We traveled back home from France yesterday. Paris to Dallas was 10 hours, then from Dallas to San Diego was another 2 1/2. Needless to say, by the time we did the first leg of the trip, waited in an excruciatingly long line at immigration, went through secondary customs (thanks to the confit of duck that my mother in law gave us), went through security in Dallas and finally got on our airplane, we were pretty wiped out. We didn't have very good seats-we were all split up for one thing. Olivier was in row 17 by himself. He probably didn't mind that because it put some needed space between him and his 3 year old brother. Eric and Isabelle were in the very last row that did not recline. Jean-Marc and I were one row in front and across the isle. We were right next to the engines. At that point, it didn't really matter. Although I got to be the sole parent on "potty duty" with Jean-Marc.
Anyway, as the flight attendant served me a ginger ale, she saw my compression sleeve and gauntlet. She asked me if I had lymphedema in my arm, to which I sighed, "yes." But it did raise a flag for me. Someone who knows what that is probably has some connection to breast cancer. On my next foray to the bathroom with Jean-Marc, she was standing there at the back of the plane. As we exited, she asked me if I had had (past tense) breast cancer. To which I again sighed, "yes."
As it turned out, she also is a survivor. Bing, bing bing! Immediate connection with a total stranger. Of course, we got to talking. As it turned out, we had a lot in common. She was also 40 when diagnosed, although now she is 5 years out. She also had an almost 2 year old when diagnosed. Her tumor was over 5 centimeters, but she only had 3 lymph nodes involved. Like me, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy. We compared notes on chemo. She had adriamyicn as well as two other drugs that she didn't name. I'm assuming they were the same I had, since Adriamycin-Taxotere-Cytoxan is a pretty common combo. She chose expanders for her reconstruction and said it really hurt a lot. Besides, her nipples are all misaligned and as she put it, "Playboy won't be calling me for any photo shoots." For me, that was reassurance that my decision not to reconstruct is a good one for me.
We talked about our common fear of reccurence. Her cancer was not estrogen receptor positive, so she was not given tamoxifen. Her understanding is that her type of cancer has a higher recurrence rate. Even at 5 years out, she is still thinking about it. I think we always will. I told her what my oncologist said about recurrence: "If it comes back, it isn't going to be curable." She nodded and said quietly, "Yes. That would be Stage IV."
Despite my fatigue, it was really good to talk with her. Someone who really got it. We share a bond that we would rather never have, I'm sure. This thought also struck me, though. With breast cancer rates as high as they are. The chances of there being others that I share this bond with in a large group of people are very high. You just never know who that woman is. It might be the person standing right next to you, or serving you ginger ale on an airplane.
About this blog
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.