The Armenian Genocide

A friendly person called me on my cell phone early Wednesday afternoon while I was walking to the Little Cafe Down the Street. It took me a while to figure out that my interlocutor was the heretofore Unjolly Fellow. He was quite jolly, offering to call me back once I got in out of the cold. I said I was just about to go inside. I didn't hear his name at first, and he repeated it, adding, I was there for your biopsy. There? He was the main poker. His sad task (so why did he sound so happy?) was to tell me that I'm definitely not a candidate for a lumpectomy because the tumors in the left breast are all connected. That was a given. He also said that it was clear that the third section of my breast, which he hadn't poked, was also malignant. He said that the MRI had also picked up the presence of two suspicious-looking nodules in my right breast. Nodules, he informed me, are lumps that are less than 1cm; masses are more than 2cm. I didn't think to ask what's in between. There are lots of false positives on MRIs, he said, "it doesn't necessarily mean cancer." I couldn't believe he uttered the word. Maybe no one wants to be the first to say it, but once the crab is out of the bag, it's Cancer cancer cancer; call the pizzeria and order it, a double topping of Cancer; cozy up to the bartender and grab a tumbler on the rocks, Cancer; climb up to the top of the parking garage and shout it to the four winds: Cancer! Let's hear it. Cancer! This finding means that I will have to get up at the crack of dawn next Tuesday so I can have an MRI-guided core biopsy of the right breast. I don't understand how the surgeon will manouver herself around to my breast to poke it. But the Fellow Formerly Known as Unjolly assured me that "an attending" will do it. I think that means a Real Doctor.

That means I had to put off my second-opinion appointment at Pretty Good Hospital, planned for Wednesday.

I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon Wednesday afternoon. His name sounded Armenian and I looked him up on the web and found out that under languages spoken, he listed Armenian. Surprising that someone who's a Baby Boomer speaks Armenian. I thought most of the people my age wouldn't have carried on the language. I'm in the middle of revising a book review of The Bastard of Istanbul, a novel by Elif Shafak, who is Turkish. The book deals with Turkish denial of the state-sponsored massacre of 1915, among other things. It seems as if I've always felt a kinship with Armenians, because of their dark eyes and tragedy, but I don't even remember when I first heard of the genocide. I do remember when I first learned about Turkish denial. I read about the official Turkish government deniers in Peter Balakian's 1998 memoir, Black Dog of Fate. I went to his reading of the book here, during his book tour, because I knew him slightly. I was surprised at the big Armenian turnout. I didn't realize what an important book it was for Armenian-Americans. What I remember most in the book is when he's in junior high and planning to write a report on Armenia. He tells his father, who is pleased. He finishes the paper, then explains to his father that he couldn't find enough information about Armenia, so he decided to write about Turkey. In all innocence. His father, of course, exploded. But the family had told Peter so little about the murders of Armenians that he was purely purely ignorant. It turns out that the plastic surgeon's best friend (or cousin?) had Peter Balakian's father as a dentist, in Englewood, NJ. The surgeon gave me information about a talk Saturday night at the local Armenian center (I hadn't known there was one). I said that my husband would probably want to go to a movie on Saturday night, unfortunately.

We talked about my breasts, too. He showed me before and after photos of patients. He recommends saline implants for me, even though their infection rate is 1:20. That's mostly for smokers and D-sizes, he said. He also said that though efforts to save the nipple didn't necessarily work (it could die; I don't want to imagine what that would be like), such a thing was possible, and I should ask my surgeon. So maybe L was right about hearing her say that. As the plastic surgeon left the examining room he said I needed to have my picture taken (meaning pictures of my breasts) so that he could remember me. And then I realized that I could connect with him about Armenians all I wanted to but the important thing was for him to think about my breasts and how to do well by them.

***
Just a few minutes ago my computer told me that Molly Ivins is dead, at 62. Of breast cancer. She had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which is not what I have. (Whew. Knowing it's selfish to be relieved.) IBC is less common than "regular" breast cancer with lumps, and has very different symptoms. It is amazing that she wrote almost up until the very end, which is what I plan to do.

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