Out in the World
Following the example of women who came before us. Being there for the women who will follow.
By Jody Rosen Knower
easy time with it, but
most of us have emerged
stronger than before.”
Actually, there were two someones: Donna, a long-lost friend from high school, and Deb, my friend Randi’s favorite aunt. Like me, both had been diagnosed at relatively young ages. But I didn’t call either one. I couldn’t. Both were dead.
That’s what I remember now, more than six years later, about the first moments after I’d heard the news. Having breast cancer at age 34 was scary, but what was truly terrifying was the thought that, like Donna and Deb, I might die from it—and die young.
Over the next several weeks, as my husband, Zachary, and I struggled to choose a treatment plan, we told only immediate family and close friends. Making those calls was difficult, and we weren’t ready to broaden the circle just yet. Trying to keep even a small group of people up to date proved to be taxing and time-consuming. So I hadn’t planned to tell my friend Mindy the news. When I finally did, it made me realize how important it was to be open about my experience with breast cancer. Mindy was an old friend I’d recently invited to join my book group. I was scheduled to host the next meeting, and she had planned to attend. After my diagnosis, I arranged to move the meeting to another member’s home and left Mindy a message about the change.
When I didn’t hear back, I called again and left a message that I thought would prompt a return call: this time I said I was having surgery the next day. She called back almost immediately and asked what was going on. I hesitated, because Mindy had had cancer—twice—as a teenager, and I didn’t want to scare her or dredge up bad memories. But then I launched into the story, telling her in one uninterrupted stream about the routine checkup that had mushroomed into my first mammogram and then a sonogram and then a biopsy and then a breast cancer diagnosis.
When I finished, she said only two words: “Me too.” It turned out that we’d both been diagnosed at the same time.
After that phone call Mindy and I went through breast cancer in tandem, and being in it together was a tremendous comfort. But I can’t help wondering how much easier those awful first days and weeks would have been if we’d known about each other from the very start.
Two days after the surgery I was back at home, wrapped in bandages and surrounded by bouquets. I was in pain but also relieved to have the worst behind me. I knew that in a couple of weeks I’d be back on my feet, back to work and back to my old life. Then the surgeon’s nurse called and asked me to come in. The doctor just wants to make sure you’re okay before she leaves on vacation, the nurse assured me.