Port Removal Authority

Friday I got the port removed. It was a fairly simple process, but beforehand involved blood testing and much bureaucracy at Fancy Hospital. A very nice physician's assistant did the job. He was very young, also. When the port was put in, I was knocked out (twilight, I think they call it). This time I was wide awake and the area was numbed with shots of lidocaine. I looked away while we talked--about air conditioning, the great heat wave of 1995 (he was in college at the time), and I forgot what else. There was a tech in the room, who wheeled me in and out, and during the operation sat at a computer and drank take-out that appeared to be coffee.

I went alone. I got an MRI earlier in the week, and went alone, too. It becomes routine after a while.

While I was waiting for the port removal I started talking to three women also waiting. I would call them middle-aged, which means 10 years older that oneself. I guess they were early 60s. Two were there for their friend, who had just gotten a port installed, and was told by the chemo nurses that there was something odd about it. She'd come to get it checked out. I asked how long she was going to have chemo and she said, The rest of my life.

Oh. That kind of breast cancer. The kind that spread.

She'd been cancer-free for six years. She said it was a good six years, that she'd traveled to Europe and had other good vacations. When she was going through treatment the first time, she was living with her sister, who had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now her sister has cancer in her lungs and adrenal glands. The woman asked me if I had made any great life changes since my diagnosis and I said not really. I told her I'm a writer and am writing about the breast cancer, but that didn't seem like a great change. She said she's accepted that if that's what God wants for her, it's OK. She was at peace with dying. Though neither of us said the word. Her friends were trying to lighten things: Oh, you'll be fine, etc.

But it is a disease that can't be cured, can only be contained at this point.

This is a disease that makes us sisters. I taught at a writing conference over the weekend and a cheery woman came up and shook hands with me vigorously. Someone had pointed me out to her. She was treated for stage 3 breast cancer and is doing well. I couldn't tell if she was writing about it, too. She had a double mastectomy and had gotten smaller breasts, easier to jog, she said. Another woman there said she was meditating for me. Her sister had died of breast cancer, but hadn't been a fighter. I was afraid she was blaming the victim. I don't know what her sister did or didn't do. What would someone have to not do in order to be giving in to the cancer? Refusing treatment would be up there. I don't think her sister refused treatment. In Jerome Groopman's book on hope, he talks about an Orthodox woman who refuses chemo because she saw the breast cancer as God's punishment for adultery. A more senior doctor convinced her to take the treatment, but much time had passed.

L points out that I have a 16 percent chance of recurrence, which is almost the same chance that Anywoman has of getting breast cancer. Except recurrence for me could include "mets"--metastasized cancer. And that is far more serious than what Anyone might get, first time around.

Friday afternoon a doctor I'd never met called to report that the MRI results were fine, and that I didn't need to be tested again until next summer. Here's hoping. As Emily Dickinson said, "Hope is the thing with feathers." And Woody Allen, of course, said, "How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not 'the thing with feathers.' The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich." And I would add, The thing with feathers is the back of a woman I saw in line at the Jewel. Her boyfriend tattooed wings on her shoulder blades. She offered me his business card but I traffic only in tattoos that are temporary.