Because every woman in my family has had breast cancer (back to great grandmothers), I get my checkups at MD Anderson’s High Risk Clinic. In early October I had a routine mammogram and not-so-routine callback that same visit. The nurse practitioner rang a few days later. “Do you have a minute?” she asked, as I navigated two school zones on Westheimer to pick up Eliza.
The mammogram revealed a 2.5 cm mass in my right breast. While she cautioned that it could be anything, I needed to come in for an ultrasound-guided biopsy. One week later, I arrived for what turned into five biopsies (including a lymph node that looked ‘plump’) and marker placements – metal clips shot into the biopsied areas. Mid-procedures, I texted my sister from the exam table: “I think I have a problem.” The radiologist corroborated my fear when she started scanning my neck and chest. I asked her if she could tell me what I was dealing with; she replied that the mass was highly suspicious. I left her to have a third mammogram which confirmed that the metal clips were shot into the correct locations, then ambled to post-op for wound care instructions. The doctor kindly came around to share that the initial findings on the lymph node looked clear. It would take another week to confirm that the mass did not. When I entered the empty waiting room at 6 pm, my sister was the only one there.
To be specific, the mass is:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (most common form of breast cancer)
- High nuclear grade
- Nottingham Histologic Grade 3
- Poorly differentiated
Tom Petty is right, the waiting is the hardest part. For one month, pathologists conducted genetic testing on the mass to determine the best course of treatment, which I find out on Tuesday, November 8. During this time I have been told I have no genetic mutations (aka BRAC 1 & 2). I also met with Dr. Valentine, head of the MD Anderson’s psychiatry department, who deduced that I have great coping skills and am ready for the fight. (Note: I randomly was assigned the head of the department, this is not an indication of derangement.)
I took the picture (above) of David Park‘s Louise at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this summer when there for a Voice of Witness workshop. I originally loved it because I love my friend Louise Conklin Gunter, and I even sent her this image from the museum’s Contemporary wing. I was then drawn to the color palette, broad brush strokes and the nude resembling an hourglass Eve in the Garden of Eden with a serpent lurking on a (barren) Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Dana and Bob Emery purchased this piece at auction from Christie’s in 2008 for $2.7 million and subsequently promised it to the de Young as part of its Campaign for Art. Below is a second Park piece I saw at the Yale University Art Gallery, this one entitled The Model and given by a family in memory of their mother.
In addition to the obvious pathos these images evoke, I resonate with the artist, who was also a cancer patient. According to an article in the Huffington Post, courage – moral and artistic – was a theme in Park’s life. Although today recognized as one of America’s most important twentieth-century painters, Park took a huge risk in the 1950s by breaking away from the de rigueur abstraction movement and returning to the less-popular representational style of painting. He felt that abstraction placed too much focus on the artist (i.e. Jackson Pollack) and he eschewed the limelight.
Similarly, I do not seek attention with my diagnosis and this blog will be more about art than cancer. As a daughter of Eve, I share her temptation to doubt God’s goodness in this trial. Our family has experienced a rough 2016 and it never occurred to me that breast cancer would round out the year.