Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Sleep, Flashbacks, and Awareness
Last week when I was in and out of the doctor's office trying to get air into my lungs, the nurse practitioner* unknowingly gave me an amazing gift. In trying to juggle the various inhalers and antibiotics, I asked her if I should still be taking the cough medicine I had been taking prior to the breathing treatments. We talked about the coughing keeping me awake and she wanted me to get a good night's rest so she prescribed the really yummy cough medicine with enough codeine to knock a girl out for the night. Given my terrible sleep patterns since surgery last December, I was up for anything. I followed her orders and not only did I not cough, I had my first full night's sleep in nearly a year. No waking up due to discomfort, awkward positions, or pain. The next morning I felt so amazingly refreshed. Why didn't I think of drugging myself to sleep before this?

The next night I took the cough medicine again, but I used both of the inhalers too close to bedtime and they kept me a little wired. I was having restless spurts of sleep between waking flashbacks. It was a strange experience. I had a flashback that was so powerful, it made me sit straight up in shock that I hadn't had this memory sooner.

When I was a child, cancer was not a foreign subject in my family. Besides hearing about neighbors and relatives who were ill from cancer, my oldest sister had battled brain cancer at the age of 16 when I was just under a year old. Although I have no memory of her sugery and treatment, I do have memories of her long recovery and rehabilitation (even her commitment to this day to wake at 4:00 a.m. just to get her therapy exercises completed before going to work -- sheesh! and I complain about leaving for the gym at 5:00 a.m., but I digress). As a result, cancer was not a word said in hushed tones so the children wouldn't hear. It was a word used as commonly as, well, as commonly as I use it today.

I had a memory of a time when I was perhaps 9 years old. It was just as my breasts were budding (yes, I developed early and was wearing my first bra in the fourth grade). I remember touching my right breast and feeling as if there was a big lump in it. I told my mom and we talked to my dad about it. They agreed I was way too young to worry about such things, but we agreed to mention it to the doctor when I went in for my upcoming physical.

I went to see the "hippie" doctor as my parents called him. I liked him because he was young, had the coolest feathered hair, and wore jeans under his white coat. He was nice, but I was a very shy, if not painfully shy, child. I remember sitting there on the examining table in my little girl white panties and white socks, nervously swinging my legs crossed at the ankles, with my head down, as my mom told him about my right breast. He felt it and said it was just dense tissue that was experiencing a growth spurt and the breasts would feel different now that they were developing. With that it was over and I was so very thankful that I could breathe again, get dressed, and not be sitting there half naked while the cool hippie doctor talked about my little bumps. I was his last appointment of the day so with that, he took off his white doctorly coat, popped on his denim jacket, grabbed his motorcycle helmet and was off (he was the coolest!). I happily walked to the car with my mom savoring the red cherry lollipop just awarded to me by the nurse.

I'm not sure if the open use of the "c" word made me uber aware of the possibility of cancer, but how odd is it that at 9 years old I was noticing changes in my right breast? I have been aware of breast cancer for as long as I can remember. And how odd is it that thirty years later I would find the same changes in tissue in the same breast, in the same area, but this time there was no happy hippie doctor, no easy resolution, no skipping to the car holding my mom's hand, and no cherry lollipop. Somehow that little girl intuitively knew something, and you know, she probably saved my life.

* For the record, I think nurse practitioners rock! She gave me the best, most compassionate care I have ever received in a non-onc office visit.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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