Five years ago. It was at the very end of September, the beginning of October of 2010. I had no history of cancer in the family. I had clear mammograms throughout the years. I had even thought about why should I have one that year when all the others had been clear.
When I got that initial call … saying let’s get an ultrasound, then they say let’s get a … biopsy. That’s when you start thinking, “Gosh, could this really be happening?” Then when you get that call back from the doctor you’ve seen for the past 10 years, and it turns out to be cancer—it’s a bizarre feeling. For me
You have to think about that your doctor has to recommend you to a surgeon. There is a lot to think about. Do you agree with the course of treatment? Do you need a second opinion? You are always thinking about it. At night I would wake up. I chose to have the mastectomy. But even after that you have to schedule the surgery and wait. You wake up and go to work, and socialize with friends. You talk about it or don’t talk about it.
How did people react?
Some people had horror stories, what it was like when they went through it. They tell you these things but until you go through it yourself you don’t really know. Everyone’s experience is different. Then there were those who don’t know what to say and will say, “I know it will be all right.” How did they know? I’d rather they say I’m here if you need me. Not that it will all be fine. Which, frankly, it was.
You continued to stay involved in LGBT activism during your recovery. Why?
I had my mastectomy on the day of Toy Party and I was a full-fledged board member at the time and I felt guilty I was not there.
I had a very difficult recovery because my arm got damaged during the surgery. A four month … recovery turned into an almost year and a half recovery. Life went on. I didn’t want to be home feeling sorry for myself or even dwelling on it, but it was always there at a low simmer. Only recently what went on has all come back to me in a more orderly way.
Maybe I used my activism as a way of coping. Here is an ah-moment for me. I was doing the Toy Party and Backpack in the Park. I went to all the HRC events I could. I marched in the Pride parade with For the Kid. And I never walk—I do not like being outside and walking. But that year I hopped, skipped and jumped throughout that parade. Looking back on that, it was just a way to cope.
As such, I’ve kind of let go of being closely involved with organizations. I’m stepping back to take care of myself like I didn’t be- fore. It’s almost like a delayed reaction to what happened to me.
What are some of your other thoughts?
I think the things I had the most trouble with were the people telling me how much an inspiration I was. Nothing felt inspiring about it. This thing happened to me. There was no inspiration in the way I recovered.
I know when I met Patt [Cianciullo, her wife] she had recently lost her partner to ovarian cancer. She went on a bike ride in her partner’s memory for a cancer group. There was this almost cult-like headiness over the survivor. I just couldn’t get into it. I’m not into that whole celebration of the cancer survivor thing. Pink has never been my color. I know for many it inspires them. For me, it’s not. I had the cancer; I support other people with cancer. But I can’t get into the mindset of the pink hurrahs. But at the same time I understand you need inspiration and hope to keep going.
October 16, 2015
Maggie Lopez Cianciullo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and had a mastectomy. (Courtesy photo)