Humans Are Complex Creatures

My sister is a dancer, she was one of two young dancers Baryshnikov hired when he took over American Ballet Theater. She danced with them from age 18-23, travelling to many places around the country and the world. Then, she decided to leave the company and move to Florida. She took up ballroom dancing and won many competitions, including becoming a two-time world champion!

When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38 (17 years ago). She was very fortunate when she was diagnosed. It was a very aggressive cancer and it is only through a fluke that it did not turn out to be far more serious.

Had she not had a reaction to the biopsy and developed a huge lump under one arm within hours, they would have only done a sentinel node biopsy. For safety sake, they decided to take the first two rows instead. The sentinel node and first row were clean. The second row was not. That is a very scary thought.

In any case, I was there when they told her she had cancer (her husband was out of town and though I lived five hours away, I decided to come to stay with her that week since they told her she had a mass.

I was the one who went in with the doctor, took notes and asked questions and found out she would need a radical mastectomy. I handled everything!

I took over caring for her 15-month old and 2 year old, got her to the plastic surgeon for a consultation, made arrangements to have her operation in a week (I was adamant she should not wait and have time to think about it too much) did all the insurance approval stuff, and even contacted a support group, so they were ready and waiting for her.

My other sister came to stay the week after her operation, then my Dad, and then my Mom. Plus her in-laws lived in town (three sets) so they took care of getting her to appointments, visiting and comforting her and hired childcare and cleaning people, etc. for her.

She had an INCREDIBLE support system right there … and was very fortunate. Few people have the financial resources and family right there to take such amazing care of them.

Funny thing about that time. I am not a highly organized person by nature, but I coordinated everything with her doctors and concerning her care with military precision.

I am also probably the most sensitive and emotional of my sisters, but I never cried from the moment I heard she had cancer. That wasn’t my job. She did not need me to fall apart with her. Everyone else cried all the time. I did not shed one tear for the two weeks I was with her. (Something she even yelled at me about at one point).

But, the second I got on the plane and sat down to fly home, I cried for two and a half hours straight. We humans are complex creatures.

One of her main concerns as a dancer (even a retired one) was they told her they might need to take a muscle from her back which terrified her.

Kristi was breastfeeding when she was diagnosed and the doctor told her she had to stop immediately. She did. But in the week preceding her surgery, she and I often joked about what would happen if her milk wasn’t gone before the surgery.

Her surgery was amazing. Her breast cancer surgeon was her brother-in-law’s cousin. So, he had her plastic surgeon go into his surgery and tell him how to cut so there would be amble tissue left for the plastic surgeon, so he could follow and immediately do reconstructive surgery.

My sister had a radical mastectomy but came out of surgery with a breast and nipple and because the skin was so pliable, 250ccs of saline. (Norm is 50).

The surgeon came out to tell us she was doing well and then pulled me aside from the family and asked to speak to me.

He quietly asked if Kristi had followed his directions and quit breastfeeding. I assured him that she had. He said, okay, because, well, her ducts were the size of pencils… and when he initially cut into her breast … milk sprayed everywhere! Got him right in the face and went all over the entire operating team! They all had to change their gowns and masks and clean up.

When Kristi woke up, I told her, ” I love you, you did great and everything went well. And No back muscles were cut. However, remember that thing we joked about- where breast milk sprayed all over the operating room? Yep, that’s exactly what happened!”

Even woozy, it made her laugh.


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