Kathleen Cooney

I am a Virgo, a known hypochondriac. I was meticulous about doctor’s checkups. I got my baseline mammogram at age 35 and then yearly at 40. A year before I was diagnosed with what came to be Stage III breast cancer, one of my sister's was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I ran to my Ob-Gyn and took the BRCA test. The results came back negative. Now with a family history of ovarian cancer and because I had endometriosis, I started getting pelvic sonograms every six months, just to be safe.  

 A few months later, I noticed a crease on my breast during a summer vacation and made a “note to self” that when I got back to New York, I needed to get a mammogram—not that I thought I had breast cancer, but for vanity purposes as it was not very becoming on me. Had I not told the technician that I suspected something, it would not have found it because I have "dense" tissue. They immediately took a sonogram and biopsies on both sides. I left knowing that this wasn't going to be the last of my ordeal.

 Sure enough, I got the call at work two days later—the left side was cancer. I was in a glass conference room when I called them back and it wasn't pretty for those sitting on the trading floor, seeing someone do the ugly cry. One of my other sisters happened to be in New York having dinner with someone who is very well connected to Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. By the time they finished dinner I had an appointment in two days with a top surgeon. From there it was a roller coaster. I now had a new list of doctors—surgeons, oncologist, radiologist, a therapist and most daunting, appointments at wig shops. I had adjunct chemotherapy first. My cocktail was ACT—Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol. I went home and didn't Google anything on breast cancer. EVERYONE'S cancer is different. People react in different ways. Mine was to leave it all up to the pros. I was going to go to work, act normal and pretend I wasn't sick until I got up from my desk every other Thursday and dropped off the wig at the hair dresser (I never spent so much money on my hair before) and then met my friends who would take me to chemo, then decide what we would order in for lunch, look up old boyfriends and watch daytime TV.  

 After chemo ended I was scheduled for a lumpectomy a month later. Unfortunately the margins did not come back clear and two weeks later I was in surgery for a double mastectomy. I remembered leaving work the day before the surgery so scared that I was going to be in so much pain. In reality I felt nothing, and two years later I still feel nothing because the entire area is still numb; my plastic surgeon said it would probably always be that way. One thing that really helped was physical therapy to get my range of motion back and helped with the effects of the expanders the surgeon implanted until I returned for the real thing—breast reconstruction!  After that surgery I waited a month and then started radiation every day for seven weeks. The burning was really uncomfortable but as all my doctor’s told me: I had no choice. Radiation was my insurance policy; I never wanted the cancer to return, then look back and wonder why I chose to stop treatment after surgery.

 One silver lining in the entire process was that I gave myself free reign to buy Hermes scarves, only wearing the dreaded wig to work!

  Kathleen Cooney