Pinky Pie

Not so Whizened & Me

Posted on: September 2, 2010

This photo, taken a few years ago, shows me coming down an alpine slide in Colorado. I had been terrified to go up the chairlift, but made myself do it with support from another woman. And I did it twice. Breast cancer treatment, although not exactly optional, is something that can be overcome. But, just like going up the chair lift again, I don't want to do breast cancer again.

Whizened is the word I’ve been thinking about since learning breast cancer has been diagnosed in two women I know. One is having a lumpectomy and another a double mastectomy, both next week.

Let me tell you that in this case, misery does not want or need company. But I was thinking that one of these women who called me (the other has not) probably figured I was whizened from my own experience.

Three problems with that:

  1. Whizened is not a word.
  2. Wisened is not a word.
  3. Wizened is a word, but does not mean what I thought it means.

I thought wizened means becoming wise or gained wisdom because of experience. Instead, according to, it means “lean and wrinkled by shrinkage as from age or illness; “the old woman’s shriveled skin”; “he looked shriveled and ill”; “a shrunken old man”; “a lanky scarecrow of a man with withered face and lantern jaws”-W.F.Starkie; “he did well despite his withered arm”; “a wizened little man with frizzy grey hair”

I do have wizened hair – it is grey/white and very, very curly: my $200,000 perm. That’s a joke I stole from a woman who had breast cancer about 11 years ago and told me she had a $30,000 perm. When she said that, I responded, “You did have breast cancer a long time ago.” I may be exaggerating about $200,000, but it’s a good line.

Otherwise I am not shriveled at all.

If I were asked to give my (not) whizened, wizened or wisened or opinion at this point, I would suggest:

  • Connecting with women who have had breast cancer and are doing well. None of us, including me, needs to hear about women who did not survive. It is not hard to find women who have gone through this. They come out of the woodwork. In fact, about 9 months after my diagnosis, I called the last surviving aunt on my dad’s side. I already had genetic testing that showed I did not have the breast cancer genes, but it was a good idea to speak to her anyway. She said, “Oh yes, I had that 40 or 50 years ago.” Let me repeat: 40 or 50 years ago.
  • Make your own decision about surgery about what you need and with which you will feel most comfortable.
  • Remember it is always darkest before the dawn. I had some down days during chemotherapy – one or two with a couple treatments – and my daughter reminded me of that expression that I often said to her. Chemotherapy is not fun, but you don’t get sick like women used to a long time ago. They give you good drugs these days to prevent getting sick.
  • Accept help from anyone who will give it. And people want to help.
  • You will not have a humor-ectomy with breast cancer surgery. Keep it handy. Find the humor in everything. It’s there. Really it is.
  • Don’t take out your troubles on others and don’t expect family to give up their lives to support you. You can be alone.
  • Keep your mind and body busy. Physical and mind games are very important.
  • Listen for the intent in words people use. When it comes to the tough stuff, many people – including me – don’t know what the right words are so we fumble sometimes. Listen to what that person meant to say, not the specific words.
  • If you have questions, ask them. And if you think you are not getting what you need, speak up.

Listen to your body. It’s scary at times – how many of us have worked our breasts constantly when we are worried about something.

I must admit there are times I would like to tell my body to just shut up. (I’m too polite to say so, though.”)

To friends starting on this breast cancer dragging (a journey seems too cherry), I wish you luck, support and an awareness that you will get through this and a strong sense of humor.


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