My 42-year-old gravity-challenged right breast had morphed into this trophy sized-perky tower of flesh after only eight weeks of radiation treatments. Sitting in the Oncology Center waiting for my daily beaming, I glanced impatiently through the September Travel magazine. On page 53 in glorious pinks and browns, a mountainous replica of my breast stood regally guarding the tropical landscape of Costa Rica. I didn't know the official name of this mountain, but it came to be known as Buranek Mountain to my nurse buddies in radiology. I brazenly ripped the page from the magazine. It now hangs above my desk subtitled, "Cindy Buranek -- self-portrait -- age 42".
If you think I am exaggerating about the mass of flesh my breast had become, then why was I serenaded by the nurses with "Go Tell it on the Mountain" upon my disrobing? Why did Dr. Vigliotti mumble "big, so big" whenever he was in my general vicinity? I never let this unexpected "development" affect my perspective on this life-altering event. I had survived breast cancer with nothing more to show than one permanently tanned, firm mound of flesh that easily could pass for a perky 16-year-old breast. I had noticed that my husband had transferred his loyalties to my right side. My flabby left breast hid under my armpit with chagrin and neglect.
Whatever was happening inside me on a cellular level to kill this sneaky invader I didn't much want to know. Not that I hadn't read every book in the library and surfed every web page once I was diagnosed. I had, but now armed with the facts my credo became "Let's beam the little suckers and move on. Beam and book! However the metallic gray cancer annihilator that had cost Genesis Hospital over 1.5 million dollars had its own agenda. This revolutionary super beam had sporadic breakdowns as I lay on that cold metal table. The nurses swore it mostly happened when my pound of flesh lay back for my permanent tanning session. Some type of mammary overload was my guess. The software geeks flown in from California dismissed this feeble explanation and tweaked away at the code. I don't know a thing about programming, but it seemed that each time they emerged from the metal cave of technology their heads appeared bigger. So, hey - why not my breast?
Now, a year later, my prognosis is as optimistic as anyone could hope for. I have a 1% chance of the C word returning in the next five years and only a 15% chance in the next ten. Sadly, official statistics don't go much beyond ten years, but that too is changing as more and more women are detecting their lumps earlier, listening to their gut feelings and acting on them. If you feel there is something wrong, trust yourself first; reason with your Doctor second. Women know their bodies; they live with them each and every day. Our bodies talk to us in a quiet but insistent way if we take the time to listen. I have heard too many stories from women who stifled their inner voices and followed their doctor's advice to wait and see. Breast cancer is not a wait and see disease. It is a devious, cunning, sneaky bastard that can kill you just by the passing of time.
I was lucky: I had a Stage 1, grade one, slow-growing breast cancer. It did not run in my family. I was in good physical shape, but something on a molecular level decided to choose me. As I stood in the bathroom one morning, my mother's voice told me rather rudely to "check my breast." I always did what my mother told me, even if she had gone to God over ten years before. I wasn't about to argue with anyone that had the power to reach down to me from so far away. She was right. I listened and I am alive.
Now after 38 radiation treatments I feel wonderful. I played racquetball until my seventh week and never stopped working. Your mind is a powerful tool. Let it work for you. I did decline the drug tamoxifen because ovarian and cervical cancer runs in my family. I had beaten breast cancer and my internal spiritual voice had guided me so well in the past that I had decided not to argue with it now. This is an individual decision.
If I have learned anything it is this. Trust yourself and listen to your body. If you are tired, sleep. If you are surrounded by friends that aren't comfortable talking about cancer, find different friends. Close the door on negative energy-sucking people. Now is the time for souls with positive, uplifting beliefs. The others will drain your remaining strength and your body can't tolerate them right now.
On my last day of radiation I had written "Bye Bye" with a permanent blue pen on my breast. (Anything to break the monotony.) The nurses allowed me to use my twisted humor to save myself and at times laughed harder than I. They saved me from dwelling on the negative and forced me to concentrate on the battle.
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My last day was like leaving girls' camp. I would miss these kind, warm women. I had grown close to them in eight short weeks. I left them with something I knew they would never forget. I had baked a beautiful chocolate breast cake, a replica of my enormous brown breast. The identical grid pattern that they had drawn on me each week to align the beam was now in blue frosting instead of that hideous ink that wrecked every bra I owned. Flying proudly from the nipple peak was a little red flag, "Buranek's Mountain, Highest Peak this side of the Mississippi".
I left my radiation friends with chocolate kisses and tears in my eyes and a deep hope that I would never have to climb that mountain again.
The Power of Miracles: Stories of God in the Everyday
by Joan Wester Anderson
About The Author
Cindy Buranek is a forty-three year old aspiring writer. She has been published in a college magazine twice and won first prize on her first entry. She is presently writing her first novel called "Pretend for a Moment" about her 8 brothers and sisters and hopes to finish it before she needs bifocals. She can be reached at [email protected].