My story begins with those chilling words spoken some seven years ago: “I’m afraid it’s breast cancer, Toni.” The doctor’s words ushered in images of the Great Reaper scythe in hand; come to carry me from the light of life into eternal darkness. My mind raced in panic: How could I have breast cancer? I am so spiritual. I meditate every day-well, every day that I remember to. I eat only organics. Well-except for when I eat out or don’t have time to cook a proper meal and have to make a hero on a white roll dripping with mayo-but only turkey breast-absolutely no meat-ever.
And don’t I earn my keep helping women less fortunate than myself; gracing their lives with my wisdom and sharing tools and strategies they can use to grow their own spirits and sense of self? Haven’t I devoted the past twenty years to serving? Didn’t I leave a well-paying, for-profit career for low-paying, consultant work in the not-for-profit world?
How could breast cancer be happening to such a good and righteous person?
I lived in angry denial for more than a month, refusing to listen to my breast surgeon’s warnings of the dire consequences of not scheduling an immediate mastectomy. His answer to my pleas for a lumpectomy was: “And where would I stop cutting? Toni.” There were two tumors in the breast. One, the size of a pecan, was near the nipple. The other was on the outside of the breast near the underarm area. It was hard, oval-shaped; the size of a small egg. Still, I was having none of this mastectomy talk. There had to be a better way. One that did not require the violation of my body by cutting off the “offending” breast. I was determined to find the alternative to cut, burn and poison.
Thus began a year of alternative options and doctors-like the one whose degree turned out to be PhD. and not MD. There was Low Dose Naltrexone, the drug originally used for heroin addiction. I did online research and ordered every herb that carried even the remotest claim of curing breast cancer. I even managed to find a surgeon who was willing to chop my breast away bit by bit in an attempt to get a clear (cancer-free) margin around the two malignancies. I ignored the frantic telephone calls my doctor made to my daughter; hoping that she could somehow persuade me to schedule the mastectomy. I ignored them both and pushed on with my quest for a breast cancer miracle. None was forthcoming.
Finally, one year after the initial breast cancer diagnosis and three unsuccessful lumpectomies, I was shaken from my stupor of denial when the mammography technician who had been with me through this harrowing journey stared at my mangled right breast and with tears in her eyes, asked: “Toni, what are you doing to yourself and your breast? Please go back to Dr. X (my original breast surgeon) and let him perform the mastectomy. Please.”
And so, on September 9, 2007, I underwent a seven hour procedure that included a radical mastectomy of what remained of my right breast and a “Tummy Tuck” reconstructive surgery.
Watch for Part Two: Breast Cancer and Repressed Mother Rage