Robin Swoboda
Special to the Beacon Journal

As a former thespian, I am very familiar with the terms stage left and stage right. I’m even familiar with falling off a stage and into the orchestra pit, which I did about 10 years ago when I emceed our church Christmas concert in the Strongsville High school auditorium. Let me tell you this is not a good thing to do, especially in front of hundreds of people who gasp as you go down.

When you are pulled from the pit — and I stress the term pit here — all eyes are on you and you put the pain aside and simultaneously curtsy and then hold up victory arms, all the while hoping they don’t see any blood or the wet spot on your pants that mysteriously showed up as you were free falling into what appeared in your mind to be the lost spider pit scene from the 1933 King Kong. (You may not remember that scene, as it was cut after screening audiences went screaming and running from the theater.)

But we all know there is no “cut” in real life and each scene must play itself out.

So when I recently found myself at the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, and my doctor said “stage one,” it was a completely new meaning of the word and a new direction my life was about to take.

His exact words were, “You have stage one, invasive ductal carcinoma that is estrogen positive.

“It started in the milk duct and leached out into the surrounding tissue,” he said sympathetically, his bedside manner among the best I’d ever seen. “The good news is that it’s not in your lymph nodes and it’s estrogen positive.”

“Wait,” I said. “I have estrogen?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

Forget that I have cancer, I have estrogen!!!

To explain why that got me so excited, we must go back to 2011. Almost every day, I felt something coiling up inside of me. I likened it to how Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien must have felt before that hideous creature exploded from her stomach.

It happened for several weeks and when the pain started to increase, I finally went to my doctor, who recommended I see a specialist.

I was given an examination and an ultrasound, and a week later I was back in Exam Room 2 waiting for the results from the doctor.

Not the kind to sit still, among other things I tried taking my blood pressure and checking my reflexes with the little rubber hammer, before I noticed the nurse had left my file in the wall pocket near the door.

Curiosity got the better of me just before the doctor walked in, so all I was able to make out in a split second was that I was a trophy.

That’s very odd, I thought. Why would she say I was a trophy, though at my age I was actually pleased to be thought of as such and I didn’t care who the compliment came from.

We made some small talk as I slid the hammer back to the counter and removed my Starbucks cup from one of the stirrups when she said, “Well, we have your results, Robin.”

“I know. I looked,” I said sheepishly. “I saw that you wrote I’m a trophy. I think you’re quite attractive yourself, if I may say that woman to woman. We shouldn’t be afraid to give each other compliments,” I said.

“It says you’re in atrophy,” she replied curtly.

“What????”

“It says you’re in atrophy. Your uterus is in atrophy. You don’t have any estrogen anymore.”

I was shellshocked. My mother never told me this would happen. Neither had Oprah, nor the Discovery Channel!

For six long years that scene has haunted me, so when Dr. Jame Abraham told me that I had cancer and estrogen, I could have hugged him.

What great news, I thought.

But apparently that’s not good news for the kind of breast cancer I have, because the estrogen is what is feeding the cancer.

“Can’t we just direct it back to my uterus?” I asked.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “In fact, besides radiation we are going to put you on a pill for five years which will stop your estrogen production and then you will be cancer-free.”

So it’s the old good news/bad news story. No more cancer but no more estrogen.

If a shortage of that hormone did what it did to my insides, I can only imagine what having none might do to the rest of me. In five years someone might compliment me on my alligator shoes, but I’ll be barefoot.

If that happens, I’ll save them and me the embarrassment and leave the scene, stage right. Or look for the nearest orchestra pit, where I will count my lucky shriveled-up parts that I don’t have cancer anymore.

Contact Robin Swoboda at Robinswoboda@outlook.com.