Setting Her Free

She wants something, but I’ve never known what. She won’t tell me, or she can’t.

She’s dead.

No one ever told me of her passing. I didn’t read about her untimely demise. I just know.

She haunts me, this woman I saw twice, maybe three times. I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t matter. She visits me all the same and has done for more than a decade.

I dream in color, think in color, yet she always appears in shades of gray. Pale gray skin, long dark gray hair with a slight wave, and deep gray eyes sunken into her narrow face. She appears at her convenience, not mine: night or day, inside or out, daily or monthly. She never speaks. She looks lost.

She wants something, but I’ve never known what.

Finally, this month, my first October as a blogger, my first breast cancer awareness month as a blogger, I think I understand.

She wants to be remembered. I’m sure she is remembered and terribly missed by her loved ones. Certainly, she is remembered by me. She wants more though.

She wants her story told. She wants her death to have meaning. She wants to save others.

I have so little of her story, but maybe what I have is enough to set her free.

She came to my breast cancer support group, not at the beginning but after several sessions. The rest of us had already shared the details of our stories, gotten past the crying – mostly, and moved on to the slower process of healing. Of course, we all still had difficult moments, but the initial horror of it all had passed for us.

Her horror was still raw. She came from a small mountain town, one with doctors well-versed in treating ski injuries and pneumonia, not cancer. She’d had not one, not two, but three mammograms over just as many years. Each time, her mountain doctor told her she was fine. Her mammogram was negative. She didn’t have cancer. Like my own situation, the doctor initially failed to diagnose her cancer. Unlike me, she didn’t get a second opinion soon enough.

By the time she sought another opinion, her cancer was fairly advanced. Not only that, the radiologist at Stanford informed her that each of her three previous mammograms had indicated cancer. Each subsequent mammogram showed the cancer getting bigger. Her previous doctor missed the diagnosis. Three times, he missed the diagnosis, even though it was right in front of him. So, instead of being treated for early cancer, with a good prognosis, she had to fight for her life. Can you imagine?  She did everything right except live in a small town where the radiologist’s comfort level was with fractures.

That’s all I know. After two or three sessions, she never came back.

Her name was Barbara, and she deserved better.

She deserved better.


October is breast cancer awareness month. I was 34 years old when a doctor missed my cancer diagnosis. Barbara was in her early 40s when a doctor missed hers. I am here more than 14 years later because I got a second opinion in time. Doctors sometimes make mistakes. Do self exams. Get mammograms, if appropriate. If you have a lump, insist on a biopsy.  A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose breast cancer.  Be your own advocate in every health situation. Your diligence could save your life.

I’m over at yeah write again. It’s a great community for bloggers and writers. Head on over and join the fun!

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62 Responses to “Setting Her Free”

  1. Samantha Brinn MerelOctober 16, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks for writing this. You are certainly doing right by Barbara, by writing about her, and remembering her, and sharing her story during this month of awareness.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      Thank you!

  2. JackOctober 16, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Stories like Barbara’s are so damn tragic, such an unnecessary loss.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      I know, it’s awful. But I’m sure she would be happy if she knew her story helped even just one person.

  3. Rebecca @ Blueberry SmilesOctober 16, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Powerful, heartfelt message. SUch a tragedy. Praying they find a cure in the near future and no one has to suffer anymore

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

      That would be nice! Breast cancer is highly curable if detected early enough. That’s the good thing but also the heartbreaking thing when it goes undiagnosed for too long.

  4. christinaOctober 16, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    once again, you’ve left me with tears in my eyes. cripes!! 🙁 such a sad, sad story!! but i’m SO GLAD you’ve shared as i’m sure it will touch someone out there and motivate them to get their mamo and/or get a second opinion.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Thanks Christina, I sure hope so! She would like that.

  5. AnjaOctober 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    What a terribly sad story. Breast cancer awareness month really helps in getting people to go to the doctor more often, I think.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      I think so too! My timing is not a coincidence 😉

  6. gemOctober 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    How very sad, but how great of you to remember her and share the story she cannot. I have cysts in my breasts and had a cancer scare. Xray and sonogram came back negative after a “lump” was found. It moved and hasn’t grown. My risk factors are low. But I am to monitor it constantly because no one is 100% sure its “ok”. They don’t want to do a biopsy yet cause it would be a very invasive, scarring, open-boobie operation.
    Scary scary. Breast cancer became very real to me this year with my scare. A good friend had a benign tumor. Two friends’ moms got diagnosed with breast cancer this year. A good friends’ friend who is only 31 had a doible masectomy.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      It is scary, you are right to be “on it.” It’s also scary that breast cancer seems to be becoming more common in younger women than it used to be. Keep monitoring!

  7. Louise DucoteOctober 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Ah Stacie, another good one. I used to live in a small mountain town and once a year a trailer came through with a visiting doctor and did mammograms. My friend got a “clear” diagnosis three years in a row until she moved to the big city and had a mammogram not in a trailer. Cancer! She survived, but not without a lot of agony, chemo, surgery, total hair loss and so on over what could have been a much earlier diagnosis.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      Oh wow, that is so similar! I’m glad your friend is ok! Maybe it was a truck that came to Barbara too. She never said.

      Mine was caught relatively early, but I still had surgery, chemo (complete hair loss), radiation, and tamoxifen. I have a lot more breast cancer stories, but I want to spread them out in case people get tired of them!

  8. Cindy ~ The Reedster SpeaksOctober 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Powerfully written, Stacie. I liked the framing of the story in the dreams/flashback.

    • StacieOctober 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      Thanks Cindy, you made my day!!

  9. IASoupMamaOctober 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Oh, Stacie… So poignant and touching. And important and necessary all at once. Well done!

