Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published October 20 2013
Halgrimson: Breast cancer survivors a new kind of warrior
It was my left breast that was removed, and I’ve never been much of an archer anyway. But I am a warrior.
I had always thought that I’d rather die than lose a breast, but one day in the showers at the Y, I happened to look nearsightedly at the women bathing next to me, and I noticed that she had no breasts.
I had talked to her in the dressing room earlier and learned that she had been a nurse in World War II, so I knew that she was a warrior, too. And her display of her bare chest gave me courage.
It was a while later that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As I drove away from the clinic that day, a police officer pulled me over and I burst out crying when he came to my window. I told him my story, and he held my hand, comforted me and let me go. I don’t even remember what I did to get his attention, but he was a kind and gentle man.
I decided not to have a lumpectomy because I didn’t want to cope with radiation and chemotherapy. And there’s no way I wanted a reconstruction. I’ve seen what they look like, too, and silicone outside of my body is bad enough.
And this was my second diagnosis of cancer. I’d already lost my uterus.
I checked out breast cancer on the Mayo Clinic website and they said, “A diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the most difficult experiences you can face.”
But then my cancer was not life-threatening, and after facing polio as a child, anaphylactic shock as a teenager and brain tumor surgery in my early 40s, plus a number of other afflictions, I did not feel put upon by this surgery.
Besides, I’m a warrior, as were my mother and her mother. I can’t stand people who say, “Why me?” Why not?
I don’t remember when I had my operation, but it must have been in the late 1990s or early 2000s because my surgeon was Dr. Robert Zarrett and he retired in 2006. I miss him and he, too, was a kind and gentle man.
When I was nicely healed, I got a prosthesis, which amounts to a pink silicone titty, accompanied by two cheesy bras for which my insurance company was charged $400.
When I recently had to replace the first prosthesis because I’d lost weight and needed one six sizes smaller, they offered it to me in a fancy quilted, zippered box, which I refused. So much for containing medical care costs. I keep the thing in the drawer with my bras.
And I’ve found some inexpensive, over-the-counter bras at a local lingerie department that have a lining into which you can slip the prosthesis.
A few years ago, I had lunch with some of my female high school classmates. There were 12 of us at the table and half had lost one breast, some of them had lost both.
It was through a mammogram and then a biopsy that my diagnosis was made. And my cancer turned out not to be invasive. I have always believed that I am one of the luckiest women in the world.
I thank the National Breast Cancer Foundation for their initiation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is this month. It’s also my birthday month, and I’m always grateful for having made it another year.
And I thank the woman in the shower. I met her in the supermarket after my surgery and told her how she had helped me. I just wish I could remember her name. But she’s surely in my heart.