October is breast cancer awareness month. I do not need a month to make me aware of breast cancer. I do not need a Susan Komen walk or an Avon walk to remind me of breast cancer. I do not need a pink ribbon either. I need only look at my left breast- the scar on my left breast- the breast I decided to keep at all costs. I love my left breast. I love my right one too. I love your breasts too, not just because I am a lesbian, which I am, but because I believe that we should get to keep our body parts, especially the ones that feel so good to be touched.
Five and a half years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock because I was healthy. I went to the doctor to have a lump examined, a lump that I had felt just before an intimate encounter with my lover. I felt the lump. I did not say anything then. It was her birthday and I did not want to ruin the mood or frighten her or me, by acknowledging the truth of the lump, acknowledging its power. That lump would make for one big change. I said nothing and had what may have been my last true and intense experience of love and sex with my then partner. I did not realize that time might be the last time. Last times are like that.
I went to my doctor and she examined the lump in my right breast. She was concerned. She ordered a mammogram. I waited the few hours until my appointment by going to the Dublin Federal Prison and saw a client. I am a criminal defense attorney but that is a story for a different time. I returned to the hospital and had the mammogram. The tech repeated the exercise several times on my left breast and I thought these people are seriously messed up as the lump was in my right breast.
My left breast was squished and squeezed repeatedly. My left breast had a nipple ring that I had put there a few years earlier. The ring was stainless steel with a black onyx bead and anytime anything would go wrong in court I would think to myself “haha I have a nipple ring”, as if somehow the nipple ring offered me some protection from Judges. If only it were that simple. A few months earlier my left breast had hurt. My left nipple had hurt but I dismissed the pain because that is what I do.
The radiologist examined the images of my left breast. She then performed an ultrasound. The radiologist advised me that the lump in my right breast was a cyst. The radiologist then showed me a very large tumor in my left breast. The tumor had been the source of pain a few months earlier, the pain that I had dismissed. My right breast had created a cyst since I had ignored my left breast. My right breast made the cyst to say, “Help! Help! Lefty is in trouble.”
The tumor looked like a barbell and it filled my entire left breast. I was told a mastectomy was in order along with chemotherapy due to the nature of the tumor. I did chemo, a kind that is not done anymore because it is too harsh. I got sick. My hair fell out- all my hair, everywhere no hair. I had surgery of only a lumpectomy because the chemo had so shrunk the tumor. I did radiation, got pneumonia and almost died.
But I did not die-obviously. It is five years later and I am very much alive and cancer free. I am five years removed from being bald and sick. I have my hair. I let it grow. I even love the hair on my legs, which I had, in the past, found so annoying. I am grateful for my breasts, my hair, for everything.
The point of this writing is not to remind you that October is breast cancer awareness month. The point of this to say that for three years following chemotherapy my body did not have the ability to feel any feeling, much less any good feeling, and that I did not talk about that experience. As a consequence of not talking, and of not even knowing that as a consequence of chemotherapy I would be incapable of a good physical feeling, my relationship deteriorated. I became even angrier than I already was.
It takes years to heal from chemotherapy and no one told me that. So I am telling you. It takes time to heal from the experience. I do not need a month to remind me. I lived it. I wish I would have understood all of the collateral consequences to the experience. Now I do. So that is my point- with all things there are consequences many of which I do not understand until far too late.
I hope there comes a time when breast cancer is prevented or a treatment that is humane and effective is developed. I hope with equal fervor that I can be kind and loving to those in my life at all times. I hope that for all of us. I hope we do not need a month to remember something that should be a part of our lives every day.
Paula Canny is the managing attorney in the Law Firm of the Law Offices of Paula Canny. The firm practices primarily State Court Criminal Defense. Paula is a frequent guest on local and national television commenting and analyzing notorious criminal cases of which she sometime participates as an attorney. She is a staunch opponent of the Death penalty and an advocate for a humane criminal justice system. Paula has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, written a book chronicling her cancer experience called MY BREAST YEAR EVER, leads treks to the Khumbu Region (Everest Area) of Nepal, and was recently awarded a Star of Service by the American Himalayan Foundation for her work with the Stop Girl Trafficking Program.