Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cancer Paranoia—The Beat Goes On

By Laura Yeager

I’ve been very nervous about anything unusual looking on my right breast where I had the angiosarcoma.  I’ve been beyond nervous, actually.  I’ve been paranoid.

About a month ago, I saw two purple spots, little bright purple dots on my breast tissue.  In a panic, I called the oncologist’s assistant.  “I’m sure the angiosarcoma is back,” I said.  “I’ve got two suspicious looking purple marks on my breast.  The breast that was irradiated.”

The assistant got me in the next day.

I waited in the examination room for about 45 minutes.  I could barely stand not knowing if I was sick again with cancer.  I opened the door and shouted to a nurse, “Where’s Dr. Kasper?  I’m waiting in here to see if I have cancer.  What’s taking so long?”

I don’t handle the stress of potential new cancers well.

The nurse gave me a dirty look.  She actually gave me a dirty look.  I silently cussed her out.  Let her sit in this little room and die from not knowing if you’re sick again with deadly cancer.

Finally, Dr. Kasper appeared.  “Now let me see this,” she said.

I opened the paper shirt they had given me to cover myself. 

“Where are they?”  She peered at my breast.

I pointed to the suspicious spots.

Suddenly, Dr. Kasper started laughing very loudly. 

“Oh, Laura.  Those are radiation tattoos.”

“Oh, my God,” I said.  I started laughing and crying all at once.

For those of you who don’t know what radiation tattoos are, the radiologists actually tattoo your skin to mark where they should direct the radiation.  They’d been there all along since my radiation treatments four years ago, but in light of the recent cancer, they had seemed terrifying and dangerous.

“Get out of here,” said Dr. Kasper.

Flash forward to last week.  A suspicious purple nodule had appeared on my incision line on my right breast.  Again, my mind flew to the worst case scenario—angiosarcoma.

I called Dr. Kasper.

“I’ve got a strange bump on my incision line.  It’s purple.”

Dr. Kasper’s assistant again got me in quickly.

Again, I found myself in the paper shirt.  Again, I waited alone in the hot exam room.

But this time, I didn’t spout off obnoxiously to any health care professional who would listen that I was waiting to find out if I was going to die.  I sat quietly.  Getting used to the program.

Finally, Dr. Kasper came in.

“O.K.  Let me see it.”

I opened the paper shirt.

She peered at the purple bump.

“That’s a suture that didn’t dissolve.  Sometimes, the sutures don’t dissolve and they poke up.”

She hugged me.

“I’m so sorry to waste your time,” I said.

“You’re not wasting my time.”

Cancer not only does something awful to your body.  It does something toxic to your brain as well.

I hope this paranoia of anything vaguely out of the ordinary on my breast skin will pass.

Until then, Dr. Kasper is only 15 minutes away.

Dr. Kasper.  She’s the best in town.

And she’s mine.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


By Laura Yeager

My friend, Elaine, introduces me like this:  “This is Laurie.  She had cancer.  But she got over it.”

I have to say this is a little annoying.  To be identified as my illness.

On the other hand, there is a status that comes with surviving cancer.

People tell me “You’re a fighter” and “You’re tough.”

These things really aren’t true.  I’m simply someone who went along with the program and did what my doctors told me to do. Maybe I’m someone who got lucky.  Someone whose time hasn’t come yet.  Who knows?

On the other hand, I had whole churches praying for me.  Prayer factored into my survival.  All those heartfelt wishes, that good energy, that power directed to the deity can do wonders.

In any case, I’m here, walking the earth.  Dealing with problems.  Our new puppy has ringworm.  My child can't seem to work well with his aids at school.

On August 23, my husband and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  I’m so happy I lived to see it.

I’ve had cancer twice.

My friend, Sarah, from kindergarten has had cancer three times.

We’ve both survived our maladies.

I love Sarah.  She knows what cancer is all about.  Unlike Elaine.  Elaine is simply standing on the outside looking in.

We do the best we can.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Power Couple

By Laura Yeager

My husband Steve and I are at a benefit to raise money for autism.  We have an autistic son.  We are sitting at a table, minding our own business when the organizer of the benefit approaches us.

“There they are,” she says.  “The power couple.”

I almost choke on a piece of broccoli and ranch dip.

No one has ever referred to us as a power couple.  And I certainly don’t see us as one.  We don’t have money or a big house or prestigious jobs.  Neither of us hold a political office.   We are just Steve and Laura.  Trying to get through the day.

Furthermore, two bouts of cancer have certainly taken any residual power I might possess.  I am a sick woman.  Sick people aren’t powerful.

Power is the last thing I feel.

Is she joking?  Simply flattering us?  Stroking us so that we will donate more money to her cause?  How can we be a power couple?

But we go with it.  We don’t contradict her.  In fact, we like what she said.  We like the label.

Maybe illness does give you a form of power.  If you can overcome it.

After my latest cancer surgery on June 10, 2016, my wounds on my chest got infected.  I lay in bed with pus coming out of the incisions.  They were giving me morphine for the pain.  The nurses couldn’t get the IV in because the chemotherapy I had five years ago had “ruined my veins.”  I was crying.  I was hungry.  They had ordered a lunch for me, but it had been two and a half hours since it had been called for, and I was starving.  Thirsty.

Not the picture of power.

But as I sit here tonight at the autism benefit, in my little black dress, with my good gold jewelry and my recently styled and colored hair, I can fake it.

