In a candid and sometimes humorous blog post, Judy Blume revealed Wednesday that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June and recently underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction. She’s now recuperating and getting ready to start work on her next book.
Now, one month post-surgery, Blume tweeted earlier today that she’s in Martha’s Vineyard for the first time this summer attending the film fest, where the film adaptation of her 1981 novel Tiger Eyes will screen Saturday night.
“[I'm] feeling stronger every day, walking a couple of miles in the park each morning and going out to early dinners with [her husband] George,” Blume wrote, adding while she still naps daily, she’s finally able to read again without falling asleep. “I’m not working on my book yet (have just been given permission to type an hour at a time with arm exercises in between) but I’m thinking about getting back to it after Labor Day, kind of like starting school.”
The shocking news came when Blume, 74, was preparing to leave for a five-week trip to Italy, with four of those weeks devoted to staying at an artists’ colony at a castle in Umbria, where she was hoping to wrap up her new book. But a routine visit to the radiologist on June 12 to check on dense breast tissue resulted in the unexpected.
“There’s no breast cancer in my family (recent extensive genetic testing shows no genetic connection),” Blume wrote. “I haven’t eaten red meat in more than 30 years. I’ve never smoked, I exercise every day, forget alcohol—it’s bad for my reflux—I’ve been the same weight my whole adult life. How is this possible? Well, guess what—it’s possible.”
The biopsy report came back a few days later with the news that Blume had invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Blume also revealed that she had a hysterectomy 17 years ago as a result of cervical cancer caused by the Human papillomavirus.
“For whatever reason I didn’t cry. I choked up that first day, but the tears didn’t flow,” wrote Blume, explaining that instead, she decided to take action. “Okay, I thought—let’s gather all the info, talk with both my primary care docs in NY. Talk with friends who’ve been through this. Ask for recommendations. Get a list of breast surgeons. Get this done. Taking charge (or thinking I was taking charge) made me feel better.”
What followed were some of the hardest decisions she’d ever made in her life: whether to have a lumpectomy followed by radiation or a mastectomy with or without reconstruction.
Blume’s cardiologist, who is also her primary care doctor, and her gynecologist, both recommended against radiation. “Hearing the same thing from each of them was powerful,” Blume said, which helped her ultimately decide to undergo a mastectomy and reconstruction.
Blume said she might have opted for a double mastectomy if she were younger, “not for the “matched pair” but for the worry that it will happen again in the other breast.”
In the six weeks prior to surgery, and with permission from her doctors, Blume went to Nantucket, where she’d rented a house for two weeks. The film adaptation of Tiger Eyes, directed by her son Lawrence Blume and starring Willa Holland as Davey and Amy Jo Johnson as Gwen Wexler, was screening at the Nantucket Film Festival. She also spent four days in San Francisco, as planned, where Tiger Eyes was screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Blume apologized for not staying after the screening to sign books.
“Note to disappointed fans in San Francisco: I’m sorry I couldn’t stay after the screening to sign your books,” she wrote. “Now you know why. I wasn’t supposed to be in crowds. Could not take the chance of catching a bug before surgery. On the plane I wore a surgical mask (and scrubbed our seats, tray tables, etc, like a lunatic while George pretended to be asleep) but I couldn’t do that with you without explaining, and the time wasn’t right for explaining. I’ll come back to your beautiful city and sign books for you another time.”
Blume’s advice to the public was clear: “If you have dense breast tissue ask your radiologist about having a sonogram,” she says, adding how grateful she was to her to her radiologist, who’s performed her mammograms for two decades. “If she hadn’t decided I should have a sonogram because of dense breast tissue we still wouldn’t know,” Blume wrote, adding that, “this didn’t show up in a mammo or in physical exams, and I’m checked by doctors four times a year. Even the breast surgeon couldn’t feel this one.”
Blume joked about now being a member of “The Club.” “Not one I wanted to join or even thought I would ever be joining—but here I am,” she wrote. “I’m part of this Sisterhood of the Traveling Breast Cells (apologies to Ann Brashares). Medical diagnoses can leave you feeling alone and scared. When it comes to breast cancer you’re not alone, and scary though it is, there’s a network of amazing women to help you through it.”
Blume thanked her friends who’ve survived breast cancer for their help and support.
“They got me through this. They were my inspiration.”