Note: This blog post contains personal, medical information that may be upsetting for some readers. As always, please immediately consult your physician for any concerns about your health. LMH
Back in the day, when news happened in my life I instinctively turned to a screen to share it. First blogging and then social media became my ways of processing the things that happened to me. I believe this was largely because of the immediate rush of love and support that often accompanied these posts. I could share something that was challenging me and feel surrounded by a liferaft of well wishes.
Somewhere in the last few years, that changed. I can’t pinpoint exactly when or why it happened. But these days, when something happens in my “real world”, I’m far more likely to linger with it privately before sharing it publicly. I don’t begrudge the many awesome communicators living their lives in the company of friends on places like Instagram. They bless many with their transparency and accompaniment. But it’s all felt overwhelming to me of late. I’ve turned instead back to private journaling, long conversations with my husband, and texting or phone calls with dear friends to work out my inner monologue.
For the last few months, I’ve been privately engaged in the start of a journey that I’ve decided to share publicly. On Ash Wednesday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (invasive lobular carcinoma) after a few weeks of medical appointments and testing. I’ll skip straight to the hopeful part of this story and share that as someone who is otherwise healthy, I have an excellent prognosis for a full recovery. Thank goodness for the research and great strides that have been made in treating a disease that still takes too many lives. According to the CDC:
Each year in the United States, about 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,400 in men. About 42,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer. Black women have a higher rate of death from breast cancer than White women.Source: Centers for Disease Control
Part of the reason I feel compelled to share this story is that I know too many women (myself included) who too often place healthcare low on our lists of priorities. We think, “I’ll go get that checked out after XYZ work commitment” or “I’ll make my next doctor’s appointment after I lose those five pounds I picked up at Christmas.” Oh, the games we play with ourselves…
Longtime friends will know that in 2008 I was diagnosed with and successfully treated for Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, a different, less complicated form of early-stage breast cancer. Back then, I had surgery, six weeks of daily radiation, and a four-year course of Tamoxifen. My first book, The Handbook for Catholic Moms, was largely written during that time. Our eldest had started high school and the youngest was an eighth grader. There was never a time after our earliest appointments that I saw that diagnosis as anything frightening. It was more like a project I needed to complete, something to check off of my to-do list.
Because I went through that though, I do tend to pay attention to my body. Along with having regular mammograms and doing self-examinations, I have watched the contours of my changing, maturing body carefully. I do this with a sense of marvel for the broad hips that carried two boys and the poochy tummy that’s the perfect shelf to hold a grandbaby. I’ve traced my fingers over the small scar where a lumpectomy was performed and tiny radiation “target” tattoos on my chest and abdomen that look like five small, black freckles.
So in January, when I looked in the mirror and noticed that my breasts looked different to me, I initially didn’t think much of the change. My right breast, the side that had been treated, looked smaller. I know that this can happen with aging. I have two distinctly sized feet (one half a size larger), so maybe this was just normal aging. A few days later, I noticed that the nipple on that breast was beginning to invert. I also noticed that the skin surrounding the nipple had taken on an odd texture that resembled the stretch marks I’d had during my second pregnancy. Something didn’t feel right.
Next, I did what I know we are really not supposed to do. Instead of calling my doctor, I went to Google and began plugging in my symptoms. I hesitated to even call them “symptoms”. I felt perfectly fine. My boob just looked weird. The search results were sufficiently confusing yet alarming enough for me to schedule an appointment with my primary care physician. I’m so glad that I did. My normal mammogram wouldn’t have taken place until June. Things might have turned out differently if I didn’t trust that little voice in my head that said, “Do something.”
The last six weeks have been a flurry of appointments. An MRI confirmed areas of “enhancement” and triggered a biopsy procedure. That biopsy (I’ll spare you the details – it was hard!) provided the initial diagnosis and pointed, blessedly, to unlikely lymph node involvement. I’ve since seen the breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon to discuss options for the recommended mastectomy and potential reconstruction. We will see the oncologist on March 20 to understand the treatment plan, which could involve chemotherapy and endocrine treatments. I will likely have surgery in mid-April.
