Jessica Stockwell


I recently attended an annual holiday dinner. I wore my blue velvet shirt and black velvet pants, and my fluffy blue boa—my uniform for the month of December.

I live in Istanbul, Turkey, and this is the third annual company holiday dinner I’ve attended. I wasn’t sure if I was going to feel like attending because of that day’s schedule: I had to get blood work done in preparation for my chemotherapy program. Pricking and prodding are hospital rituals that have become routine after I underwent a nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy on November 27th, 2014, and a follow-up surgery, axillary lymph node dissection and bilateral breast reconstruction surgery on December 11th, 2014.

I attended the dinner and I was feeling pretty good because my ‘treatments‘ for that day, which happened to be Christmas day, had been rescheduled. The event is an occasion to see people who work with my husband, which happens maybe once in a year. They usually tell me “ How are you? You look great! So what are you doing these days?”

I usually say that I’m teaching, that I have a few private students, and I might add that I went to Paris, Jerusalem or Granada that year. The conversation usually continues with them replying “Oh, you went to Jerusalem! How was it?” or “Paris! I’m going in a month, I love Paris!” or “Granada! I’ve heard it’s beautiful. My friend went there and loved it.”

Well, my reply changed this year. “Well, I’m just coming out of breast cancer surgery,” I say with a smile and look around at the festive faces and people milling about, which I like very much. “Oh, yeah, I had cancer, but I went through surgery and had both removed.” I kind of motion to my chest and I think I say “mastectomy” …but quietly. My blue velvet shirt with my fluffy silk boa hide any evidence of surgery or cancer—that often lethal but common disease.

My friend at the dinner said that she knows someone who has gone through it, ”She’s doing fine.” She introduces me to a friend and the conversation extends to her friend’s friend who just went through a preserving bilateral mastectomy. She has the gene in her family, but at the moment she doesn’t have cancer. The conversation continued and I felt included. It was comforting, just like having a trip to Paris, or another city, in common. I sat next to these two women and we had a great evening. We had a discussion abouthealth, medical treatments, mammograms, cancer, lifestyle and future travel plans as we ate dinner, commenting on all the dishes served during the evening.

It was a good evening and I enjoyed the great dinner conversation with two women thatI don’t see but once a year. They helped me realize how common breast cancer is and how sharing general thoughts, comments andopinions about it is acknowledging it as a bump in the road in the journey of life. My blue boa took me through another December in style. Now I feel blessed and I take one day at a time.

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