What’s in a Word? by Pamela Hearon, author of “Gaining Visibility”
When I was a child, I came to understand that the bad words, the curse words, or in my area the cuss words, were made up of four-letters. The s-word. The d-word. The h-word. The f-word. But as an adult, I learned that the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad, and the greatest curse word is actually six letters long—C-A-N-C-E-R. Those two syllables elicit fear in even the bravest and bring the strongest to his or her knees.
My first personal encounter with the word came when I was twenty-two and discovered a lump in my right breast during a self-examination. Two weeks of sleepless nights and a surgery later, the tumor was pronounced benign (a glorious six-letter word) and removed.
But the fear remained.
My maternal grandmother had breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer. I was considered high risk, and that label pinned itself to my brain. Every year I would go for my mammogram and leave feeling like I’d been granted a year’s reprieve.
At forty-eight, some calcifications showed up in my right breast, and I underwent another biopsy. The diagnosis was lobular carcinoma in situ—noninvasive, but something we would need to watch, which we did with mammograms every six months. Four years later, calcifications were in my left breast. Another biopsy diagnosed lobular carcinoma in situ in that breast, also, as well as ductal carcinoma in situ.
Carcinoma—a long word for cancer.
The bad word.
Little flecks of cancer sprinkled around my left breast.
My doctor laid out my options: (a) lumpectomy, which would remove a third of that breast’s tissue and would need to be followed up with both radiation and chemotherapy, or (b) mastectomy with no radiation or chemo. Option b allowed for complete reconstruction that wouldn’t be attainable after radiation because of the changes radiation causes to the skin.
With thirty-one years of fear and a dose of vanity guiding my decision, I opted for bi-lateral mastectomy—removal of both breasts. I was scared and tired of living in fear. At fifty-three, I was beyond my bikini years, and just a bit of cleavage in a V-neck dress was fine with me.
A month later the process started with the surgeon and the plastic surgeon both in the OR. The surgeon removed; the plastic surgeon began his work with what was left. Two years later, I had a beautiful, “new” pair of breasts, complete with all the trappings and only a 4% chance of recurrence.
I’ll soon be a ten-year survivor. No, the nerves did not regenerate. Yes, I have only a little feeling in my breasts. Unequivocally no, I have no regrets.
I’ve spent the last ten years earnestly chasing the life-long dream of transforming myself from writer to published author and have been granted more success than I ever thought possible. But after my cancer diagnosis—during that long month of saying goodbye to the body I’d always known—I couldn’t follow my daily regimen of writing. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t write at all. My mind was too preoccupied. The words wouldn’t come.
I felt powerless.
Now, we live in a small town, and all the things you’ve heard about life in a small town are true. That everybody knows your business is both the blessing and the bane of the sub-sub-sub-urban way of life. But when tragedy inevitably weaves its way into this place, there’s nothing quite like the love and support of a communal hug, five-thousand strong.
When the whispered, six-letter curse word attached itself to my name, news spread quickly. Friends, neighbors, and acquaintances called, sent cards and notes, added me to prayer lists, and stopped by our house to wish me well.
I appreciated them all, but none touched me as memorably as an elderly friend of the family. He sat on our back porch with a glass of iced tea, and, between sips, told me of his mother’s bout with breast cancer when he was a boy. Radical mastectomy was the only retaliation against the disease in those days—surgery that left women disabled, disfigured, and scarred both in body and soul. His eyes filled with tears and his voice trembled as he told me how, after her surgery, his father never touched his mother again.
I still feel his pain … and the echo of his mother’s. His story—her story— haunted me long after his visit ended, carving its way into my subconscious, stealing my sleep. My own husband was so loving and supportive, but what if he hadn’t been? How terrible to survive the trauma of breast cancer only to find rejection and invisibility on the other side. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that, even today, many women go through the same kind of rejection his mother endured.
I couldn’t do much as a person to right the wrong, but as a writer, I had the ability to rectify it.
Words hold power.
So after my surgery, my passion for writing returned with a story that poured from my heart. Words gave me the power to bring attention to the forgotten, bestow acceptance and love, gain them visibility, and perhaps give them hope.
The final product of that out-pouring is my novel—GAINING VISIBILITY, which released this month from Kensington Books. The book is for everyone … every sister in pink and every person touched by the disease through someone they love.
It’s my way of giving her the happily-ever-after she deserves and a place in this world to let her light shine.
Pamela Hearon is the author of Gaining Visibility, a novel about a woman’s journey to discover that even the deepest scars have a beauty of their own–and that it’s time to take her place in the sun once more. Please visit her online at www.PamelaHearon.com.
Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon
Julia Berkwith’s daughter has moved to Alaska, her beloved mother-in-law is in a nursing home, and her ex-husband is in Hawaii—with a younger woman. In her late forties, Julia is now used to being invisible. But even if she has to do it alone, she’s determined to celebrate her victory over breast cancer by hiking Italy’s Cinque Terre. And while she’s there, she can scout out treasures for her interior design business back in Kentucky.
Invigorated by the beauty of the Italian countryside, Julia seems unstoppable, until she’s injured by a rock—one that happens to belong to thirty-something stone mason Vitale DeLuca. Reluctantly, Julia accepts Vitale’s insistent offer of lodging while she recovers. But in his home, amid his exquisite sculptures, Julia sees beyond his charm and looks to something special: a talent she must bring to the world’s attention. And once she does, she plans to step aside to leave him in the spotlight. But Vitale has seen something in Julia too, something she is no longer able to recognize in herself. And he is determined to find a way to show it to her.