CURVE means a couple of things to me: 1. Life threw me a curve ball. From the song “Stronger Together”: “Is it any wonder that I’m looking at you ~ when life throws a curve and I can’t find the nerve to swing through…” 2. There is a certain curve of my body that tried to kill me. And I killed it first, took it’s next door neighbor in the process and then got two new ones. So I celebrate. (I was just thinking how much more control I have over my body these days, and then I just realized I was eating an animal cracker while typing this. MOST of the time, I’m REALLY good about how I treat my body.)
In order to introduce my new record, I’d like to share the story that inspired it. My music is the expression of that story, a journey from discovery to recovery, from deconstruction to reconstruction – of both my body and my life. It’s a long one – so grab a drink, kick up your feet and get a load of this:
I’ve gotten an annual mammogram together with an ultrasound around the Holidays every year since turning 30. My Mom and Dad are both cancer survivors, so I’ve always been extra vigilant. I had considered doing a prophylactic mastectomy but since my parents tested negative for the BRCA 1&2 gene mutations that you may have read about (think Angelina Jolie), insurance wouldn’t cover it. My doctors also advised me to wait until after I had children so that I could breast feed, cautioning me against doing something so “drastic.” My twin daughters were born May 2009.
In early 2012, my gynecologist noticed some lumpiness in my right breast. “Yeah, I know about that – it feels like a cyst. I can move it around and it gets bigger or smaller depending upon where I am in my cycle,” I said. (I know …most of the guys are tuning out at this point in the story. But please keep reading you macho dude, because men get breast cancer too!) Dr. Margolin looked me straight in the eye and said “BUT -the lumpiness is asymmetrical.” In an abundance of caution, I was referred to a breast specialist/ surgical oncologist (Dr. V.) for an exam and ultrasound. Dr. V found nothing unusual in her exam but referred me for an MRI in March of 2012. IMPORTANT TO NOTE: If you have a first degree relative who has had breast cancer (or a strong family history), you can qualify for yearly MRI’s, alternating with yearly mammograms/ultrasounds so that you are screened every six months. My first MRI was clear, but I was told to come back every 3 months for a check up with Dr. V. I did as I was told. My December 2012 mammogram/ultrasound was clear.
In 2013 I was just getting back to my music career, touring once again after having devoted my time completely to raising my daughters, Jette & Perry. I got a horrible flu in January and was having a really hard time kicking it. I developed a lung infection and was on various rounds of antibiotics, steroids, cough medicines, and inhalers. I tried anything to be able to breathe, much less sing. Being a Mom had wreaked havoc on my immune system and I would lovingly refer to my girls as Petri and Dish.
In between tour dates and toddler birthday parties, I had my MRI on June 13, 2013. More than a week passed and I hadn’t received my results, so I called. I was told that they needed a copy of my latest mammogram to compare with the MRI to get an accurate read. Irritated that they didn’t take the initiative to procure these already, I ran around town picking up DVD’s and delivering them to the MRI facility so that I could finally get my results.
Another few days passed. I remember walking through Target on June 26, 2013 with my kids, holding both of their hands when my phone rang. I noticed it was Dr. V so I pressed the cell phone between my ear and my right shoulder so as not to lose my just turned 4 year olds in the toy section. I’m paraphrasing here: “Your MRI came back with some questionable results. There is no mass, but there are some abnormalities, so they are recommending that you come back in 6 months and get another MRI. Or if you really want peace of mind, you can biopsy. But, since nothing is showing up on your most recent ultrasound, I’m not sure what we would biopsy. We’d have to do a lot of poking around. By the way, I’m moving to Texas so I’m going to give you a referral to another surgeon with whom you can discuss your options. Call Pink Lotus.” Completely in shock, I looked at my daughters, removed the Tickle Me Elmo from Perry’s hand and the princess doll from Jette’s clutch and got the hell out of Target. I got in the car and feverishly dialed Pink Lotus. I was subjected to a recording that said something like “press this if you’re this, and that if you’re that, and hold please, and press this two times, do the hokey pokey, and then realize that no one is going to speak with you so leave a message after the tone.” I immediately called back Dr. V’s office and her assistant said she would get me an appointment. When she called back an hour later, I had an appointment…for JULY 26. ***Are you kidding me????*** I was NOT going to wait a MONTH to find out what was lurking in my breast, so I did what I usually do under such circumstances: I went rogue. I started dialing back lines (“If you’re a Dr., press 2” – I pressed 2), used connections that I’ve made in this city that I’ve called home my entire life, and I got an appointment for the next day with Dr. Taylor at Pink Lotus.
“I’m here to ease your mind” were some of the first words from Dr. T. “I read your MRI report- it’s very vague.” “Take them off,” I said. ” Just take ’em.” She looked at me with a reassuring smile, touched my hand, and said “Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let me do an ultrasound and see what’s going on here.” NOTHING showed up on the ultrasound. “Let’s get another high resolution mammogram. But our machine is broken so I’m going to have to refer you to another facility.” At this point, a familiar face walked into the room: Dr. P. – he was the radiologist who discovered cancer in both my mother and father. He had been giving me mammograms for years and had recently moved his practice to Pink Lotus. “Let’s get you that mammogram, but I also want to get another opinion on this MRI.” After Dr. T. left the room, Dr. P. spoke candidly. “Cindy, I want them to look for DCIS.” (DCIS stands for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. It is the very beginning stage of breast cancer, when it is “stuck” inside the milk ducts.)
