when I went shopping for a new bra. Instead of the usual K-Mart, three for one bargain I decided to splurge and go to Nordstrom, a high-end store known for its high quality and more expensive clothing. I picked out several attractive bras and as I entered the dressing room, the clerk stopped me and asked if I had the correct size. I told her I did but she insisted on measuring me. To my amazement, I was not a size 34B but a whopping 38D. 

When had I developed breasts? How long had I been a 38D? Once I got over the shock, I found it amusing that I had been wrong all along. Having large breasts made no difference whatsoever. Breasts had been nothing more than a state of mind; an attitude based on old, archaic beliefs, which no longer had a place in the modern world. As I pulled into the driveway, I chuckled, I simply didn’t find the prospect of losing a breast terrifying. 

Seven days later, I was in the hospital getting ready for surgery. Mom and Sarah were in the room with me. Mom was doing her best to act calm but I could tell she was very anxious. I felt bad, thinking, I finally discovered how to get a reaction from her.  When the orderly came in to take me to the operating room Sarah asked to come with me. 

Just before I went into the operating room, I pointed to my right breast and asked Sara if she was going to say goodbye? 

She kissed me on the cheek and laughed, “Why? We never really bonded.” Sarah never let me forget I did not breast feed her. 

I laughed aloud. 

I am quite sure I am the only patient about to have a mastectomy that giggled as the anesthesiologist put her to sleep. 

The surgery went very well. Preliminary results indicated that the lymph nodes showed no sign of cancer, which was a very good sign. However, because the tumor was so large and aggressive I needed chemotherapy. 

Teresa was surprisingly attentive for several weeks after my surgery. It felt good knowing she cared and I looked forward to her phone calls. However, for some reason, one day she simply stopped calling. When she did call, it was only to speak with Mom. I listened while Mom spoke and it became clear she had not asked her how I was doing. I tried not to let this upset me but it was impossible not to feel hurt. 

I finally stopped answering the phone. I didn’t understand the change in Teresa. Mary sent me a nice pair of pajamas before the surgery even though she didn’t call or visit me after. Denise was the only one who called occasionally to ask how I was doing. 

My sisters’ lack of interest in my welfare caused me considerable distress. I desperately wanted and needed their support but it was clear they had no intention of being there for me. 

* * *

Note:  I have had several reviewers question my inability to know I was not a 34B and in fact a 38D, saying they find this hard to believe.  In response I can only say that I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being told I was ugly, unattractive, and had the figure of an 10 year-old boy.  I eventually believed what I was told and when I looked into the mirror I saw what they said they saw, not what was really there.  My ex-husband never once told me I was attractive, sexy or appealing in any way.  While he did not criticize me, his silence only confirmed what I had been told my whole life.   My self-esteem was non-existent.  When I looked in the mirror I saw an unattractive, unappealing, and very plain girl. 


Earned A Seal Of Quality

My reaction to having breast cancer was surprisingly calm. I understood the seriousness yet, I never experienced the panic or anger usually associated with learning you have cancer. I had spent my entire life experiencing the moment and reliving the past so thinking about the future was foreign to me. I realized I was not afraid of dying. My only fear was no one caring if I died.
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