  10. Clarinda @ Enjoying the CourseOctober 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea that misdiagnosis was so common. I’m terrible about self exams. I really need to get better about this…

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Yes, do! Most times, the Drs will catch it, but there are various reasons they don’t sometimes. In my case, the mammo was negative and he “played the odds” with my young age rather than do the right thing and biopsy. In Barbara’s case, her mammos were not read properly.

  11. Mary @ A Teachable MomOctober 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    You are a remarkable woman, Stacie. I’m grateful to be getting to know you a bit through your blog. You’ve shared a gut-wrenching, important story here and I, for one, am better off having read it. A beautifully written, poignant reminder. I’ll keep Barbara in my prayers. Thank you.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 7:54 am #

      This is such a sweet comment Mary! Thank you so much, I feel all fuzzy inside now 🙂

  12. Jen {at} take2mommyOctober 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Oh my goodness Stacie, what a moving post. How could that woman’s doctor misdiagnose her three times? That’s so very sad…but good that you told her story. And I’m so glad that you got your second opinion in time! I just didn’t realize that doctors could miss things like this. Wow.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 7:55 am #

      Mostly they don’t miss, see above answer to Clarinda. But, it’s always better to be safe!

  13. heidiOctober 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    What a heartwrenching story. Thank you, thank you for sharing Barbara’s story.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

      You’re welcome!

  14. Ashley AustrewOctober 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Oh no. What a tragic story. Thank you for sharing it. These posts about cancer are really, really important for so many people. You may not realize it, but you’re saving lives.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      I hope so Ashley. Breast cancer is so easy to cure if found early enough.

  15. Mayor GiaOctober 16, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    Ugh, so sad. 🙁

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      I know.

  16. ChristieOctober 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    I am feeling both terror and sadness at this story. Bless you for telling it and for the service you are performing by telling this story. You may be saving lives as we speak. I love the framing as well.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Thanks Christie. I would be very happy if it helped!

  17. TriGirlOctober 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    She would haunt me too. I’m glad you shared what you know of her story. We all need to hear it; it’s too easy to bury your head in the sand when something doesn’t affect you directly.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      True. Even I can go a while now, forgetting.

  18. cathy@1970kikiprojectOctober 17, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    oh, stacie, my heart just aches for barbara. thank you for sharing her story.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      It is heartbreaking.

  19. Fran@ Broken Cookies Don't CountOctober 17, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    Beautiful post, Stacie. I hope this comment is long enough to make the grade. I shouldn’t be joking on this post. I apologize.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      Well, it’s not like you’re joking about the content!

  20. TiffanyOctober 17, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    You are quite gifted with the written word my friend.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      Thanks Tiffany!

  21. Michelle LongoOctober 17, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    This is such a great piece. My heart breaks for Barbara and you and everyone who has gone through this.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      It’s really sad since it could have been prevented.

  22. RachelleOctober 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Very moving post.

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

      Thanks Rachelle. It’s easier to write now that I have some distance. Not sure I could have 10 years ago.

  23. GinaOctober 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Perfectly written in it’s simplicity and very powerful! I’m sorry about Barbara and I’m scared for others that may find themselves in a similar situation!

    • StacieOctober 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Thanks Gina! Don’t be scared. Just be aware.

  24. AzaraOctober 18, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    How awful – three times?!! You’ve written such a powerful post in honour of her story. I was riveted right from the first line. Wow.

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Thanks Azara, I appreciate it!

  25. KathleenOctober 18, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing Barbara’s story, Stacie. You are right: She did deserve better. We all do.

    Your post is a powerful reminder to women to put themselves first and be sure they get the care they need — and to follow their instincts, as you did. Thank goodness for second opinions.

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Yes, second opinions are so important!

  26. Whoa! SusannahOctober 18, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Such a powerful post! Well done!

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:46 pm #


  27. KianwiOctober 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    That is so sad and senseless. You told her story beautifully. Maybe she can rest now.

    I don’t know how some of you are posting such quality posts on the challenge grid and finding time to write great stories for the Speakeasy! You inspire me to try 🙂

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Thanks for the awesome compliment Kianwi!

      I would love to see you at the Speakeasy next week. I don’t have any ideas yet, but Flood’s photo prompts have been very helpful!

  28. Angela RyanOctober 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    I just love your endings. I mean, the whole story is well told, but just as it was with your recent story about the “peace of mind” test, those last few words leave me with goose bumps. You’re a very talented writer sharing some really important stories. Thanks!

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      Thanks Angela, you are too kind!

  29. Jay - The Dude of the HouseOctober 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Keeping Barbara’s memory alive and sharing her tale are invaluable. As someone who lost my mother to breast cancer because several doctors misdiagnosed her, I applaud you for getting the message out.

    • StacieOctober 18, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Oh Jay, I am so sorry about your Mom. How awful for your whole family of Dudes. That is precisely why I have shared these stories. Breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers when caught early. But it’s not just doctors that need to know what to look for. My heart goes out to you and your family.

  30. icescreammamaOctober 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    i’m so sad for barbara and for jay and for everyone! Great, important well written, emotional post. Thanks.

  31. BarbaraOctober 19, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    This post is amazing! You are keeping Barbara’s memory alive!

  32. MelanieOctober 27, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Oh, you just gave me chills with so many emotions behind them. Prayers to Barbara, wherever she is now. My mom had to fight for a long time to be heard, and was finally diagnosed by her PCP, not any of the other doctors she begged for answers. Once diagnosed, we had to fight for all of her proper care and to ensure that the medical staff understood the situation. We were repeatedly asked if we were oncology doctors or nurses because we were so well-versed in it all. But if we hadn’t been, they would have killed her way before they did. Sad.


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