Now an expert at pressing back lines and navigating annoying automated phone systems, I got a local radiologist to agree to stay late (on his birthday no less) to fit in one last mammogram. His words to me: “Take your foot off the emergency pedal. I don’t see anything on this mammogram to indicate DCIS.” I felt a little bit better.
My next day was spent picking up MRI records and taking them across town for another read. I wasn’t going to waste 3 days for a US mail. On Friday, June 28th, I got a call from Dr. T. The 2nd MRI reading recommended a biopsy, but this had to be done while I was in the MRI machine so that they could target the area in question. Unfortunately this facility AND the original MRI facility did not have the equipment, nor a qualified Dr. to perform this biopsy. So I took the film to a THIRD radiology facility and had to wait for another Dr. to once again review the MRI to find out if she could actually see the area of concern in order to be able to perform the biopsy. It was the Friday before the 4th of July. I had 3 days to make something happen. I did the rogue routine and got that appointment just in time. I didn’t have the patience to wait for Dr. T.’s administrative assistants to schedule it. But they thanked me profusely for doing their job.
My biopsy under MRI was July 3rd. I had to wait through the holiday weekend, until July 8th, to hear the words “You have cancer… BUT – you caught it at the earliest stage. It’s widespread DCIS, nuclear grade 3 (very aggressive), and you will need a mastectomy. It’s your choice whether you want to take off one or both.” Dr. T. was compassionate and candid, and I felt like we were both about to go through an incredible adventure together. We were both going to learn A LOT, and grow, and get through this. She was 7 months pregnant and as a relatively new Mom, I felt connected to her. I knew that she was the right Dr. for me, and I was the right patient for her.
On July 9th, I met my plastic surgeon, Dr. Jay Orringer. It was the same feeling – I knew he was supposed to be in my life, and that he was the perfect Dr. to see me through the journey from deconstruction to reconstruction. He provided the light at the end of the tunnel, and made me feel safe and truly cared for. Plus he’s an amazing artist 🙂
July 16th was an outpatient procedure at Pink Lotus called a “Nipple Delay” to try to save my nipples. Apparently, as I was going under anesthesia, Dr. T. asked me “What is most beautiful to you.” She told me my response was “Watching my children breathe.” Turns out the cancer was too close to the right nipple so I couldn’t save it. I had the option of saving the left one, but I wanted to eliminate all milk ducts and keep my risk to a minimum. Nipple Shmipple.
On July 24th, I visited the Butterfly Garden at the Natural History Museum with my Mom, one of my best friends and our children. I cried at the beauty, the fragility of these creatures, and the grace of their existence. I cried because I didn’t want to let down my family. I was ready to fight what I called “the little f*cker” with every ounce of my being. I refused to call cancer “the Big C” – there was NO way I would give it that kind of power. I went home and planted my own butterfly garden. When I told her about it, Dr. T said she was going to do the same.
I had to explain to my children that Mommy had “owies” in her boobies, that the Drs. were going to take out the owies and put good stuff back in. And ummmm, my boobies were going to get bigger. I also promised that the Boobie Fairy would bring them presents while I was in the hospital. It didn’t take long before my entire neighborhood, their preschool, and every local business knew that Jette and Perry’s Mommy had “owies” in her boobies and was about to trade the bad stuff for bigger and better boobies.
On July 26th, the date I was originally to have my first consultation with Pink Lotus, I had a double mastectomy with placement of tissue expanders (google to discover this modern day torture device). My BFF Kim was in front of me when I opened my eyes, and she was bearing a gift – it was a necklace with a key charm. Inscribed on the key was the word “BELIEVE.”
I remember vividly Dr. T. walking into my hospital room and sitting beside me. “How are the lymph nodes?” I asked. That’s one of the biggest fear of anyone going through this surgery – that the cancer may have spread into the lymph system. “Clear!” she said. Best. News. Ever. I said “Thank you for saving my life.” Dr T. stopped me from going further and said “No, YOU saved your own life. You were right. It was on it’s way to becoming invasive cancer and YOU pushed this through. Your prognosis is great. You won’t need chemotherapy.”
Within 8 weeks I was up on stage opening up for Rick Springfield, and in November of 2013, I swapped out the expanders for implants. Was it easy? No. Was it SO much easier than it could have been? Oh YES.
This past summer 2014 was the One Year Anniversary of the “New Me,” and I spent the month on stage performing with my dear friends and tour buddies, The Bacon Brothers. (You can read through my past couple of posts & see some pictures from that tour.) I have a new set, and a new set, and couldn’t be happier or more grateful for my life, incredible family and friends, and for music – it truly helped me heal. #blessed
Two messages that I feel so passionate about as a Survivor are the following:
1. Early Detection saves lives.
2. Doctors know the art and science of medicine. But YOU know your body.
BreastCancer.org was my online resource from day one. I admit to being a Google addict, but I didn’t have to search very far to find the wealth of information and support available there. I was meticulous about researching my pathology reports, diagnosis, surgical and treatment options, and constantly (yet very quietly) browsed the message boards to read stories from others who were going through the same journey. Now I’m ready to share mine in a broader sense. I am so proud, and honored, to represent BreastCancer.org as their new Ambassador, and feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward.
Update as of 10/7/2014: CURVE is now available at iTunes and Amazon! My indie label JamCat Records has a new partner: Blue Elan Records. Sometimes out of our darkest times comes the brightest blessings, and Blue Elan is one of those for me. They are handling the marketing and distribution of CURVE so I can spend more time singing for you!
Thank you for supporting indie music!