My journey with breast cancer began on Wednesday, October 19, 2011. When I stepped out of the shower, I looked in the mirror and noticed an indentation under the nipple on my left breast that looked like an orange and a fingertip’s width to the right of it was a very small lump. I wasted no time in checking my personal library and discovered that it was a symptom of breast cancer.
Fast forward to November 22, 2011, my oncology surgeon called with the results of the biopsies. When the ultrasound tech was doing my preliminary exam before the biopsy of the very small, mobile lump that I found, she stopped at four separate places on my breast. The surgeon decided to biopsy a second lump. A lump that was located on the left side of my left breast behind a fibroid that I had removed when I was forty.
After I hung up the phone with my doctor, my husband and I discussed the possible reasons why I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I had been a natural health fanatic for over twenty years. I have tried to watch my weight and eat healthy most of the time. I have been more concerned about being diagnosed with heart disease or stroke than I have been with receiving a breast cancer diagnoses.
Although the thought had been in the back of my mind that I might be a candidate, my mother was the first woman in her family to receive a breast cancer diagnosis. She was seventy-two and only survived a year and a half. My dad had two sisters who had received diagnoses. One was forty-four and survived for twenty-eight years, the other was in her early fifties and survived for about five years. I was forty-seven and have now survived for two and a half years. I received my diagnoses almost three years to the day after my mother received hers. She passed away one week before Mother's Day in 2010.
My husband and I arrived at the same conclusion at the same time. The only logical reason for me to receive a breast cancer diagnoses was so I could use my experience to help as many other women as I could help on their journey. That is the number one reason that I decided to write my breast cancer memoir: Dear Sister, My Bathroom Mirror Saved My Life. It is about my personal journey with breast cancer; the importance of faith, family and friendship; the lessons that I learned and what I wish I had known beforehand.
She recommended that I have an MRI a week later and scheduled me to come in the next morning for genetic testing. It was the day before Thanksgiving. As soon as I finished my MRI, I got in my car to drive home. Her nurse had left a message on my cell phone. When I called her back, she told me that the genetic testing had come back negative and asked me if I had scheduled a follow-up appointment with my oncology surgeon. I told her: No, but I just finished having the MRI done that she had ordered.
That night, my surgeon called me with the preliminary results of the MRI. It had found at least four separate cancer cells. Her recommendation: A bilateral mastectomy with ovarian removal. It was stage one, invasive, intraductal carcinoma. I was in shock! How did stage one breast cancer turn into a bilateral mastectomy? I started to sob. My husband heard me. My doctor let me cry and then let me talk when I was ready. She then went into great detail about tram-flap surgery and recommended that I see a plastic surgeon for a consultation. She gave me his phone number. She told me about ALL of the benefits of having reconstructive surgery. She also asked me how I felt about implants. I told her: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
She advised me to not base my decision on my emotions but to do the long-term research and decide what I would or would not regret doing ten, fifteen or twenty years in the future.
A week later I met with the plastic surgeon. I did not qualify for the tram-flap surgery. I did not have enough belly fat. I told him that I would consider saline implants but not silicone. He told me that silicone implants feel more natural than saline. I asked him about the negative side effects and complications of having implants. He refused to answer those questions. He kept telling me how “I would look and feel like a woman again.” He also stated that if I needed radiation, that might cause the implants to rupture and that so far, he and my doctor had been very lucky in that regard. He explained how the procedure was done and recommended that I do it at the time of my mastectomies.
I was starting to feel nervous. Then he introduced me to his receptionist that scheduled his surgeries. While she was on the phone talking to my oncology surgeon's scheduler, I asked her how long I would be in the recovery room. She said: 23 hours. I didn't like the sound of that, nor did I like the worried look she had on her face when she said it.
Later that evening, I decided to put my oncology surgeon's advice to the test. I researched the long-term satisfaction of women who had had silicone implants following a bilateral mastectomy. I spent five very long, emotional hours researching this topic. I started at eight o'clock in the evening and didn't finish until two o'clock the next morning. Ten years later, the results were: 93% of the women surveyed wish they hadn't done it and if they were given a second chance they would NOT do it again. 45%-50% of the women surveyed had had complications - most of them from infections and the implant rupturing.
I came to the following conclusion: I came into this world without breasts and I am going out of this world without them and that's okay! (It would take me several months before I could say this without crying).
When I told my boss what my decision was, she told me that women need to remember that their self-esteem comes from within, it's not determined by their bra size.
I had a bilateral mastectomy with six lymph nodes removed along with my ovaries on December 16, 2011. I have since discovered that I have gained far more than I have lost. I was fitted with prostheses on March 1, 2012. I look and feel more like me than I have in the last twenty-five years. There are lots of benefits to being breast-less.
Here are a few:
1. I have a lot more options when it comes to picking out a Halloween costume. 2. Sleeping is a lot more comfortable. You know how good it feels to take your bra off before you go to bed, but you cannot imagine how great it feels to remove your breasts! 3. People now make eye contact with me. I can count on one hand the number of people that I know personally that know what color my eyes are. Nobody stares at my chest any more. (I used to wear a 38DD. I am now a 36C, which is the size I wore before I had children). 4. I have a lot more fun shopping for clothes! With breasts, although I wore a size ten, my shoulders were a size six. So if I found a blouse or dress that fit me in the shoulders, it was usually too small for my breasts. If it fit my breasts, it was usually too big in the shoulders. 5. I am now a lean, mean, hula-hooping machine! I was pretty good before I had surgery, but I am unstoppable now! There is nothing to get in the way!
I wish I had found the Flat and Fabulous facebook support group page at the time of my diagnoses. Deciding to not have reconstructive surgery would have been A LOT easier. At the time, it was the most difficult decision that I have ever had to make in my life.
P.S. My breast cancer memoir: Dear Sister, My Bathroom Mirror Saved My Life is available here.