Susan woke up that morning doing the same things she did to start every day. Climbing out of bed at 7:30am, she put on a thick terry cloth robe, located a scrunchi and manipulated her hair into a ponytail.
Walking down to her kitchen, she put on a pot of water and pulled a coffee pot and filter from a cupboard. The smell of the freshly ground beans was one of her favorites. She lingered for a moment, savoring it, then poured the grounds in the filter. She switched on the radio to catch up on the latest news from the popular NPR affiliate, sat at the table in the middle of the room and checked her mobile for texts while waiting for the kettle to whistle. Breakfast was a banana and an english muffin. Normally not a big breakfast eater, she considered making an omelette, then dismissed the notion, eating the muffin slowly, deliberately.
Her husband Jorge, an executive with a financial services company, was at a breakfast meeting with an important client. Normally they would begin their day together, performing an identical ritual; at 6:30 this day he had jostled Susan in the bed, her eyes half opening, exhaling, rolling towards him.
“I’ll see you later sweetheart. I love you..”
“Love you too…”
Cleaning up after breakfast, she made her way back upstairs to the bathroom. She leaned on the sink and stood before the mirror. She looked at her face, examining every feature, every detail. No one would deny Susan was a beautiful woman; shoulder-length brown hair, full lips, parted slightly, a nose with a slight upturn ,a dainty little button on her 5’4″ frame. She ran her fingers over her cheekbones, down to her chin. Her eyes were puffy, tired looking. She rubbed her eyes and stroked her right index finger under both eyelids, as if applying a lotion. She showered and put on a pair of jeans and a cotton top, and searched a small box on the bathroom counter, locating her favorite gold chain, which Jorge had given her a few months ago.
She drove to the office in silence, oblivious to the rush hour traffic. The bunch up and bustle of the freeway normally would have agitated her; she was not shy about using her Lexus horn to communicate to drivers her opinions on their navigation.
Pulling in to the office complex, she parked, entered the lobby, greeted the security guard, and signed in. The elevator took her to the 12th floor. As the doors opened, she was greeted by Jorge and Annie, the office assistant.
“I’ll take you in, it will be just a few minutes,” Annie said.
The couple sat in chairs in a small windowless room, Susan rested her purse on her lap. She sat upright, hands folded, formal in appearance. She sat there, not moving, quiet. Jorge’s eyes wandered, drifting to the artwork on the walls.
30 minutes later, the door opened. They stood up to greet their visitor, he motioned for them to sit with him. The man was carrying a notebook computer, opened and running. He looked at Susan directly, intently, his eyes empathetic and liquid.
” We have discussed this, you know what we were expecting, right?” he said.
Barely audible, Susan replied, “Yes.”
“You have breast cancer……”
* * * * *
The National Cancer Institute reports that in 2009, over 200,000 women and 1900 men (yes, men) had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those, 39,300 died as a result. Our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends of all ages, orientations and socioeconomic classes have had to face this news, news that changed their existence forever.
Medical breakthroughs and new medications are prolonging and saving lives. Patients diagnosed with breast cancer have more options than ever in selecting a treatment that gives them the best chance to fight, and beat, this disease.
An incredible San Francisco-based non-profit, thesecondopionion, is prepared to amass a small army of experts to join in your fight. I lifted this from their site:
Thesecondopinion’s unique panel format enables cancer patients and their family members to meet with a small group of physicians, all experts in cancer diagnosis and treatment, to review medical records and discuss treatment options. Whether the panel physicians agree with the proposed treatment plan, make suggestions to enhance the treatment program, or recommend an alternative plan, our approach is empowering to patients and their family members, and helps them to achieve the clear understanding necessary to make difficult choices.
The folks that run this organization are quick to point out that they are not attempting to tell you the course of treatment offered by your personal physician is incorrect; they are simply offering an opportunity to look under every rock and behind every door, to give you every possible option. The service is free, and open to everyone.
I believe in their mission. I was recently named to their Board of Directors. My task, among others, will be to write words, to expand our “audience”, to secure the time and talents of as many doctors as we can.
A cancer diagnosis is no longer a certain death sentence. How comforting to know that organizations like thesecondopinion are here to help.