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Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

The day the coffeemaker died


I’ll never forget the Sunday morning my coffeemaker died. It was in December 2015.
Coffee is my Number One essential wake-up mechanism. Its scent, its flavor, its wonder. It’s my comfort in a cup, the only way to welcome a new day.
This was pure domestic tragedy. Then it suddenly wasn’t.
I was fiddling with the coffeemaker, trying to provoke it, wishing it into productivity, when my bathrobe brushed against my breast. My heart skipped a beat and then seemed to drop to the floor. A lump – a large, hard, undeniable lump.
I’ve always been a kind of wait-a-minute person, usually trying to hold panic at bay and even sometimes succeeding at that as we shepherded our children into adulthood. I also tend to be a kind of private person despite the fact that for many years I’ve been sharing some of my thoughts with readers – but only some.
Back to that Sunday morning. There was nothing to be done until Monday. I reminded myself that I’d had annual mammograms for years, done self-exams, all the right things. How could this happen? Was this an assassin lying in wait for me? Was I the one in eight women who would be assaulted by breast cancer?
I looked at my smiling husband. Why worry him when I basically had just a lump and no knowledge, no information? Why wreck his hard-earned weekend?
I just couldn’t tell him. I simply said, “Let’s go out for breakfast.” We did, and we bought a new coffeemaker on the way home, the mini-tragedy solved.
So, Sunday turned into Monday and I was on the phone at 8 sharp to my doctor’s office and in the office an hour later.
After I shared the news with my husband, he went with me to St. Luke’s Regional Breast Center and sat with other anxious husbands in the waiting room while I had a mammogram.

The news, when it came, was not so bad. I had a benign growth, so it was not as difficult to share the news with my children. Still, it did require surgery, but that could be delayed until after Christmas – and I could offer them a hopeful prognosis.
Then came the surgery – and a second and a third, all within four months – after a tumor was found in my other breast – this one small, but malignant.
After a long conversation with my surgeon, I decided to forego radiation and chemotherapy, because the cancer had been caught so early. So, for five years I took a little white pill every morning and put up with some pesky side effects. That little pill tends to weaken bones so I had to have a Prolia shot every six months.
This has proved to be exactly the right thing for me to do. It might not be for other women who may require more drastic measures, depending on the type of cancer. If my surgeon had insisted, I would have followed her recommendation.
This past August I had my final blood tests and diagnostic mammogram. After the radiologist had read it and the nurse came to tell me the happy results, she handed me a little bracelet with a couple of charms, one of them a pink ribbon.
I was unaccountably happy with that unexpected gift. I wanted to shout to the world that I was whole again. Instead, the tears blotted out the world. I was so lucky to have survived.
But now, I’m sharing this deeply personal experience in hopes it will encourage others to look after their health, to have regular mammograms, keep regular doctor’s appointments, talk frankly with the doctor and follow orders.
Admittedly, it was a lucky accident that alerted me to the more dangerous tumor, but I like to think it would have been caught soon, allowing me to have avoided more extreme treatment.
So National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has special meaning for me this year – and I am happily wearing that bracelet, for myself and for all those who can, and should, contribute to their own survival. Others, too, can choose life.