Jesus says, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

Maybe this is what is going on.

Actually, now that I think about it, I know what that gracious lady might mean.

We are two people who are successfully raising an autistic child.  And we are still smiling.  Still standing.

Ultimately, I like to think of the whole incident this way.  We aren’t a power couple.  But we certainly aren’t a powerless one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trish and Vitamin B17

By Laura Yeager

I’ve had cancer twice, once in 2011 and again this year (2016).  During my first bout of cancer (breast cancer), my friend, Trish, kept her mouth shut and sat by while I was treated in a “mainstream” fashion; I received chemotherapy, radiation treatments and had a mastectomy.

I was cancer-free for four years, and then, a second cancer, an angiosarcoma, appeared on my breast which was treated with radiation.  It was determined that the angiosarcoma was a result of the radiation.  As you can guess, that was a huge blow.

Treatment for this cancer was another operation to cut out the bright-red blotch on my breast.

At this point, my friend could keep her mouth shut no longer.  You see, she is a big believer in alternative cancer treatments.  Specifically, she believes that people with cancer should consume B17, also known as amygdalin or laetrile.  B17 occurs naturally in the seeds of apricots, peaches and almonds. The only problem with this is that B17 is banned in the US and contains cyanide.

Believers in B17 also believe in a conspiracy theory that the United States is keeping the substance from the American public so that its wide-spread use won’t bring down the trillion dollar cancer industry.

So every day, I had to listen to Trish lecture me about how I should be taking B17 and somehow buying it on the black market.

This was extremely upsetting to me.  I didn’t believe that the “poison” would help me.  In fact, I thought it might kill me.

Trish went with me to my oncologist appointment, where she asked my doctor about the controversial substance.

“The efficacy of B17 was disproved in the 70s,” Dr. Bennet said.

“Well, you should watch some of these You Tube videos,” Trish argued.

“I don’t get my cancer knowledge from television,” Dr. Bennett sneered.

Trish didn’t let up.

At least watch this movie with me,” she said, referring to A World Without Cancer,” written and directed by G. Edward Griffin.  This movie told the B17 story.

Trish got it on You Tube, and we watched a bit of it.  It discussed how animals who ate foods with B17 in them did not get cancer.  It was making a good point, and I conceded that it was well-written, but I grew tired of it.  I guess I was just a mainstream girl.  I had never bought into alternative medicine.  I told her to turn the movie off.

“Well,” Trish said, “There are foods that contain trace amounts of B17, and I guess trace amounts would be better than nothing.  And these foods are legal.”

“Like what?”

“Like millet.”

“What’s millet?”

“It’s an ancient, gluten-free grain.  You can buy millet bread in health food stores.”

Tired of Trish badgering me about B17, I said, “OK, babe.  Go buy me some millet bread.”

To my surprise, Trish immediately got in her car and drove to the health food store, where she purchased me a loaf of millet bread, retailing at $5.99.

Needless to say, I’ve been consuming a slice of millet bread almost every day.  It’s delicious with butter.  Trish bought me the millet/zucchini version.

I’m not sure if this “wonder food” is keeping the cancer away, but I am sure that it’s keeping Trish out of my hair.

The Rising and Falling of My Boobs

By Laura Yeager

I first started stuffing my bra with cotton balls.  This was in third grade.  I was wearing a training bra--the kind with the elasticized cloth cup to accommodate breast growth.  I didn't overdo it; just a couple of cotton balls to make me look like I had something.

After I grew breasts, I stopped stuffing my bra.  In my teens, I had perfect breasts--white, smooth and firm.  34Cs.

I did go through a Victoria's Secret phase when I bought the bras that increase your breasts by two cup sizes.  This was in my 20s and 30s.

In my mid-40s, I did away with Victoria Secret bras and moved into nylon sports bras.  At this point, I wanted to diminish my cup size, not maximize it.  I was a DD due a 40 pound, middle-age weight gain.

At 48, something dreadful happened.  I got breast cancer.  To rid myself of it, I had a double mastectomy.  And guess what?  I had my plastic surgeon put in size B implants.

How things change....I wanted smaller breasts, not bigger ones. 

Things were fine and dandy for five years, and then, the cancer came back. 

I lost my remaining right breast tissue, and the surgeon removed the implant.

This is where I am now--lopsided.

I've been stuffing my right bra cup with a sock--a gym sock.  This cotton foot apparel became irritating--scratchy on my breast wound.

I have a prescription to get an official breast prosthesis, but I'm not ready for that yet.

To replace the annoying sock, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a polyester breast pad.  But this too is irritating.

Believe it or not, there are actually fake boobs at the thrift store.  Used fake boobs.  Ten bucks a set.  I thought of buying them for a second, but only for a second.

Now, I'm wearing a lightly padded bra and not putting anything in the right cup.  The cup often "deflates," sinks in on itself.  I know this looks strange, but I don't care.

I'm in the state of shock because of what I've been through.  Butchered.

When will I get that official prosthesis?

Maybe never.

Maybe I'll wear my new body with pride.  Why do I have to pretend there's something there when there's not?

I've come a long way.

I guess my breasts don't define me anymore.  They're just body parts, like feet.  Actually, they're artifacts of suffering.  Of survival.  They are proof that I did not succumb to the Big C.

They're fine the way they are--completely mismatched.

And I'm alive.

And that's all that matters.