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