But, I was being treated at the cancer center and that meant I needed a team. So I met with an energetic surgeon with a penchant for drawing pictures with Sharpies (his comparison of lobules to broccoli was quite helpful), a young, beautiful, Chinese oncologist with instincts of a Jedi, and a charming radiologist of the cashmere-clad horsey set from Napa.
Being sick is hard work. Metaphorically speaking, I was transported to a labor camp not a cell.
My mother, a three-time cancer patient, compares it to being Shanghaied -- arriving doped and alone in a foreign country. And in this new world, where you don't speak the language, you're expected to get your masters degrees in medicine, financial planning, healthcare administration, and existential philosophy.
Your will and your advance healthcare directive are due immediately.
And, most devastating, you need to plan for someone to take care of your dog. Who will understand that he likes to go out three times before 10am. That the words "indoor bark" will turn down his volume. That he loves to catch his small, orange Chunky ball in his mouth, and that he needs to have the fur between his toes checked for foxtails every time he comes in from a walk.
It was too much. But it all had to be done. By me.
The lumpectomy went well.
The pathology report did not.
Waiting for My Pathology Report
I had cancer. Two kinds, my surgeon told me as he read the report just coming in on his laptop: Ductal Carninoma in Situ (DCIS) and Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC).
Silence, as he stared at the screen.
"Well, obviously I'm disappointed," I said.
Finally he looked at me and said, "You're going to have your feelings. But it's better to know."
His lack of drama was reassuring, like a plumber telling you the clog is on your property, not the city's. The old oak is going to have to come down. Sad, yes, but do-able. Let's get to work.
But things got complicated fast. I was scheduled for a lymph node removal to see if the cancer had spread. But a pre-op MRI showed suspicious tissue in my other breast.
My Jedi oncologist postponed my surgery and ordered another MRI. It showed probable cancer in my other breast. Another core needle biopsy confirmed it was cancer.
Now I was bombarded with decisions as I felt rogue cells metastasizing with each passing second. And here's the truth that Pinktober doesn't convey, breast cancer is grotesque.
Bilateral mastectomy with or without concurrent reconstruction. Implant rupture. Tissue rotation. Nipple preservation. Areola tattooing. Massive scaring. Excessive bleeding. Breast prostheses. Flap failure. And "the chance that the cosmetic result will not be as pleasing as expected."
Breast Cancer is Not Pretty
After hours of conversations with my mom (my long distance guru) and my sister (my nearby caregiver), I decided to stay with my local team in Grass Valley, a small, rural community in Northern California.
I had two surgeries for lumpectomies, lymph node removal, and a reexcision. My prognosis worsened with each new pathology update. But after my second surgery, things turned around. My cancer was stage 1. It hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, and I didn't need chemo.
(This is for other breast cancer patients. Feel free to skip. I had LCIS, DCIS, ILC, ER positive, PR positive, HER Negative, BRCA negative, and an ONCO Score of 10.)
A cancer diagnosis is not like in the movies, that scene when the doctor explains the whole situation to the character and the audience. A full diagnosis comes in pieces, from labs across the country that lose your tissue sample and take weeks to respond, from MRIs that are unreadable for no known reason and need to be re-administered, from corporations who own the rights to genetic testing that your insurance first has to approve. It takes weeks, and for me months, to get the full picture.
Surprisingly, I managed the surgeries and the six weeks of radiation pretty well. I was exhausted and in pain, but I was functioning. I posted on this blog for a while and was able to make art and mount several shows for the DANK artist collective I was in.
Sadly, the nurse who told me cancer could spread to relationships more aggressively than to cells turned out to be right. Not everyone wants to deal with your cancer. And it becomes clear in a terrifying way that you are only the protagonist in your own life. To others, you're a bit player, easily dropped.
The flip side of this free fall is that people surprise you in unexpected and beautiful ways.
But, to be clear, I'm not saying "Cancer is a gift."
This concept enrages me because it victimizes patients who are scared, hopeless, angry, and alone. I felt myself butting up against it (and colluding with it) as I told people about my diagnosis. I always had a sunny lilt in my voice. I'll be fine, I told them. It was phony, but it was an easier narrative to say out loud, and marketing companies had done an excellent job laying the base for how pretty and empowering breast cancer can be.
