Boobs and Roses

20 Feb

I just had my annual mammogram &, thankfully, it was good again. My boobs have another one year extended warranty.

After having taken that unexpected & unplanned breast cancer journey, I always get antsy before my annual mammogram. Most of the people I know who’ve had the experience also have the shared anxiety. I think more than seeing it as a threat to our mortality, although there’s that, too, what it boils down to is we’ve simply been there – done that & just don’t want to do it again. Other people may not understand our “mammoxiety” but WE all do & easily sympathize with our sisters-in-battle when each of us has our annual turn at a mammogram. We also understand our shared relief when the mammogram is GOOD & even better, when it’s good AND over.

There’s a weird thing about breast cancer – when you’re first diagnosed a number of friends & acquaintances don’t know what to say to you. Some can’t even look you in the eye. This surprised & confused me until speaking with other survivors who had also had the experience. What we decided is that as newly diagnosed women, some friends & acquaintances look at us & realize, There but for the grace of God go I,” & it scares the hell out of them just like it used to scare us. They suddenly see their mortality reflected in us & it’s frightening as hell.

Another phenomenon that a number of us have experienced is having a friend who is there for us, very attentive & helpful throughout our treatment & recovery but who disappears or removes themselves from our lives once we are well. This is probably the most confusing situation of all & I remember, when this happened to me, wondering if I’d become less interesting or less friend-worthy without the cancer. I still don’t have an answer to that one but I suspect the answer lies with the helpful friend & not with me.

Helping during an extreme crisis, no matter who or what the crisis, fulfills some need within that friend that really hasn’t a thing to do with us. We’re simply there with cancer & become magnets for those friends who have a real & personal NEED to be “helpers & caregivers.” It may also have something to do with a personal morbid fascination with the fact that a friend has cancer & they don’t … sort of a juggling of odds… & the delusion that helping somehow will keep them from HAVING. In the end, though, the fact that they disappear is confusing & hurtful & makes their help far less appreciated. But it happens.

The best thing anyone can do for someone going through the breast cancer experience … or any critical time of their life is to treat them as you always have. Listen to them if they need to talk. Sit quietly with them & hold their hand if they need to cry. Talk to them about the cancer because they need someone they can be totally honest about their feelings with. That will be more appreciated than chicken soup, bed socks & items bearing the breast cancer logo, although those things can certainly brighten a day. Those are the friends that we hold close because they are the friends who continue to be our friends, never skipping a beat regardless of the tests of friendship with which they are faced… regardless of cancer.

Willy & I met Beth & her husband right before I was diagnosed in 2008. Both were very supportive while Willy & I were going through surgery, chemo & radiation. I say Willy & I because he shared the experience with me & was often the reason I was able to get through a particular day or another treatment. At the completion of my chemo Beth gave me a huge bouquet of long stemmed yellow roses, a hug & a whispered message that “women just need flowers.”

And so began a strong & wonderful friendship between Beth & me. Whenever there was something to celebrate or a crisis Beth gave me a rose or several roses. In her times of crisis, I sent her decadent food I knew she wouldn’t indulge in at any other time & sometimes flowers.

In 2012 Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer during her annual mammogram. On her follow-up MRI they found cancer in her other breast. She called & told me the news & asked, “How did you get through this?”  I told her we really have very few choices … something that occurred to me after my second chemo treatment. We can either ball up in a corner & cry or get up, fight & do the very best we can. Then I called Farm Basket & had them deliver to her at her home a huge gift basket filled with every kind of cake & cookie they had in the store.

I stayed very close to Beth during her bilateral mastectomy & her reconstruction & was there for her during her recovery, as she had been for me. I’d send her cookies & she’d send me roses for helping her on some particular day.

Last year while I was waiting to have my annual breast ultrasound that is always done the same day & immediately following my mammogram, someone sat down beside me in the waiting area & asked how it was going. It was Beth who had left work early to come & check on me. While she was there another woman who had just been diagnosed came into the waiting area crying. When they called me for my ultrasound, Beth told me she was going to stay a while with the woman who was alone & so very upset. She whispered to me, I’m just going to stay a little while with her & pay it forward.”

In late summer of 2012 Beth & I “paid it forward” together by helping & supporting a mutual friend through her battle with uterine cancer. Our own experiences have taught us the value of being there for friends going through personal cancer struggles… & staying there for them after recovery.

I believe Beth & I were pretty cool women BEFORE cancer, we would have been friends without it & continue to be in SPITE of it. BECAUSE of it we’ve both become even more aware of the true value of friendship.

Willy always goes with me now to get my annual mammograms because he knows that I want him there. I’ve told him that while he’s waiting in the waiting area close by I know he is there & that he is my “courage.”

Tuesday when Willy & I arrived at the Mammography Center & I was signing in, the receptionist asked, Are you Linda Smith?”  She said there had been a delivery for me & handed me one significant pink long stemmed rose wrapped in green florist paper. The card said, “All will be fine. Women just need flowers.”



10 Responses to “Boobs and Roses”

  1. writersbridgebridgebuilder February 20, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    This was wonderful.

    Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2014 16:34:12 +0000 To:


    • heimdalco February 20, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

      Thank you so very much, Darrell. Your opinion means so much to me.


  2. February 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    Beautifully said.


  3. John Irvine February 21, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Very well written piece, Linda. You are a talented writer.


    • heimdalco February 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

      Thank you so much, John. Your opinion is special to me.


  4. Willy S. February 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Everybody has already said what I thought of your writing … especially this. Maybe it’s because “I lived it” or maybe it’s because I know how cool you and Beth are in the first place. Either was, it’s an honor to call both of you friends!


    • heimdalco February 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

      Thank you, Willy, so much. I think the most special thing about a marriage is when we are able to call our spouse our FRIEND….. and yes, you were there & I couldn’t have gotten through any of that without you.


  5. Deluca, Ellen February 23, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Congratulations Linda! No worries for another year. Ellen

    Ellen DeLuca, PhD, RN Professor of Nursing Lynchburg College 1501 Lakeside Dr. Lynchburg, VA 24501 PH: 434-544-8322



    • heimdalco February 23, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      Thanks, Ellen. It’s always a relief …


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