I’m a long-time reader of the Boing Boing site and have always been particularly fond of the work of editor Xeni Jardin. Her openness in talking about her breast cancer makes me appreciate her all the more.
Jardin’s greatest strength as a writer has always been her ability to focus on the human side of technology, and she was doing just that in early December when she live tweeted her first mammogram. She poked fun at a procedure that scares the hell out of most women who have one for the first time, saying, among other things:
Comparing her experience to Katie Couric’s TV-documented colonoscopy some years back, she said:
At the end of this string of tweets came this:
She filled in the blanks with a column later on, in which she described having an ultrasound:
Dr. Kristi Funk is her name. How can anything go bad when the doctor’s name is Funk, and there are so many funny things to tweet? She told me to lie down, put some goop on my chest, and waved a wand through the goop. The waves appeared on a screen. It looked like NASA video, something the Mars rovers might transmit home to a JPL engineer searching for distant water.
She showed me a crater in the waves, a deep one, with rough edges and a rocky ridge along the northern rim. Calcification. Badly-defined boundaries. Not the lake we’d hoped to find.
“The first thing you’re going to learn about working with me is that I’m a straight shooter,” Dr. Funk said. Her voice was steady and reassuring.
“That’s how you know you can trust me. I’m going to tell you everything, and I’m going to tell it to you like it is.”
I forget the rest of what she said, but it added up to this: the crater was cancer.
As the words sank in, the Mars rover crawled over another steep ridge, out of the crater and into a valley, and found one of my lymph nodes, larger and darker than the others. A rocky prominence. A sentinel node. No water there, just fast-dividing cells that kill.
I believe that we are looking at breast cancer, and that it has spread to one of your lymph nodes, she said.
Since then, Jardin has taken her readers through every step of her treatment experiences. She started a Twitter exchange the other day about how to wake up veins that have collapsed from too many IV needles. Having suffered through the collapsed veins as a kid when Crohn’s Disease made regular IV drips necessary, I knew how valuable this kind of exchange was.
She has tweeted about the sickening effects of chemo and not being able to taste her coffee in the morning.
She’s done it all with a lighthearted demeanor that makes the suffering accessible and less scary. For us, at least.
I’ve always had enormous respect for those who share the experience of a medical procedure many consider embarrassing. Many women are reluctant to get their boobs flattened into pancakes, just as I’ve never enjoyed the frequent colonoscopies I have to have because the childhood Chrohn’s Disease makes me a high risk for colon cancer in middle age.
But when someone shares the experience, it becomes less embarrassing and, more importantly, less mysterious and scary.
That’s why I’ve always respected Couric. Her on-air colonoscopy happened before Facebook and Twitter, where people share so much that nothing is surprising anymore. She did it to raise awareness after colon cancer killed her husband.
It made the procedure a lot less scary for people.
Jardin has done an admirable job making breast cancer treatment less scary. I think that will inspire a lot of women to get early mammograms that may well save some lives.
This post is to thank her and encourage my own readers to tweet her some words of support as she continues the fight. Her Twitter handle is @xenijardin. Thanks.