In Voices - Inspirational (and sometimes funny) Stories from Breast Cancer Survivors

The Girls…

Several years ago, upon the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month…I was personally made aware.  I noticed a lump, about the size of a pea, under my arm.  You may not know this about me, but I’m hyper-vigilant about my health. I’m not a “wait and see” kind of a woman. If I were a “wait and see” kind of a woman, I would’ve never gotten married, procreated or aggressively passed a kidney stone the size and shape of the Liberty Bell.  My doctor sent me to a breast surgeon and this led to a biopsy of three tumors. I felt only one, but, because things like to hide in the cushiness of my cozy fat cells, there were actually two more tumors, shying away from the spotlight, coming out to play only under the glaring Doppler activity of an ultrasound.

Well, a biopsy is no laughing matter. It’s as serious as a heart attack, or potentially, as serious as cancer, I suppose. (Ladies, we do not want to mess around with the prospect of hosting a breast cancer free-for-all upon our bodies. Introduce your girls to a mammogram every single year). Anyway, I asked my husband to escort me to the biopsy party. He does not enjoy this accompanist role, especially if it involves biological functions, anatomical issues or any type of diarrhea or after-birth. Regardless, we set-out for the Pepto-pink-walled cocoon of The Breast Center. Yes, that is really the name. 

Once there, I was quickly retrieved from my People magazine-induced catatonic state in the waiting room, although I begged them to take their time. Take all the time you need! Have snack, read your horoscope, do your nails! – I was in no hurry to have my ta-tas on stage, awaiting their biopsy premier.  But, I trudged along behind the kind and perky nurse, disrobed and hopped up onto the sanitized and very, very cold table. 

We were off to the races and let the games begin. Even without my glasses I was able to see the needle pierce the tumor on the screen. I was ready for my close-up, but not that ready. I felt weak-kneed and faint-hearted. The nurses were as delightful and spunky as if they were playing Frisbee in the park. It is sincerely incredibly comforting to have  both the nurses and surgeon speak to you in an intelligent and coherent manner during this production, and not like you’re an imbecile with half the amount of grey matter as a monkey. To all medical professionals out there: it matters! Although outwardly, it appeared as if I were attentive, inwardly I decided to pretend-meditate… and this is what was going on in my head:”Ommmm…I should have shaved my armpits…Ommmm…I should not have had that Coolata on the way over…Ommmm…I hope they can’t see that I forgot to zipper my jeans…OMMMM…uhoh…I think I just left a little stinker…” And on it went. 

Just as I was about to wet my pants, it was over. The questionable tissue was extracted and sent to a lab in Biopsy-ville, where I pray the pathologist is alert and attentive and not Tik Tok-ing instead of analyzing my boob sample for cancer. I received my instructions from the nurse and kept coming back to the order of “no golf or water aerobics for a month”. That tidbit will come in handy.  Before leaving, I was packed with steri-strips and a big, old ice pack. I felt like a bruised margarita.  The nurse handed-me off to my husband, who I’m certain, still had no idea what just transpired. “Guess what?” I shrieked brightly. “The nurse said you can’t golf or participate in water aerobics for a month! Tough break, huh?” He looked to the nurse in confusion. Before she could speak I shouted: “AND! For ME: No washing, cooking, cleaning, heavy lifting or um…cleaning dog vomit from the rug for a month either! Look, I’m just reciting doctor’s orders”. The poor nurse looked around helplessly. “AND! One more thing! The doctor said it would ease my recovery to have a pair of 1 carat bezel-set diamond earrings too! Crazy, right? But whatever it takes to get Mama on the mend…” He escorted me from the Breast Center as I was shouting further instructions involving Mexican vacations and a tummy tuck. Look, I’m not stupid. Ask while there is pity and you will receive, I always thought.

Once home, I had to lie low. About to fall asleep, I asked my son to grab a bag of frozen peas to replace the ice pack that had melted. Almost comatose, I reached for the pack and slid it under my armpit before I slid into sleep. I was awakened several hours later by the stench of bad meat. He had given me a bag filled with frozen chicken gizzards instead of peas. (Yes, a good Polish wife uses gizzards in her soup. Don’t judge me!)My poor booby was drenched in chicken innards and I was drenched in fury. Thankfully, I fell into a dreamless, albeit stinky, abyss for the next day and a half.

It’s been a week and I am feeling more like myself. Whatever the hell that means. I still cannot lift my arm, but it is a brilliant ploy to have children hoist the laundry basket and Swiffer the ceiling fan for me. How long can I play this out? About as long as it took my husband to figure out he can indeed play golf this month, but not water aerobics.

About the Author:

Maria Jiunta Heck, President of Green Gables Enterprises, designer and owner of the Breast & Chest Buddy™, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent a bilateral mastectomy.

As every mastectomy patient knows, our bodies become difficult to maneuver immediately following surgery, and simple tasks, such as driving a car and fastening a seatbelt prove daunting and difficult.

Because a mastectomy patient may go through multiple procedures over the next 8 to 12 months, it is imperative to cushion the delicate area where a seatbelt rests daily. A pillow is not the answer.

Since no one had ever designed a product like this at the time, she would. Thus, the Breast & Chest Buddy™ was born. Nine years and ten procedures later and Maria still wears her Breast & Chest Buddy™ every, single day.

No one understands what a mastectomy patient needs like another mastectomy patient.

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