I had the scare of my life last November. I went for my routine mammogram. And while in the throes of completing my book for delivery to my publisher I received a phone call from the local hospital. It was a Tuesday, I had just printed up the last section of my book for a read through, made myself some lunch and sat down at my kitchen table to begin scrutinizing my every word.
“Stefanie, this is Southampton Hospital Breast Center. Your mammogram is abnormal and we need you to come in for magnified imaging of your left breast. How about today?”
I replied, “I am very sorry, this is going to have to wait. I am on a tight book deadline. How about in three weeks?”
The woman on the phone offered, “No. How about tomorrow?”
Staring down at my manuscript I said, “I don’t think you understand, I can’t come in until mid-December.”
And then, “No Stefanie, I don’t think you understand. You need to come in this week.”
I asked, “Do I have cancer or something?”
She said, “You have markings on your breast and we need to take additional images and this can’t wait.”
I made the appointment for the next day. In total shock I called my husband and he had this to offer, “Get your butt to the hospital today. There is nothing more important. I will meet you there.” I insisted that he not come (I really wanted to be alone). So to the hospital I went (manuscript in hand thinking that I would edit while waiting) but utterly paralyzed.
The nurse, bless her heart, told me that there was nothing to worry about. It was most likely calcifications and the doctor would see the images and just recommend a 6-month follow-up. Well, she was wrong. I met with the doctor and he said this, “You have markings on your breast that are most likely calcifications but we need to biopsy to be sure.” I asked, “Can you do it right now?” Remember, I didn’t have time for this! He told me that I would have to wait until the following week (in fact the day before Thanksgiving) for the procedure. Needless to say, my emotions were all over the place the week leading up to the biopsy (a not so fun procedure) and then during the wait for the results. After seeing two of my friends go through breast cancer and now having this in front of me, I thought—this disease doesn’t discriminate. So, I was prepared for the worst. But thankfully, they were calcifications. My prescription: a 6-month imaging follow-up.
Attending the premier integrative health conference in NYC in February, I had the great honor of hearing one of my long-time mentors speak, an herbal healer and medical doctor of the most credible sort. At the end of her talk she shared with a room of roughly 600 that she has stage 4 Cancer. When she told her close friends and colleagues upon diagnosis in 2009, most said: “But you are the healthiest person we know. How could this happen to you?” She replied, “Cancer doesn’t discriminate.”
And then few weeks ago I received the news that a fellow chef, nutritionist and friend (in her late 30’s) was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases a person’s risk for cancer. In other words, she is a cancer-making machine. As I write this blog, she is preparing for surgery—to have 1/3 of her malignant colon removed and full hysterectomy (there is also cancer on her ovaries).
Given the state of affairs, my friend Dr. Kelly Turner’s new book, Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds couldn’t have come at a better time. As a cancer researcher she has witnessed, first hand, many losses and triumphs. Her book of hope offered me a sense of calm at a time when many people I know and love are sadly touched by this illness. But it goes beyond that—too many people are touched by cancer and whether the big “C” or any other disease, going through illness, no matter how hard, is an opportunity to shift and grow (I know this first hand living with a kidney disease).
If there is one thing I have learned —in life’s most challenging and difficult moments there can be growth and enlightenment. You may just have to dig deep to find it.