No one’s life stops because you get breast cancer. While friends have gone traveling, found new boyfriends, gotten married and had babies, my social life has come to a halt.
For a while, the only woman I could truly identify with was Stephanie Green, a pretty brunette who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32 and died after a recurrence 15 months ago. I never met her, but the Dishalicious blog she left behind really spoke to me.
We both loved journalism, fashion and parties. We shared a genetic mutation that cornered us into “chopping off” our 34-Cs. And a remark she made about the thought of dating after treatment resonated with me: “We eviscerate boys our age because most of them are weak. (Can you imagine a man having his [genitals] chopped off and remaining strong and manly? I don’t f---ing think so.)"
Two long-term cancer survivors have encouraged me not to give up on my social life.
Lynne Farber was a professor I especially admired at Florida International University. As a former public relations executive, she had a strong presence. And it was obvious that she had had a boob job.
“When I get to her age, I am getting them done for sure,” I remember telling a classmate.
I recently found out the plastic surgery was not done out of vanity. She’d had breast cancer, and she, too, had been diagnosed young.
“The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. I thought I was going to die,” Farber told me. “ I remember my wig got caught on a tree branch once.” We laughed.
“Your social life will come back,” she assured me. “And those who matter will be there.”
Alexandra Villoch was another surprise. I met The Miami Herald’s senior vice president of marketing and advertising a few years ago at a charity function. After my diagnosis, I was surprised to learn that this tall woman with a strong handshake was a breast cancer survivor. She recently invited me to lunch.
“The first year after treatment was very difficult. There are people who claim they met me then, but I couldn’t remember them. It was like a fog,” Villoch said. “Be patient; you will come out of this.”
I’ve also bonded with two fellow members of the young cancer patient’s club. The National Cancer Institute reports that about 70,000 Americans ages 15 to 39 get diagnosed each year.
Young adults have different psychosocial and quality of life issues, according to the Society for Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology, an international professional organization.
This weekend, for example, I didn’t set my alarm and slept for 24 hours straight, so I missed going out with a friend as I had promised. On Sunday, I watched The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s live stream online and cried. I had been planning to go this year.
For the past eight months, Michael Maryanoff, 25, who is being treated for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been the recipient of most of my complaints. He recently texted me about his “overprotective” mom. My reply: “Well, if it makes you feel any better, my mom took my microwave” in the misguided belief that it could endanger me. (According to the American Cancer Society, the appliance’s low-frequency radiation does not damage DNA or increase cancer risk.)
Last week I met Christine Anderson at a co-worker’s party. The 26-year-old was diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma in 2010, and is now in remission. We immediately bonded.
We talked about fertility and quality-of-life issues. We also had the “before and after” conversation. I showed Anderson pictures taken days before I started chemo. I wanted her to see that I wasn’t always the kind of woman who wore high-collar shirts and slept away the weekend.
When she asked to see pictures of me during chemo, I reluctantly pulled out the only one I took of myself without a wig. I cringed, but she said, “You looked so pretty.”
We discovered her birthday is two days after mine, and promised we would celebrate together in June. We talked about going to Ireland or New York. Or at least to Key West. I can’t imagine a more simpatico travel companion.
Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy
Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope
Part 12: Finding strength from others
Part 14: A new outlook on 2012
Part 17: After radiation therapy ends
Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust
Part 26: High hope for new drug
Part 27: Religion is an unavoidable topic
From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along