A Battle Cry: The Enemy is Defeated!

Amazon, literally "a": without, "mazo": breast
As some of you know, I have recently fought (and am still fighting) the battle of my life. Last fall I was told that there was an abnormal result of my regular mammogram. I was called in for a biopsy, and the result was bad news. The calcifications in my breast, which had been there for years, were suddenly malignant. I had to have surgery immediately.
      This was such a trigger for me, to say the least. My first partner, Susan Seltzer, had died from breast cancer at thirty-three years old. I had gone through every step of her diagnosis with her - the initial surgery, the removal of lymph nodes (which were already positive), the radiation treatments, chemotherapy, hair-loss, nausea, and the ultimate heartbreak of holding her hand while she took her last breath. I didn't think I would survive it I ever received a cancer diagnosis. Well, not only have I survived it. I am thriving!
      My doctor told me that thirty years ago, it would not have been possible to make such an early diagnosis. My cancer was Stage Zero, so my prognosis is excellent. But there is still the invasion of my body, the cutting, the wounds, the healing, etc. Tissue was cut out of my abdomen to reconstruct the breast. The abdominal pain is actually more significant than the pain in my chest.     
      This experience made it crystal clear to me that things in my life had to change. My stress-level during the months prior to my diagnosis was entirely too high. I had been pressured by my parents throughout my childhood to pull a concert career out of thin air. We were finally taking steps toward making that happen: we had traveled to Vienna to record and film a music video; we were filming, producing, and editing television shows at Manhattan Neighborhood Network; I had written, edited, and turned-in the manuscript for my first book of memoirs; we were applying for nominations for GLAAD Media Awards and New York Emmys. And then... everything stopped. I had to put my life in the hands of my surgeons, and pray for survival.
      After the surgery - which went flawlessly according to all of the doctors and nurses who cared for my wounds - I had to learn to let people take care of me. This was something I had never learned. My parents taught me that anything I asked for was too much trouble for them. It got to the point where I felt guilty if I needed anything. I had convinced myself that is was my own fault that my needs weren't being met. How could I possibly point to my parents and accuse them of being neglectful? It was easier to put the blame on myself than to perceive the reality that I was unsafe in my parents' care.
      I realized in the hospital room when I would try to reach for a cup of water that was too far away for me to reach because of the kind of surgery I had had. Then a nurse would reach over to pick it up for me and hand it to me. Sure enough, I felt guilty. I could just hear my mother's voice saying impatiently, "Oh, Nina! You know you can reach that cup!" But the reality was, I couldn't. I had to start arguing with and silencing the critical voices in my head.
      As fate would have it, the day I was released from the hospital I received an email from the church that purchased my grandfather's property in Charleston, West Virginia several years ago. They were building an education outreach center, and they wanted to put my grandfather's name on the building. It felt like I was receiving a direct message from my grandparents on that day. Later I realized that the day I was released, January 16, was actually my grandfather's birthday. He was the first licensed African-American surgeon in the Charleston area, perhaps in the entire state of West Virginia. Now I know that his spirit oversaw my surgery.
      My gratitude goes to my gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Howard, my breast surgeon Dr. Sarah Cate, my plastic surgeon Dr. Jordan Jacobs, the staff and nurses at Mount Sinai, and New York Medicaid. I also want to thank my family and friends who came through with flying colors: Cole, Liz, Sharea, Martina, Kelly, Kevin, Anne, et al. You know who you are, and I love you! Kisses to the loving and faithful Mittens Rachmaninoff, who sat by the front door until I came home. And first and foremost, April, I owe you my life. You have my love forever.
      Now I officially join the ranks of Amazons who cut off their right breasts so as not to impede their archery. You will be hearing several warrior-yells from me in the near future, so get ready!


  1. You are indeed a warrior Nina! You still have much to conquer on your journey. You are loved and needed!


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