breast MRI

breast MRI

This is a sketchy diary comic of my experience getting my first breast MRI.

There was a small rectangular window where my face was pressed against the head rest; I could see my hair cascading down over the underside of the cot-thing I was laying on. That’s what is depicted in the first and last panels of this comic. Mostly I kept my eyes closed, listening to the loud clanking, and in between when there was silence Greg or the MRI tech talked to me. There were plugs in my ears, so their voices sounded muffled and far away.

The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes. It was fine. I will get one of these once a year for the rest of my life unless I am pregnant.

Sometimes all these medical appointments feel stressful and I wonder why I am doing them. But really, mostly, I feel good to be doing them. It’s the only thing I CAN do in the face of my odds of getting cancer (85% chance over my lifetime). Early screenings are REALLY important because if I do get cancer, it will be diagnosed as early as possible, while it is small and treatable.

“Treatable” is the operative word here, because there is no “cure.”

Even though there is no cure, catching cancer early means it hasn’t spread yet and they can take it out surgically, possibly not needing chemotherapy at all. It means living longer and better. It means being around for my kids as they grow up. A better chance of growing old with my husband. It means maybe not dying the way my mom did.

It is REALLY important that I have health insurance coverage for these early screenings. They are impossibly expensive without that coverage. What I have is technically a “pre-existing condition,” a genetic disorder that I was born with that has been in my family probably forever. It isn’t my fault, or anyone’s fault, that we have this.

I am very nervous about the new “healthcare” bill. I am scared of losing my coverage for these screenings. I’m scared of losing coverage for pregnancy and birth and women’s bodies in general.

I am scared of having to choose not to get medical care because it costs too much money.

I am scared for anyone having to make that choice.

 

 

mammo versus breastfeeding

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I know it’s my choice. To start weaning now and get the mammo and MRI as soon as possible (which will be about a year or so from now) or nurse Giles as long as he needs/wants and delay the screenings? I hadn’t realized how long it takes to wean a baby. It’s a slow, gradual process. If I start now it may take months until he is completely weaned. And it’s at that point that the nine month clock starts. So much waiting.

There’s emotions. And hormones. Breastfeeding is such a hormonal thing. At the very thought of stopping I start to cry, and I run over to Greg and Giles on the couch, where Giles is happily taking a bottle. I cuddle against them, my eyes big puddles of tears, Giles looks up at me.

And then there are moments when I feel ready, and know that everything will be fine.

Except everything isn’t fine. I’m afraid of what will happen to healthcare, to women’s healthcare specifically, to the idea of pre-existing conditions. I’m worried for my body, for my mind, for my future second pregnancy that will happen sometime during the Trump administration.

So many things to worry about– both big picture and very personal. I don’t really know what I’m going to do. But I am going to do things, one tiny thing at a time. Ask for help, seek out other moms who can reassure me or give me mother-led-weaning tips. Get back into some kind of therapy. Talk to my husband a LOT. Walk. Do yoga. Snuggle my baby. Cook something new. Buy local produce/meat/cheese. Get my son his first library card. Read to him. Dance with him. Sing. Draw. Write. Take a hot shower. Say “I love you” a lot. Keep my own medical records. Slowly shorten nursing sessions. Check my breasts for lumps. Call my doctors and ask questions. Pay attention to my body.

And after a lot of months, after a year, after an undetermined amount of time, get a mammogram and a breast MRI and get prescribed Lorazapam for these procedures to help calm me down.

 

getting the call

tp53-2

I expected to test positive, but the news still felt emotional. Knowing for sure that my mom had the gene mutation, wishing we could have found out sooner, not knowing if it would have made any difference. The idea that I may have passed this on to Giles. My future babies.

Now I can get early screenings and do all the things I need to do. If I ever get cancer it will be diagnosed as early as possible, and that’s what saves lives (not any kind of “cure”). But I will always be waiting. I’ll get tested and tested and hopefully I will always be fine. But. But. But.

Next come the appointments. A High Risk Breast Clinic and the Dana Farber Li Fraumeni Clinic. Attempting breast self-exams while full of milk and tender. Mammograms. Breast MRIs. Other screenings. I’ve filled out my family history so many times already, can’t they just send it to each other? Faxing, scanning, calling. Holding a baby and talking on the phone: his gurgles and “ba ba ba” sounds in one ear, the nurses and receptionists in the other.

I’ll probably be fine. I am fine.

LFS mutant ninja turtles.

 

 

genes

tp53

I’ll be posting more comics about this soon, but just to explain briefly what this is: TP53 is a gene that helps fight cancer. Having this particular mutation that runs in my family (which is also called Li Fraumeni Syndrome) means it’s easier to get cancer. It doesn’t mean I definitely will get it, it just means I have a higher chance than the average person.

I made this comic before having the test myself, so I didn’t know if I would have it or not. Rather than leave you in suspense until I finally have time to post the next few comics, I will just tell you now that I do have the gene mutation. This means my mom had it too, but they weren’t testing for it in 2011 when she had her genetic testing. I have lots of feelings, and will get into that more later. For now, I just wanted to get the ball rolling and start posting these new comics, and maybe write a little bit too about my experiences with all the testing, etc.

 

today my mom would be 58

Today my mom would be 58.

Today my baby is 4 months old.

Today I am drinking coffee, cuddling Giles, having feelings. It’s not okay that she’s dead. It’s not okay that she isn’t here to be a grandmother to Giles (Meme, as she wanted to be called), and to help me paint and arrange my first house, to see Phoebe’s land and paint there, to make her art, dance in the kitchen, roast chiles, take walks, ride her bike, talk loud and fast, to “bricolage” her way through years and years. It’s not okay that she’s not getting older.

