Thursday, October 27, 2011


When I was newly diagnosed, a friend from high school reached out to me to tell me about her friend Katherine, who had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2005 at the age of 31, and had been given a 10% chance of living five years. Six cancer-free years later, she has released a book detailing her experience. I've only made it halfway through, but the prose is so beautifully written, so vividly honest, that I couldn't help but share some excerpts that hit especially close to home:

You will go online to find survival statistics for women with your type of cancer. Really, you will be looking for someone to tell you that you are going to be okay. When you discover your chance of surviving five years is less than ten percent, you will stop searching. You will stop reading. Your left eyelid will twitch for three days.

You will become constipated and bleed into the toilet.

You will have diarrhea and won't make it to the bathroom in time.

You will begin to look forward to your surgery. Remind yourself that breasts are not a vital organ, not crucial to your survival. Try to convince yourself you never really liked that breast anyway.

Go ahead and make "hotflash" a verb and use it as a landmark for activities in your day. For example, "I was hotflashing in my therapist's office when..."

Your nose will drip unexpectedly when you're talking to a friend. It will run all over the front of your shirt before you can catch it.

Your yoga instructor will tell you to tell your body it is healing. Your body will call her a liar. Your body will be right.

I could add: Your hair will stop falling out. You will be convinced the chemo has stopped working.

You hear news about brutality against Syrian protestors and think your problems are "rich people" problems. You feel guilty. You remember there is no cure for cancer. You're not sure how to feel.

You will decide it's not worth the risk to get pregnant again, because the pregnancy hormones might feed any cancer left in your body. This is assuming your ovaries still work after four months of chemo. You wonder how much a surrogate costs. You are so grateful for your son.

Last week, I emailed Katherine to thank her for being an inspiration, for showing me that you can get through this rotten disease (with humor, to boot). I figure if she can beat the odds she was facing, I can certainly beat whatever statistics are out there for Stage IV patients, as if this is just a matter of will, like going to law school or finishing a marathon. She warned me that parts of her book might be tough to read while I'm still in treatment, but told me to skip ahead, that it has a happy ending.

*All excerpts courtesy of Who in This Room by Katherine Malmo.

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