Kathleen O’Brien has been a journalist for three decades. Her long-running column for the Newark Star Ledger “looks at life from the kaleidoscopic perspective of wife, mother, taxpayer, commuter and worker bee.” But this year, O’Brien began a different sort of commute. Her blog about her journey through breast cancer, entitled “We’ll Know More on Monday,”  began last week  — and she’s also agreed to allow some of her musings to appear on WVFC.

“So far it hasn’t been harrowing,” she wrote us in an e-mail, “and what can you do but laugh when you realize you’re awaiting the scariest doctor appointment of your life, and because of the location of concern, you’re not supposed to wear deodorant?!?!?”

We’ll Know More on Monday…or Tuesday, if it’s a holiday weekend

I stole the title of this blog from my best friend, who once said that if she ever wrote her memoirs, the chapter about her parents’ illnesses would be called “We’ll Know More on Monday.”

Or in my case, Tuesday, as I had to wait out the three-day Memorial Day weekend in order to take my scary bone, chest and brain scans. (All clear!) Until I got those results, I was in free fall, with no logical reason to grasp at hope. Was my tennis elbow actually metastatic bone cancer? At 3 a.m., it seemed possible.

Here’s what I’ve come to accept — because I have no choice — about modern medicine: While they know so much more about cancer than they used to, that means a long, slow wait while they gather the information from your body.

“If we know it has to come out, why not remove it, then study it?” I asked one of my surgeons. His answer was that they need to know everything about a tumor in order to come up with a plan of surgical attack. Fair enough.

Except what seems like speed on their end feels like time has stopped in its tracks on the patient’s end.

“We’ll put you at the very top of our list,” said the radiologist when she told me I’d need an MRI-guided needle biopsy. That sounded good. The MRI had turned up three more iffy areas, so it was crucial to know what they were. MRIs “light up” benign stuff as well, so it could be a lot of worry over nothing.

That was May 22. They called later to tell me my appointment: June 2.

Eleven days?!?! Heck, I complained to my loved ones, I could probably take a $99 flight to some Rust Belt city where everyone had lost their health insurance — Akron, Buffalo, Detroit — and find an MRI gathering dust somewhere. They’d be only to happy to fit me in that afternoon. I was sort of joking…but sort of serious.

Yet a friend pointed out the obvious: You don’t want your biopsy done by someone whose machine is gathering dust.

The Earth continued to revolve, the days did indeed pass, and eventually I had my high-tech biopsy. I started out the day feeling like Superman, for his flying position is exactly the posture I had to maintain for at least an hour. (No squirming allowed, or they have to start all over.)

It was loud, it was uncomfortable, the radiologist kept apologizing. I was squeezed, poked, shuttled in and out, and generally shish-kabobbed.

Then I was trussed up so tightly I resembled Queen Elizabeth. The First, not the Second. And my mood was only slightly better than her p.o.’d expression in this portrait.

The test was worth it, though, for it provided clarity. It cleared one breast, condemned the other.

My Heroine

This kick-ass lady is “Liberty Leading the People,” as depicted by French painter Eugene Delacroix. I’ve always been intrigued by the way her breasts are shown simply as a part of her body.
Their muscles are prominent; they are part of her strength. I think perhaps men might not quite understand this about breast surgery. Your pectoral muscles, your breasts….hard to say where the one leaves off and the other begins.

Our Liberty isn’t using her breasts for any purpose having to do with anyone else, be it breast-feeding or sexual attraction. She’s using their underlying muscles to carry aloft a flag. She isn’t even thinking about them, or about the fact that her stylin’ toga is falling off. (Prototype for future hospital gowns, perhaps?)

She has things to do, barricades to storm. She’s on a mission.

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  • Barbara Baiza August 25, 2009 at 9:42 am


    I so miss your columns as you have the knack of always hitting the nail on the head.

    You are in my prayers and I am sure that all will end well.

  • Susan Alai June 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Kathy: always one to speak your mind and will be pulling for you–2009 What a year!

  • Willse Elizabeth June 14, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    My Star-Ledger world and WVFC have intersected. I love Kathy’s writing style, and glad she’s sharing with WVFC.