When it comes to cancer, fear can kill

September 15, 1992|By ERMA BOMBECK

On Thursday, April 23, I checked my calendar to find tw notations: Andy's birthday present (my son) and teeth cleaned: 2 p.m. I crossed off both of them and penciled in, "Modified-radical mastectomy: 12:30 p.m."

I was home by 10 a.m. April 25 -- cancer-free, with a 95 percent chance of staying that way.

Talking about my cancer is not something I want to make a career out of. You would never be reading this column were it not for the fact that I attended a cancer benefit luncheon (before my surgery) where a woman confessed to having a lump on her breast, but was terrified to find out whether it was malignant.

We all know about fear. We know it lives within all of us. We know it doesn't listen to reason, paralyzes your ability to think and expands upon command. We know it's contagious and can be spread from one person to another without physical contact.

I had a great advantage. Three years ago I wrote "I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise," a book on children surviving cancer. For a couple of years, I walked in their world with a notebook and a tape recorder. I wrote down what they told me, but their courage and their optimism unnerved me, and I knew if I were faced with what they had, I couldn't do it.

I was wrong. The voices of those little people sustained me. "Don't get so comfortable dying that you forget to live." "Would you be happier if we cried all the time?" "If you don't have humor, you won't survive. It'll bother people, but use it anyway."

They were right about that. It's people on the outside who have problems with cancer. Some can't even use the word. A friend called and said, "I hope that cancer mess is all cleaned up and behind you." I broke up. "It's not an oil spill, for crying out loud."

Because I am limited by space in a newspaper, I set down in story form some raw, unexpected feelings I had just after the surgery. It is scheduled to appear on the pages of Redbook magazine in the October issue. It should come as a surprise to no onethat the humor that has sustained me all these years through marriage and raising kids kicked in. Call it black humor. Call it anything you want, but it got my family and me through 20 miles of bad road.

My reason for going public is twofold. First, cancer is a reality that begs for perspective. A breast was not something I listed on my resume, and I defy any reader to point out a column written since April 23 and say, "That one has a single-breasted feel to it." Second, don't kid around with your health. Get your head out of the sand and get a mammogram regularly. Early detection could save your life.

When I finally made my dental appointment, I said to Kay (a hygienist who recently had a double mastectomy), "Notice anything different about me?" She scrutinized me carefully and said, "New roots?"

Now, that's depressing.

Universal Press Syndicate

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