It always happens to someone elseBy Erin Mosley | 10/22/2015 8:32am
Like everyone, I knew of people with cancer. I knew of someone who knew someone else whose sister was sick, but it was never anyone close enough to make a significant impact on my life or emotional state. Like driving past someone else’s accident, our hearts sink for a few seconds and maybe we say a quick prayer, but our lives continue untouched, undisturbed and unshaken. But statistics speak otherwise. According to breastcancer.org, “about 1 in 8 women (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.”
Twelve percent. It’s a number not at all frightening or worrying. Eighty-eight percent of women won’t develop breast cancer. At the end of my senior year in high school, my mom went in for her annual doctors’ appointment. For the most part, everything was fine except for a tiny blip that showed up in one of the images; still small enough to go undetected with a physical exam.
My mom’s OBGYN recommended that she have a biopsy. The sample of tissue was sent out to some oncology center in California, and we waited. In the meantime, several friends and family members assured us that “it was probably nothing.”
“Oh, something like that showed up on one of my mammograms, and it turned out to be benign,” well-meaning members of the 88 percent would say.
I still remember the phone call. My mom, sister and I were out shopping, eating and engaging in casual, late-afternoon, summertime activities. The lady on the phone wanted to make sure that my mom wasn’t driving and that she was seated. “Okay, I’m pulling over now,” my mom said in her usual chirpy phone voice. Except the usual upbeat tone in her voice was panged with concern.
It was hard to completely make out everything that was said and by this point, I’ve forgotten many of the specific details, but I think I heard phrases like “don’t worry,” and “it will be okay.”
My mom was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ or DCIS. DCIS means that the cancer was located in the milk ducts but that it had not yet broken out of its “walls.” This time, it wasn’t my neighbor’s friend’s aunt who I heard had cancer in passing but my own mother.
The good news was that the tiny tumor could not have been detected any sooner. It was actually classified as Stage 0, a category I didn’t even know existed. It was able to be surgically removed and fortunately, no chemotherapy or radiation was needed. My mom does however have to take a Tamoxifen pill every day for five years to help regulate her estrogen levels as DCIS feeds on estrogen.
Throughout the entire process, I never actually broke down and cried, something I still sometimes feel a little guilty about. My mom said it was because I was strong, but I think numb and a bit detached is a more accurate description. I suppose I never fully let the diagnosis sink in. The person who I loved the most was faced with a life-threatening disease, even if it was at Stage 0.
Her surgery was scheduled shortly after classes began. The night before as I lay awake in my Tutwiler dorm room, I hoped and I prayed, not one of the cursory prayers done out of pity for someone else but really, truly, pleading that the surgery would go well and that nothing else would be discovered. Praying was the only thing I could do for the person who had given me so much. We were lucky, no, not lucky, but blessed and not in the basic-gain-more-likes-on-Twitter-hashtag kind of blessed. We were blessed because our family doesn’t struggle to make annual doctors visits. Blessed because when my mom needed surgery, she was able to get it done within a matter of months. Blessed because filling her prescription isn’t a struggle. Either due to financial struggles, lack of knowledge or bad timing, many other women aren’t so fortunate.
According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women and around 60,200 cases of carcinoma in situ (the kind my mother had) will be diagnosed while around 40,290 women will die from breast cancer. Statistics are elusive numbers that never truly materialize until you join them.
Erin Mosley is a junior majoring in studio art. Her column runs biweekly.