Giles just wailed for about an hour. Full on scream-crying and nothing I could do calmed him down. I looked him in the eyes as tears poured down his little face. I feel like wailing. I feel like scream-crying out of my broken heart.

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From my mom’s blog, vimorpainter.wordpress.com (which you should check out if you miss her, because her words are there, her voice, some little piece of herself, and you can visit it anytime):

Sketch Yourself in Words, 2007
My name is Viola Rose Moriarty. It’s not the name I was born with—except the Viola part, that’s my grandmother’s name that died long before I came into this world. The rest of my name I chose myself after a brief, failed young marriage in college. I didn’t want my husband’s name, but I had no name to go back to since my father had been absent from my life since I was six years old and my mother had remarried with a new name. I didn’t know who to be so I chose my favorite literary character, Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road. And in a small Denver courtroom, for the reasonable price of thirty-two dollars I started to become the person I am now.
I am bilingual, an artist, a retired educator, a parent, a lover, a friend, a palm reader, a lifelong learner and a wife. I have loved my adult life, seizing the majority of days with pure abandon, humor, moxie and chutzpah.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I began to work it into the mix: the surgeries, the appointments, the emotions—all with help from my therapist, family, friends and most of all, from my husband.
People usually see the upbeat and adventurous and creative side of me. It’s only Jon who knows the skid marks and scars underneath, the billion ways I’m afraid. That I’m an enigma.
So, I did pretty well through the first wave of cancer, drafting my comic book The Adventures of My Left Breast and making paper dolls with new hospital gown designs. I took photos of everything and I saw myself doing pretty well in those pictures.
Then I went to chemotherapy. First day: Treatment okay. I sketched through it. Second day: Jittery but okay. Days three, four and five I have descended into a staticky evil fog filled hell that I can never adequately describe. Like trying to pay attention through a vibrational band of intense, angry static. Everything hurts. Reading and listening are so hard—so, so hard. I’ve never felt anything like this and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with it. It’s day six now and I’m a little better, but still unable to go to drawing tonight. I’m still unable to focus enough to get my art supplies set up and begin a painting.
I’ve got to grab onto something that will break through here—a different way to work these days. Come on, help me out Max Ernst, David Park, Alice Neel, Mr. Rauchenburg—–anybody? I pray to the dead and to the live painters to help me….help me work.
I have raised my girls and they are spectacular—they’ll be home to help me with my haircutting soon. I want them to see me able to do this; I want to be a good role model. I want them to see me work when working feels impossible.
I don’t want my daughters to ever suspect the terror of being separated from one’s own self.
I don’t want my husband to see me defeated in this way, bumbling about like a babosa instead of the sexy, arrogant, often insane woman he loves (and slightly fears).
But this is where cancer—no, not cancer, but the treatment of cancer—-has me by the breasts and by the balls, so to speak. It’s taken over the airways and it’s screaming at fever pitch. Static and black chaos are filling the room around me, slurping into and over the rims of my eyeballs and nose and around my fingernails.
There’s no escape……and I have never, ever learned how to surrender. 

Viola Moriarty, April 2007, After Chemo #1,
(From an assignment in the Moving through Breast Cancer class with Anastasia Nute)

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the women in my family get breast cancer

the women in my family 1

the women in my family 2

I know getting a mammogram doesn’t really mean I will get diagnosed with cancer. I know this. Getting mammograms regularly and doing self exams is how they would diagnose breast cancer early enough that my survival chances would be much better. And maybe I will never get cancer, that’s also a possibility.

But still.

I think I will always be waiting for that shoe to drop, in the back of my mind. Grasping on the edge of fear every time my breasts are squished between two glass plates, worrying that this mammogram might be The Mammogram. Every time I prod my breasts with my fingers in a circular pattern, dreading the possibility of A Lump.

I know that I am not guaranteed to get breast cancer.

But still.

I’m really scared that I will. That my body will betray me. That my son will sit with me at chemo, shave my head for me, make me radiation mix tapes, hear me vomit in the middle of the night and lie awake with the terrible knowledge that his mama might die. That he’ll have to live un-mothered too young.

I want to live to be really, really old, with Greg at my side reminding me where my glasses are, getting to watch our children grow up. I want to live at the beach. I want to LIVE. Live, live live. Grow to a ripe old age. Mother my children, love my husband, document and process my experiences through art, watch all the movies, eat all the popcorn, dance with my sister, howl at the moon, love it all.

A Little Tune Up part 3

Read part 2 here.It’s hard to draw all the details of the frame– a very nice radiology nurse took some photos of the procedure for me, since we could not go in there with her, so I am working from those pictures. The frame is attached to a mold made of Mama’s teeth, so she is biting down on the mold to hold the frame in place. Then there’s that plastic bubble thing (very scientific term) on top of it. The making of the tooth mold thing was a whole other day of being at the hospital.

I got pretty cocky about my chess victories, but then my friend Greg crushed me twice in a row, so, I’ve still got a lot of learning to do.

A Little Tune Up part 1

Hey guys, I’m finally posting a new comic! This story is called “A Little Tune Up” and will be posted in several parts. If you are new to my blog, and have not yet read my cancer comics (which are about my experience dealing with my mom’s metastatic breast cancer), I recommend going to the Cancer Comics page and reading from the beginning.

And now, here’s A Little Tune Up part 1: