Catch That Look:
Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Sometimes, when that "other shoe" finally drops, it drops hard…
She couldn’t believe her luck. After years of living with the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, Ann Pietrangelo was making the most of her miraculous remission – not that she didn’t expect the other shoe to drop. An accidental discovery of a lump soon led to the life-threatening diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer.
From a deeply personal perspective and told in riveting detail, Catch That Look explores the relationships between doctors and their patients, as well as between patients and their loved ones. With each new page, it becomes crystal clear that just as a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes, when you catch it, a look speaks volumes.
From the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis, this follow-up memoir is one that Ann never thought she would have to write. It offers the reader passionate insight into the emotional and physical turmoil of learning you have a second life-altering disease – and what it means to be a true survivor.
For Ann and her husband, Jim, the diagnosis would test their “living, laughing, and loving despite” mindset. Would they pass this test?
With foreword by Diane Radford, MD, FACS, FRCSEd, surgical oncologist and breast surgeon at Mercy Clinic St. Louis Cancer & Breast Institute.
Catch That Look is available at: Amazon Paperback and ebook format at Amazon and other online stores.
For more information visit: AnnPietrangelo.com/CatchThatLook | Facebook/CatchThatLook | GooglePlus/CatchThatLook
Author Ann Pietrangelo
Author Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Making peace with multiple sclerosis, surviving triple-negative breast cancer, and continuing to pursue a career as a freelance writer...well, let's just say she's fairly stubborn and has a well-developed sense of humor.
She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and her work is published on sites all around the web. Ann and her husband, Jim, are partners in WebCamp One, LLC, a full-service website development and content creation company. Their philosophy is a simple one: Give back when you can and LIVE while you're here.
When they're not working or hanging out with their cat Smokey, Jim and Ann can be found strolling the neighborhood or exploring their adopted city of Williamsburg, Virginia. Their children and extended families are scattered throughout the country, so there's almost always a trip on the calendar. Ann enjoys volunteering her time to such worthwhile organizations as Beyond Boobs! and the National MS Society. Jim and Ann are proud members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
"Where the road leads, for now, is a mystery. I'm just grateful to be on the road." -- Ann Pietrangelo
Author Website: AnnPietrangelo.com | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Few Words from the Author
I vowed to myself, and to all who inquired, that I would not write this book. Yet, here it is, a second memoir that involves my own health.
When I wrote No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis, my intention was to pull the reader inside the thought process of a person as she comes to grips with a serious health condition.
It worked. I occasionally receive emails from readers of No More Secs! Some thank me for writing it and putting into words what they were unable to express. Some say they used it to tell their loved ones what it feels like to have MS. Some tell me they simply feel less alone.
My “living, laughing, and loving despite” mindset worked well enough for multiple sclerosis, but throwing triple-negative breast cancer into the mix would test my resolve, and that of my husband.
Like No More Secs!, Catch That Look is about more than cancer. It’s a love story. Romantic love. Love of family. Love of life. It’s about LIVING while you’re here.
After the cancer diagnosis, someone attempted to comfort me by saying, “Now you’ll have more credibility as a health writer.” That’s a bit of credibility I could have lived without. Still, if my story provides a small measure of comfort to one person, it’s a story worth telling.
From chapter 3: “Head Scarves and Pink Ribbons, Oh My!"
At 4:00 p.m., the sound of a ringing telephone interrupted by thoughts. The caller I.D. displayed our primary care doctor’s name and I instantly knew we were about to step into Cancer Territory. Prior experience told me that Dr. R does not personally make phone calls to patients unless it is very serious business indeed. He had never called our home before.
What was previously a blurry line between alternate futures was about to sharpen, and I knew it was time to cross that line. All would be changed, as I officially transitioned from “I haven’t felt this good in years” to the cancer ward.
I picked up the phone.
“Hello,” I answered casually. Somewhere deep down inside, I knew what I was about to hear.
“Is this Ann?” he asked.
“Yes.” I dug deep, gathering all available inner strength and putting emotion in check.
“This is Dr. R. I have the biopsy results and I wanted you to hear it from me first.” That sentence doesn’t usually precede good news. There was a pause as time ceased to exist.
“You have a malignancy and it’s very serious. Things are going to move very quickly now. I would expect you to see a surgeon by the end of the week, and you can count on chemotherapy and maybe radiation. You’ve got a real tough fight ahead of you.”
He said I had cancer. I knew he said I had cancer, but he didn’t actually say the word. Not saying it couldn’t save me. I don’t like to talk around tough subjects by diluting words and robbing them of their impact. I prefer to use the unpleasant words, to feel their raw power so I can face whatever comes from a position of strength.
Hesitation. Then, “Yes.”
With my words still hanging in the air, Jim bolted from his office chair and was by my side before the clock could tick another second. We struggled to put the phone in speaker mode, but couldn’t make it work, as our fingers fumbled clumsily at the buttons. Heads together, we repositioned the phone between us while the doctor repeated his findings for Jim. He said we were in for a lengthy and difficult process. It was jolting to hear a doctor start out with such a daunting declaration, but it spoke volumes.
