With Breast Cancer Comics by Dash Shaw
Dr. Margaret Duggan - a tall, fiercely intelligent, completely approachable, extremely accomplished surgeon who wore scrubs and a white coat and adorably hip but not annoyingly hip black-rimmed squarish glasses, took me into her office and spoke to me for over an hour.
She gave me an incredibly detailed and easy-to-understand mini-course that covered oncology and biology and genetics and surgery and plastic surgery and statistics and probabilities and which included hand-drawn diagrams on a pad of paper which I actually understood.
Despite the fact that we were talking about my pre-cancerous type of non-cancerous cancer, I couldn't help wishing (since I have never quite gotten over the misery that was high school) that Dr. Duggan had been my high school biology or chemistry or physics or calculus teacher, since I'm convinced I would have scored higher on the math portion of my SATs and would now, as a grown-up, be able to help my son with his second-grade math homework without dissolving into a puddle of insecurity and loserdom every night.
But despite my wish-fantasy sequence of mathematical and scientific competence and despite the fact that I was really enjoying the private medical tutorial, I was distracted by how often Dr. Duggan was using the word "cancer" as opposed to "pre-cancer."
I nodded, taking a minute to calmly and invisibly recalibrate my delicately balanced sense of catastrophe-thinking. But as soon as I had done that, another piece of news surprised my: because there were two areas of this DCIS in the left breast, the surgical treatment would be a full mastectomy as opposed to a lumpectomy.
"Wow!" I said, nodding now like a bobble-head toy.
"The good news is," Dr. Duggan continued, "is that once you have the surgery you don't have to have radiation or chemo."
"Wow!" I said again, nodding so vigorously I thought my head might fall off.
"But," Dr. Duggan continued, "once you have had cancer in one breast, you're much more likely to get it in the second breast, and so we recommend that you consider having the other breast removed as well as a preventative measure."
I stopped with the nodding. Here I'd come in thinking I had a small pre-cancerous non-cancerous condition and was going to have a lumpectomy - and suddenly I'm definitely having one mastectomy, and possibly two! Instead of bobbling, my head was now spinning.
And while I was definitely leaning in that bilateral mastectomy direction - better safe than sorry and have both done at once with immediate reconstructive surgery than sit around waiting for it to show up in the second breast - especially since my mother's cancer, caught very early too, was found in both breasts --Dr. Duggan suggested I have the genetic blood test for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes to determine whether or not I had either of them. That way, if I tested positive, I might feel better about my decision to have the bilateral mastectomy.
A week or two later, I took the genetic test (a long tutorial on genetics followed by a simple blood test at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute) and "failed" it - which was good news. I didn't have either of the breast cancer genes and could now stop worrying about the prophylactic oophorectomy-bomb and learn to love my upcoming double-mastectomy and "tummy-tuck" reconstructive surgery....
Published On: November 05, 2007