Former breast cancer patient (I also hate the word "survivor") Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America gets it right in her article "Smile: You've Got Cancer," when she notes...
In the mainstream of breast cancer culture, there is very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, and few comments about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasized cases, it is the "treatments", not the disease, that cause the immediate illness and pain. In fact, the overall tone is almost universally upbeat.
When I couldn't put on that upbeat performance, I isolated. It's why I stopped blogging. And why It's been so hard to start again.
Is this helpful?
The truth is I had the "good kind of cancer" and it is a nightmare.
It's been over two years since my treatment ended and I am still struggling. Granted, fibromyalgia exacerbated my pain and my genetics have made my depression clinical. But this is what it means to have cancer. You always have it, even when technically you don't. As they say on the breast cancer message boards when they quote The Eagles' Hotel California, "You can check out any time, but you can never leave."
Writing this is post is a sign that I'm feeling better, though I still feel removed from many of the things I used to love. I've had a crippling case of "why bother." But today I feel well enough to Photoshop a selfie for you so you'll believe that I'm on the mend...
Moira McLaughlin: Self Portrait with Cancer
I don't know if Dog Art Today will remain the same or how often I will post. And I am warning you now that I don't feel neutral about the man in the White House, so Trump voters feel free to delete me from your inbox. But I'm here. I've missed connecting with you. And the dog I saved five years ago has saved me every day since I was kidnapped.
I look forward to sharing more from my new perspective.
P.S. If you can't remember the last time you had a mammogram, call and schedule yours right now. My surgeon is right. It's better to know.
DANK, our ten-person artists collective, has a new home at the Miners Foundry in Nevada City. The historic building, established in 1855, destroyed by fire in 1856, and rebuilt in 1859, is a cultural gem in our Northern California gold rush town.
We are so honored to assist in energizing the building with art and cultural programming, and to continue the legacy of two artists, David Osborn and Charles Woods, the visionaries who helped preserve the Foundry during their lifetimes
Our premiere show, DANK at Osborn/Woods, opens this weekend, January 16 - 18, during the 13th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival, the largest environmental festival of its kind. This year's theme is A Wild Life.
It's been pretty wild getting ready for DANK...
Please come by and say hi.
Miners Foundry Cultural Center
325 Spring St.
Nevada City, CA 95959
Friday, January 16th, 4 - 8pm
Saturday, January 17th, 8:30am - 2pm and 4pm - 8pm
Sunday, January 18th, 8:30am - 2pm and 4 - 6pm.
In the morning, Steffen Snell of Foxhound Espresso will be pouring his awesome coffee and in the evenings, we'll have wine.
More information at DANK.
P.S. This event aims for zero waste. Please bring your own mug, mason jar, or wine glass. More ideas for greening the festival at Wild & Scenic's website.
Tyler Foote Finds: A Compendium of My Ignorance, a two-year collaboration with my dog, Tyler Foote, documenting my inability to identify a single natural object from our walks (except the $1 bill), was conceived to be an ephemeral installation for the DANK Inaugural. Some of Tyler's "finds" have already become kindling and compost.
But friend and professional photographer, Jim Pyle, beautifully photographed it for me. And prints are now available as digital downloads, $50 each, via PayPal including credit cards.
And, I've just discovered Framebridge, a brilliant new company that custom frames photographs and art for all-inclusive low rates from $79 - $149.
That means the stress-inducing, cost-prohibitive elements are FREE!
Insane. Right?! Take a look at their video....
The Framebridge website is easy to navigate and lets you envision the dimensions...
You can view 27 different frame styles. Some of my favorites...
Print and frame whatever size you want, mat or no mat. You only pay for the frame. Again, prices range from $79 - $149. And there are Instagram 5" x 5" minis for $39 that you can upload directly from your phone via the Framebridge App.
Dog Art Today readers receive $10 off their first purchase.
Use coupon code: DOGARTTODAY
(Note: I receive compensation for referrals and the code does not apply to mini frames.)
Go ahead and use the promo code to frame your own photos or art if you'd like.
Order before December 12 to receive your art by December 24.
To purchase a Tyler Foote Finds: A Compendium of My Ignorance by Moira McLaughlin, photo by Jim Pyle, ($50 for a high-resolution digital file) click on the PayPal button below the image:
Email me if you have any questions.
xo, Moira and Tyler Foote