I am sitting in the waiting room while the radiologist marks the exact location of a tumor deep inside the left breast of my wife. I am worried and hopeful at the same time. Yesterday morning Edith placed my finger on her breast; I pressed it gently, and felt a small hard region. Her lovable breast suddenly turned into a sick organ. I kissed the spot, while a fear of cancer burst into my consciousness.

She is now in the radiology section of the hospital. I sit outside waiting and worrying. I know the procedure. I imagine, her breast is being pressed between two plates of the X-ray machine. The doctor is getting ready to place a marking needle inside her breast to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor for the surgeon. My mouth got dry when the radiologist explained this procedure to both of us. The technique is merciless, but necessary. The marker will lead the surgeon's knife to the exact location of the tumor.

I expect to see her pale and deeply wounded to be pushed out in a wheelchair. Instead, she is walking out quite crisply. Edith is pale but alert. On the television monitor she saw the entire process. Now the tumor has to be removed. Much later we will know whether it was cancerous or not.

We are at the surgery now. Edith insists that I go home. When I went back to the hospital Edith was still half anesthetized. She is pale. When she wakes up I will take her home and put her violated body gently to bed. I only wish I could greet her with good news, "Your tumor was not malignant." Hopefully, this has to wait for the pathologist's report until next week. In the mean time, I tell myself that the worst part is over.

We were optimistic, for Edith's mother had several tumors removed in her younger days, non was malignant. Day after day, no phone call came from the surgeon. Doctors seldom tell patients bad news over the telephone. I learned this nine years ago, when I had my cancerous prostate removed. One week after surgery, Edith walked into the surgeon's office confidently, smiling, feeling well. Then came the blow; "cancer".

She became dazed. I held her, the world stopped for a few seconds. The doctors soothing words passed by her ears. Only the single word "cancer", "cancer," "cancer," kept pounding in my mind and I think in hers. The surgeon's reassuring words didn't help her. She began crying. The doctor has seen many stunned crying women in his long distinguished practice. He helped Edith on her feet, saying, "I am sending you to a very good oncologist for a second opinion. You will be OK. We will look after you."

Unfortunately, Edith's tumor was classified as "lobular invasive cancer". It has a rather bad prognosis compared with other cancers.[1]. More waiting. The specimen is examined at the Health Sciences Laboratory for hormone reception. Three long weeks later we are both invited to the oncologist's office. He gave Edith three options. One is, "to assume that your have no cancer anymore, the tumor is removed, no further treatment is necessary, other than a daily pill for prevention. The second is, to assume that the cancer cells spread. In that case, either radiation or chemo-therapy is applied as a precaution. Your third option is radical mastectomy, with the removal of your lymph-nodes. Examination of the lymph-nodes is currently the best indicator whether your cancer has spread or not, and what type of treatment, if any, you would require. Statistically, the survival rate in all three cases is about the same."

Another heavy burden; the patient must make the choice. Much publicity was given recently to a research study, showing no difference between the survival rates, whether patients chose only the removal of the tumor or radical mastectomy. After two long weeks of reading about cancer and consulting with former victims, Edith was back in surgery. She chose radical mastectomy.

Next to Edith's bed lies a very sick patient. Debby had her breast removed two years ago. Her cancer reoccurred, now she is getting chemotherapy intravenously. She coughs and vomits frequently. Debby's is in very poor condition which depresses Edith. Her sleep is disturbed, yet she needs rest to recover. Five days later we left the hospital. Edith cried as we passed Debby's bed. The poor girl could hardly breathe. She gave us a faint smile then closed her eyes again as we said good bye.

Next week the drainage tubes will be removed from Edith's mutilated chest and armpit. We are again waiting for good news that the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes. Things never seem to go as planned, I had to take her back to the hospital, the suction apparatus sprung a leak. The nurse removed it, and bandaged her incision. Back home again, waiting.

The good news came one week after surgery. The lymph nodes are negative! The cancer did not spread, her chances to live a healthy life is now secured. I have no problem with her disfigurement. She readily asked for my help while struggling with the suction tubes and bandage, and I accepted her barren chest without any trauma. We also have nine years experience we both and have learned to live with the after effect of my prostatectomy; lack of full erection. Now, we will learn to live with her flat chest as well. These are often the sorrowful consequences of radical cancer treatment.

Today, we came back from Debby's funeral. Early detection and treatment saved Edith's life. We are lucky. But the worst has happened to Debby and her family.



[1] She has learned it from the excellent books she borrowed from the Manitoba Cancer Institute. Canadian Breast Cancer Series, by  Nadine Shannon, Leanne Hibbert, Clement Lang Five Volumes. Published by The Y.M.Y.W.C.A. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Hignell Printing.