Cancer became reality right there in our little kitchen. The very kitchen where Jim proposed to me. The kitchen where our cat, Smokey, took her daily nap in the sunny bay window. The kitchen, with its pale green walls and beat up table that was the heart of our home. The kitchen where we cooked, ate, and laughed every day. The kitchen that would hold a new memory, one that was not pleasant.
Jim put the phone down and we looked at each other in disbelief, finally falling into a long embrace. Time continued to play with our consciousness. Whether we held each other for a minute or for half an hour, I cannot say.
In the movies, this would be the moment where I burst into tears and crumbled to the floor, and it would be completely understandable if I had. But there was no such drama on that most unusual day. Instead, we repeated the doctor’s words out loud, making it real and steeling ourselves for something we couldn’t possibly understand yet. Why wasn’t I freaking out? Why wasn’t Jim? Or were we freaking out and just didn’t recognize it yet?
I like to tell the story of how I received my MS diagnosis by email. It doesn’t get much colder than that. That’s why I appreciated the doctor’s phone call so much. That kind of news should always be delivered by a human voice.
So, what do you do immediately after hearing you have cancer? Should you take to your bed or run screaming through the streets? Shine the bat signal? I never thought about it before. I suppose if you’re in a doctor’s office you begin to discuss treatment options. But we weren’t in a doctor’s office or a hospital. We were home in the middle of a workday.
We sat at the kitchen table. In No More Secs!, I wrote that I’m not a “why me?” kind of person. Learning that I had cancer didn’t change that, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience a brief state of shock that it actually happened, especially while I felt so healthy.
There wasn’t much else to say. We still knew little about the cancer. It could be anything from an early stage cancer to a call to start ticking items off my bucket list, but speculating would get us nowhere.
We had to do something! We couldn’t just nonchalantly go back to our work. This was BIG! The only thing I could think of to do was to begin making phone calls. Jim went back to his desk, leaving me to the task I felt I must do alone. How he managed to get through the next few hours until dinner, I can’t imagine, but there was nothing for him to do until I was ready.
I was not looking forward to telling the family, particularly my children and my mother. How do you tell your family that you have cancer, especially if you live hundreds of miles apart? And when is the right time? We hadn’t wanted to worry anyone before the biopsy results, and we still lacked much in the way of information, but there would always be something else to wait for once we were embedded in cancer territory.
At the top of my call list was my daughter. Liz was in her final year of college, and had already decided to stay on for grad school to get her master’s degree in behavior analysis. She had her own health issues, those of her boyfriend, and my MS to deal with, and I was about to add to her concerns. As my daughter, she would be more affected by my breast cancer diagnosis than anyone else. Why did I have to give her more to bear?
It was her third birthday party and she was all decked out in her purple Minnie Mouse dress and Minnie Mouse sneakers, her long hair flying in every direction as she ran toward me. With the level of energy only a toddler can summon, she climbed onto my lap and delivered a neck squeeze so tight I momentarily stopped breathing, yet I made no attempt to break her hold. She could hang on forever, as far as I was concerned.
My throat was suddenly as dry as the desert and my eyes began to sting. As I picked up my cell phone, my hand trembled and my stomach weakened. I wanted to sound strong and confident when I told her, so I put the phone down on the wooden table, determined to gather more courage before hitting the speed dial. I stared at the screen on my laptop, wondering how I would do what must be done. Emotions, so neatly held in check through all the preliminaries, were bubbling to the surface, an effect so powerful I felt I could drown.
While I tried to steady my breathing, the phone rang, the usually pleasant-sounding ringtone rattling my nerves. It was Liz, almost as if she felt my angst from halfway across the country. Later, she confessed that she had a strange feeling that compelled her to call me right at that moment. I echoed her happy hello, but she heard it, knew it somehow, so close is our bond.
I tried to answer, but there was a catch in my throat. “Give me a moment,” I croaked. Deep breath. More shaking. The back of my throat hurt, but I couldn’t fix it. Out with it, then.
“I was just diagnosed with breast cancer.” There. My news was out there in the atmosphere, no longer an intangible problem within the confines of our home, but a very real one that would affect other people in our lives. Things were going to change and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I could no longer hold the tears that began a rapid descent down my cheeks. There was no way to cushion the blow.
The brief guttural sound that came through the earpiece tore at my heart. Neither of us is prone to wallowing, so we quickly regained our composure. We weren’t about to blubber at each other over the phone, so we had a frank discussion about what we knew so far. In her analytical way, she worked through her questions for which I had few answers, but she offered up her unconditional love. My spirit ached for what I’d just done to her, but I felt an immense sense of relief, too.
“I love you, Mama.” I adore the way she calls me “Mama.” I could picture her beautiful face, her still long, but now neatly combed hair, and the new worry that would be reflected in her eyes, if only I could see them.
“I love you, too, Sweetie.”
That was one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever had to make, but it was only the first of three.
Get a sneak peek inside chapter 1 of Catch That Look on Amazon
Steve Millburg, in Radiology Daily: “Blogger Ann Pietrangelo has begun a series of posts about her discovery of “the lump that would change everything” and what it has meant in her life. Everyone who has a heart, and especially everyone in the medical profession, will find them riveting."