This I Have Learned – The Envelope


Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

I did not expect The Envelope to arrive so soon. It languished on our kitchen granite countertop for hours, and then my husband arrived home. “I cannot open The Envelope,” I said with a voice tinged with fear. “Would you?” “Sure,” he said in a cheerful voice. I heard the letter opener tear through The Envelope and I heard my husband say, “It’s negative!” I was unequivocally relieved and I hugged him saying, “Thank you for opening The Envelope, hon.” My shoulders released the stress I had been feeling for the many days since my mammogram.

What relief I felt. And, yet, I could not help but imagine what women must feel and think when they open The Envelope that contains a form letter from the radiologist’s office with the words stating “We found something unusual on your mammogram. Please call our office for an appointment for a repeat test.”

Hearing the word cancer can have a deleterious effect on a woman – it’s the mental self-talk of what if and what now, as well as a feeling of shock, bewilderment and, of course, anger. We all know of family members and friends who have bravely faced the diagnosis of breast cancer, followed by their treatment and, further, we have seen the after effects of their respective treatment regimens.

According to The Pink Ribbon Story Foundation when a breast cancer diagnosis is given that moment is the dividing line between life before cancer and life after cancer.

But I am not sure that two friends of my mother felt that way. Millie and Esther were diagnosed with breast cancer in their late 60s. They led full lives post-diagnosis, despite the fact that Esther had a bilateral mastectomy and Millie had a unilateral mastectomy, both received early diagnosis of breast cancer. Neither passed from breast cancer, but, rather, from just living many years on.

According to The American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening (mammography) is so important.

Cancer has no boundaries; it’s indiscriminate and unbiased; it is blind to color, religion, ethnicity and gender. Let us hope that breast cancer will soon be obliterated in the near future, so that all women will not have to live in fear of hearing a letter opener slice through The Envelope from a radiologist’s office.

In sifting out my fears and reminiscing about those family members and friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer over the years, I became more informed about the resources available to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Further, I have learned that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are not alone, for there is an “army” of breast cancer survivors who are interested in sharing their stories so that all women can benefit from early diagnosis as well as receive the necessary treatment they need. This I have learned.

If you would like more information about the risk, detection, early diagnosis, the understanding of breast cancer and breast cancer treatment, here are some very informative websites: