As a child, I wondered what those scars were that Nana had on her chest and neck. They were scary and I didn't want to look at them. I loved her and tried to love all of her. The scars were the result of a double mastectomy, radiation and the growth of breast cancer tumors on the outside of her body.
My grandmother - her name was Millie Goldman - was 57 when she died of the disease. She discovered lumps in her breasts and was too embarrassed to mention it to her doctor. This was in the 1950s when people didn't discuss those kinds of things.
I grew up with breast cancer. Total paranoia about getting breast cancer, coming from my mom, was business as usual in our family. In the 1980s, when she was in her 60s, my mom had a tiny lump, discovered by mammogram. Her reaction was mastectomy, period. Nothing else would do. She didn't need chemotherapy or radiation.
For me, I found the lump in my breast on a routine self-exam. I told my ob-gyn, at an appointment, "I found a lump in my breast and I'm not going to tell you where." I thought, maybe I am making something out of nothing. She found it in about three seconds. The lump was not seen on a mammogram. I had a lumpectomy, radiation and five years of Tamoxifen. I was 41 years old. That was 21 years ago this month.
When I turned 50 I decided to go to school to become a massage therapist. I felt the calling to work with seniors and people with chronic illnesses. At the time, massage for cancer patients was not recommended for fear that massage might somehow help the cancer spread. A few years after my certification, I encountered Gayle MacDonald, who had devised a protocol for safe oncology massage. I studied with her and became certified to work with cancer patients.
During my 10 years as a massage therapist, I met the bravest breast cancer patients, survivors and nonsurvivors. I am awed by them all.
The good thing about cancer is, it makes you grateful for every day you are here. It's like being in a private club, an exclusive one, where people know what is most important in life.
Sharon Lidz lives in Boise's North End with her husband, her dog and her garden.