One happy bit of news in all of this is that the doctors did approve a writing trip that I have planned for next week to the Dominican Republic. I’ll be sharing about that at Catholic Mom. But I spent last week canceling all of my upcoming speaking engagements. That was the hardest part of this so far. I love what I do. But I don’t want to leave event organizers hanging if I’m not well enough to serve effectively.
Proactively clearing my calendar of my favorite work led to a few moments of despair. “Does this mean I’m retired?” I wondered. I let that pity party last about a day before reminding myself that I am a woman of strong faith. I believe God has a perfect plan for my life and work. And I’ve lived long enough to know that most of the awesome things that I’ve experienced to date came as beautiful, unanticipated surprises. Part of fully engaging in my treatment of this diagnosis will be focusing on my spiritual and mental health. Limiting professional commitments enables me the time and energy to do that.
At many points in the last few weeks, I have counted my blessings. We have access to top-notch healthcare and my income is secondary. Far too many women who face similar health challenges have limited insurance coverage, must work to feed their families, or have no one around them to help with their care. Me complaining about not being able to work feels like a petulant toddler whose been told she can’t have her cookie. I’m done complaining. I will use that energy instead to heal well and then to understand how I can be of help to others.
I’ve decided to blog about this journey here as I can. I’m not doing this for any reasons other than that writing is part of my healing process and that I’m hoping someone might be helped by what I will share. For example, this week I was blessed by a number of women who openly wrote on social media or message boards about reconstruction. Hearing their thoughts and seeing the images they bravely shared has helped me near a big decision. Let me say here that whatever we decide about reconstruction is a personal decision. There is not one “right” answer. And it’s not a decision that I’m making lightly.
I don’t want to become the “breast cancer blogger”. As I can, I’ll continue to share here about the things I’ve come to love… books, movies, travel, and nature. In my Senior Scholar program at UCLA, one of my fellow students warned me, “Don’t become the disease.” If I tend to overshare, I hope you’ll bear with me or temporarily tune out.
One great gift of entering into this is the ability to still myself from the normal pace I keep and to be home more with my amazing husband and best friend. I will know more after I return from this upcoming trip and will share after our appointment on the 20th. Until then, please join me in praying for and sending hope to the many families, some of yours among them, who are facing medical, financial, or personal challenges. I’m going to open the comments here and will answer questions as I can.
Thank you, in advance, for walking this journey with me.
Please know that I am praying for you. Listen to people sharing, then follow your own heart.
I have recently received a life altering diagnosis so I am praying from my own poverty where at she 70, I have learned that this is where Jesus resides.
Be blessed Lisa.
Kelly Ann Lynch says
The Lord has chosen you. Thank you for saying, “yes.” In the sharing of your story, you will inspire others by offering them hope, an integral part of this journey. I chose the “Latissimus Dorsi Myocutaneous (LD) Flap” option which used back muscle, and I chose the “gummy bear” implants which feel as natural to me as my regular breasts once did.
Catherine Crino says
Best wishes and prayers for a full recovery!
Kathy Rayburn says
My prayers are with you and your family as you move through this.
I, too, am a breast cancer survivor undergoing the same treatment you endured, and probably during the same time, as your first BC diagnosis with lumpectomy, radiation and Tamoxifen.
Mine was discovered during a routine yearly mammogram.
This really brings home the importance of knowing our bodies and listening to the signs. Hmmm, my daily mottos are “listen to Him and Do whatever he tells you”.
I’m reading the Lenten Devotional “Memento Mori” and I’m loving it! Not sure if it is too soon in your journey for me to share one of my quotes with you that came to me during my journaling, so here goes. I know you are a woman of faith and I hope it gives you comfort rather than fear.
“With each breath I take I am one breath closer to my death and sitting at the feet of my Lord.”
I am continually being called Martha, yet I long to be Mary.
I am a deacon wife from The Deacons Wife Retreat you lead in Boise a few years ago.
Angela Sealana says
I look forward to learning and praying along with you, friend. Really appreciate this reflection.
Nancy H says
Lisa, thank you for sharing your journey. I too went through invasive lobular and you are so right about clearing your calendar and concentrating on the mental, spiritual and physical. It’s like an extended retreat filled with many blessings and course correction changes. Truly your family takes it harder than you do but again the love is so strong and the outpouring of many prayers boost you at every turn. Enjoyed your talks when you came to Savannah ???
Deb Palsea says
Praying with you Lisa and Greg and the boys.. Walking in faith with you and all involved in your care.
This too will be an inspiration to others, and as always, remind us once more that God already has a perfect plan for us. Abundant blessing’s overflowing with comfort, strength, and peace. ??
I’ll remember you in my morning rosary Lisa, during this time of surgery, treatment and healing.
I own a couple of your books and especially love The Grace of Yes. It’s my favorite.
Elaine Turner says
Thank you for sharing. I will pray for you, your family and your doctors as you begin this road to recovery. You got this!
Lynne Butterworth says
What a shock to us and to you, I’m sure God has something great in mind for you to do with this latest challenge. ??
Thank you for taking us on this journey with you. My sisters in faith in Klamath Falls who may also be following you after your retreat here last year may also see this, and I’ll be sure the retreat leader knows. We shall most kindly and certainly pray for you. ???
As you pray, I’m sure you will pray for others with breast cancer (men too!). Please also remember these women in my life in your prayers, because I’m sure the Lord will send you special graces for this time. These women demonstrate both hope, and eventual acceptance of whatever God wills for each of us:
? My grandmother Hilda, who was born in the late 1890s, had breast cancer and a double mastectomy in the early 1950s. And then lost her husband. She lived to to age 91, to see her first granddaughters and great grandchildren!
? My friend Cathy, who is about my age, has battled breast cancer for years, and who is now on hospice care in her home surrounded by family. We met through singing and a mutual love of music. Last week her friends from parish and secular choirs all assembled to practice the music she had chosen for her celebration of life. It’s the first time I ever rehearsed songs of farewell and resurrect before the person dies! How special to have an interfaith choir for her celebration????? May she sing with the choir of angels when the Lord calls her???
? For my friend Jo, who practiced and taught radiology for her entire career, recently cared for her son with lymphoma, and learned last year that she has inoperable stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. So many friends have been praying for her. The hormone therapy that initially was over-prescribed and caused unpleasant side effects was adjusted this year to a lower dose at the recommendation of her nephew, a pharmacist. At her last checkup, her oncologist said her cancer was shrinking and he could not explain why!!! We could. God gave her that nephew, the courage to visit him when she was sick, and many friends to beg the Lord to keep her with us a bit longer. She will be 84; we will treasure her every time we see her. I thank God she is better now, and able to enjoy life again!
? Yesterday I just learned our choir director’s 91 year old mother has a lump in her breast and will have surgery March 23. Please pray that it is benign or, if malignant, has not spread. And that she makes it though surgery at her age. If it is God’s will that she join her minister husband in the eternal life, Milly has lived a long life of faithful service. And for Deb, for the strength to be her mom’s caretaker through this difficult time. You stayed with Deb when you led our retreat, and may have met Milly. ?
They say s/he who sings prays twice. I believe they who suffer have their prayers heard infinitely according to God’s will. May your condition be more bearable with your offering of it, and enable you to continue to minister to others, wherever you are! ?????
Pat Gohn says
Dear Lisa— I will continue to pray for you daily. I have walked this road and while mastectomy and reconstruction were difficult choices I faced in my past, I found that the mastectomy was an easy medical choice to make; but reconstruction (and the options therein) is a very personal choice, and that was more difficult. There are pros and cons to weigh. I know you are an excellent researcher and with Greg’s loving support you’ll find the best path.
Our Lady of Hope, pray for us!
St. Peregrine, pray for us!
Christine Hebert says
Lynne Butterworth says
All my little pasted emojis on my last comment became question marks! I don’t question your decision, God’s will or any of my prayer requests. So you may ignore them, edit them out, or look upon them as our continual search to discern God’s will!
Our thoughts and prayers are with you at cmomc. https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/catholic_motherhood
Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
Know you are loved and prayed for
Kathi Gallup says
Thank you Lisa for sharing your journey. I’m sure you are saving lives by being so open and reminding all of us to be aware and act when needed. You are a beautiful and strong women my dear. ?? You are in my prayers.
Kathi Gallup says
Sorry… my comment was not supposed to have ??? (I’m so old!)
Roxanna Stevens says
You will be in my prayers…I’m here for you. I walked with my mom on her breast cancer journey. Hugs.
Huggggg Your being brave and sharing can help save others. God knows your heart dear friend.
My prayers are with you! We are here for you! Hug Love you!
Praying for you and your family, I have been a follower of yours for many years now. I’m nowhere near as eloquent as the ladies who have written above but know that I am including you in my daily rosaries. ??????
Catherine Breheny says
Hi Lisa you are in my daily prayers. I have been battling cancer for a couple of years. It is God’s Grace that gets me through each and every day
You already know of my prayers. But I wanted to make a comment about your feeling like a toddler who can’t have a cookie. It’s a bad comparison, because you’re equating the grief you feel at having to give up work you love and that blesses others with a child being denied a treat.
It’s grief, and you are allowed to have it and to express it.
And I know you’ve already had more than your share of grief, different grief but still grief, in the past couple of years.
You’re not acting like a spoiled 2-year-old here.
I pray that you first enjoy the DR trip you have so anticipated, and then that your health care team gives you the best of care through your surgery and treatment—so you can be back at the work you so dearly love.
Ven. Patrick Peyton, St. Peregrine, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us!
Walking with you in prayer.
Denise-Marie Martin says
Lisa – I am sorry that you have to walk this bumpy road. Due to breast cancer in my left breast, I elected to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction in 2020. I have not regretted the decision, despite some complications and the loss. I will remember you in my daily Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. I always felt God was in control; it sounds like you do, too. That is the biggest plus of all! Blessings, Denise-Marie
Dear Lisa – I’m so sorry to learn of this obstacle for you, but keeping Our Lord and Our Lady close, you’ll be fine. St Peregrine has never failed me when I have asked him to intercede for friends of mine who got the dreaded diagnosis of cancer. He has helped to heal my friends. God bless you. Ora Pro Nobis _+JMJ+
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur says
So sorry that you are going through all of this. I will be praying with you on your journey.
Thank you for sharing your journey. Prayers for health and healing.
Stephanie Higgins says
I’ll be praying for you. I, too, had invasive lobular carcinoma, diagnosed in 2018. I didn’t have to do chemo or radiation as my oncotype dx score was low. I did have a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
Daria Sockey says
Lisa, you’ve been added to my daily intention at vespers for those dealing with illness. I love your confident attitude and trust of God. You’ll go a long way with that.
Carol Koppenheffer says
Prayers for your complete healing of all traces of cancer! ?
Stefanie Battaglia says
Thank you for sharing and keeping you in prayer.
Tim Prince says
I am so sorry to hear this, Lisa. You are certainly being added to my prayer list. I have been dealing with something similar over the past 9 months. I am not a blogger (though sometimes wishing I were), and the thought of blogging about this from the beginning seems exhausting.
In any event take care of your physical needs first because everyone else (including God) has your back. DM me if you want any more details. Adam
does not know about this.
Lisa, I am praying for you! Your Handbook for Catholic Moms is one of my favorite “mom” books!
Rorie Baker says
You’re a strong woman, Lisa, who can take this on and beat it. I watched my sister, Clare, deal with the most common and aggressive breast cancer. She was in complete remission for 7 years. When it came back to other places in her body, she took it all on as fully as she could. She was stage four for 4 1/2 years. Her oncologist wrote to us about her amazing strength and a timeframe that she thought was miraculous. She taught a class at Northwestern 5 weeks before she died. She was a P.A. I’m telling you all this because you and Clare have so much in common and I don’t doubt that you and Greg will take on whatever God has for you and be stronger because of it. I love you, Honey!
Chris Stepien says
Praying for you, Lisa! Reading your story sent me on a flashback to my wife, Ellen’s breast cancer experience. You’re right, it’s faith that will get you through this. God bless you.
Kaye Park Hinckley says
Many prayers and lots of understanding.