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MARTHA SEZ: Raise a glass to ‘something else’

June 19, 2014
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Happy New Year! You may think this greeting is six months late, or six months early, but for reasons of my own I have decided to restart 2014.

On New Year's Eve I had a "suspicious" mammogram. Last week I had my last radiation treatment. In between, I was living in the dreaded world of cancer.

I don't like to even type the C word. Still, since so many of us live in fear of cancer, and because I am a journalist - or I write for the paper - I think I have an obligation to tell something about my experience, which wasn't all bad.

The worst part was waiting to find out for sure what that suspicious mammogram meant. I will admit now that although yes, I did once before have a mammogram, I can no longer remember what year it was, or even what state I was living in at the time.

My putative stash of earlier mammograms had apparently gone missing, and the results of a sonogram of my left breast were inconclusive. Waiting to see a surgeon in Burlington, Vermont, for a biopsy, my blood pressure soared sky high; I was terrified.

The biopsy results proved positive for cancer. After that, everything went quickly.

A physician's assistant friend told me that his wife also had breast cancer a few years back. After a while, he said, "I told her, all right, that's it. You don't have cancer anymore, and you can't keep playing the cancer card."

I was scheduled for a lumpectomy operation and my friend Nell drove me from Keene Valley to the hospital in Burlington through a blizzard of mixed snow and freezing rain. I don't know anything about the actual operation except that I was sedated with propofol, the same drug that Micheal Jackson overdosed on.

After I came to, a group of nurses asked me questions from a long list, which my friend Nell kept answering, talking over me, while one nurse wrote down everything she said. They all were laughing and whooping it up so much that I couldn't get a word in edgewise.

"That is NOT how I would have answered those questions," I said huffily to the nurses as Nell and I left.

An oncologist told me that I no longer had cancer, and that the radiation treatments I would receive were preventive. The cancer was very small, and had not spread. Apparently, I will die from something else.

Nell accompanied me to an appointment with an oncologist in Plattsburgh. He said that cancer strikes one in three. Nell looked at me and then said to the doctor, "Well, I guess you and I are golden, then."

I Googled it. One in three Americans gets cancer, lives hand to mouth, gets shingles, lies to his or her partner about money and believes in ghosts. "But I'm the second child!" I mused. You just never can tell.

My daughter Molly instituted a Facebook sign-up schedule for volunteer drivers to take me to Plattsburgh for radiation treatments, which was a little embarrassing at first, but proved really helpful.

I liked my solitary drives through the countryside, but it was wonderful to talk with people and hear their stories. Cancer reminds us that we are mortal.

One person said she didn't want to die until she had lost weight. Another said he couldn't die until after his house was clean and organized. But you never know how and when you will meet your end, one woman emphasized; she knew someone who knew a man who hit a moose on the highway and died from being impaled on its antlers. Which just goes to show you.

I watched spring settle over the countryside during the hour-long ride to and from visits to the death ray, as I came to call the huge radiation machine. It looked like something from the original Star Trek series.

At first the trees and fields were barely touched with green. In the town of Peru, one little tree in an orchard was covered in white blossoms. Then one day all of the trees had come into bloom and it was lost in the crowd. By the time my radiation treatments were done, pine pollen was in the air and summer had arrived.

So many people have helped me. I want to do better at helping others. And I suppose it is time to quit playing the cancer card.

Have a good year.



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