A young mother’s darkly humorous look at inflammatory breast cancer.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Association

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You’re 34. You’re living in France.

Your son is nine months old. It’s 2004.

You stopped nursing a month ago, but one of your breasts is malformed and very hot to the touch.

Four doctors in a row have told you it’s nothing to worry about and given you antibiotics.

You go home to the United States for a vacation.

Your Mom, who never gets excited about anything, tells you to go to your doctor immediately.

You call your husband, still in France, and tell him you have Stage III inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).

Your research tells you 40% of people with this diagnosis live more than five years.

For 80%, cancer recurs.

Should you go home to France?

Your husband says,

“No! Absolutely not!

“Four doctors in a row here told you nothing was wrong.”

“In three weeks at home, you’ve had 20 doctor’s appointments.”

“I’ll come to you.”

Three weeks after you arrive in the U.S. you start chemotherapy.

Meredith Norton, writer, comedian, mother, eventually had a mastectomy, with no reconstruction, after the chemotherapy.

Research at the time revealed that if chemotherapy came before surgery, you had a 40% chance of living for five more years, much higher than the reverse order.

Then, she had radiation, and, a year later, another round of chemotherapy and Herceptin.

Her book, Lopsided: A Memoir, reveals how each person facing cancer stumbles through the necessary steps to find their own path.

Visualizing her body fighting the cancer cells did not help her.

Talking to a therapist did.

Having a father who was a doctor, a urologist, and knowing what doctors could and couldn’t do both helped and hurt.

She was familiar with doctors, their instruments and routines.

She could not pretend they had all the answers.

She didn’t have an epiphany about how she should be living her life.

But, she did reconnect with old friends.

“It turned out that an e-mail about me was circulating.”

“Some people simply deleted it and went on with their days, while others felt it was rude not to make contact of some sort.”

“For a few…it was finally the excuse they needed to forgive me for the myriad of perceived offences I’d committed.”

“And being drugged was the perfect excuse for me to forgive my friends for their poor sportsmanship.”

“Nothing wipes a slate clean faster than being diagnosed with a terminal disease.”

“This was one of the best things about cancer.”

Though a friend convinced her to see a therapist, she could not bring herself to follow through on the therapist’s suggestion to videotape messages to her young son for all the milestones in his life.

Ultimately, she could not bear the image that she and her son would find the tapes in the attic in 25 or 30 years and spend most of their time laughing at the outdated clothes and hairstyles.

Her research also prompted her to find a nutritionist.

But, she found the nutritionist of little help.

Her nutritionist just told her not to lose weight during chemo.

No one was talking about the relationship between cancer and refined sugar.

Her book came out in 2008.

If you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and:

  • Are young
  • Are a mother
  • Need a break from all the medical jargon.

Get the book by clicking on the title: Lopsided: A Memoir, by Meredith Norton.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer, but know someone who has been and you want to:

  • Give her something funny instead of Lance Armstrong’s serious books
  • Understand the human side of cancer, from a doctor’s daughter
  • Want to know what could possibly be funny about cancer

Get the book by clicking on the title: Lopsided: A Memoir, by Meredith Norton

Where Is She Now?

Norton did a round of interviews after her book came out in 2008, like this one with the Daily Mail.

She continues to write for her blog, meredithnorton.com.

I commend to you her story of Maple Jennifer, and the taxidermy Jennifer learned to cope with the mice in the tree house where she lived.

New Vocabulary

IBC – Inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, aggressive type of breast cancer.

There are only 1-6% of breast cancer cases in the U.S. that are IBC.

It more often occurs in young women and African American women.

It can be mistaken for blocked milk ducts.

One-third of women diagnosed with IBC now live ten years or more.

Click on the title to order Norton’s book from amazon, Lopsided: A Memoir

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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