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Breast cancer: the second time around

I haven’t cried since I found out I have breast cancer. Again.

And that’s weird, because I cry at dog food commercials, videos of soldiers coming home and every single Broadway musical first act finale.

But not this.

I just kept thinking: twice. I’ve had this TWICE. What are the odds? That’s tough to say. It depends on your age, your tumor size and hormonal makeup, plus a million other things. The Cleveland Clinic estimates between 3% and 15%, based on my previous cancer and treatment.

And no, my breast cancers are not connected. No, I don’t have any genetic markers. No, it can’t be traced to lifestyle or exposure to something … we just don’t know.

And in addition to having some non-cancer-responsive tear ducts, I’m also plagued with non-concern about the how and why it got there in the first place. It was there. Now it’s not. That’s what I’m focusing on.

Kathrine Nero takes a selfie at the Cancer center where she learned she had breast cancer.
I took this selfie on the day I had my mammogram. Just days later, I’d learn I had breast cancer.

When the radiologist gave us the results, my husband and I didn’t need the tissues on the end table. We knew. This wasn’t our first rodeo, after all. I have lost count of the number of biopsies I’ve had over the years. Many have been benign. This one was not.

“You have breast cancer.”

But I know how it works. You have the biopsy and results come back in a couple of days. If they’re benign, they call you with the good news and tell you not to come in. If they’re not, well, there you are in an office with a box of tissues, listening to someone tell you, “You have breast cancer.” I’ve been lucky enough to hear that twice.

I’m a planner, so immediately I wanted a surgery date. But this was not that simple. I had ductal carcinoma, and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is what they call pre-cancer. The good news is that both were slow-growing, so we could take our time.

It was six weeks before I had my bilateral mastectomy. And it felt twice that long.

Still, life goes on in the interim. Kids needed to be picked up from school, dishes needed to be washed, senior pictures needed to be taken. I remember being in the middle of a grocery store and thinking, “How many other people in here have cancer?” Because you know I wasn’t the only one. I had never thought about that before.

Learning about yourself and others

When you go through situations like this, you learn a lot. About yourself, and about other people.

There are mere acquaintances that step up in ways that are remarkable, and there are seemingly close friends who avoid you. I come from an extremely WASPy background. I understand. Sometimes when you’re uncomfortable, or you don’t know what to say or how to say it – saying nothing is the easiest solution.

I am so grateful for every message, every card, every delivery of flowers, wine, dinners or cookies. Especially the wine and the cookies. Having a situation like this weirdly restores your faith in humanity. And I’ll be sure to pay it forward.

A light at the end of the tunnel

During one of what seems like dozens of appointments to see doctors, another patient was gathering her things to leave the Cancer Center. She loudly proclaimed to no one in particular that she had hit her five-year cancer-free mark. And, she added, “I’ve beaten it twice.”

I think about her a lot. At one point, she was where I am now. And I can’t wait to be where she is – literally skipping out of the building, with cancer safely behind her.

If you’d like to read my Coffee Break with Kathrine newsletter to learn more about my journey, click here. And you can also sign up for my email list, where I talk about some non-cancery things, too: coffee, fun things to do, deep thoughts and the like. See you there!



Breast cancer: the second time around