My breast cancer experience began when I was twelve old. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away when she was forty, September 26, 1968. She had two separate mastectomies with no reconstruction along with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I knew there was a strong family history of breast cancer on both sides of my family - my mother's sister passed from breast cancer by age fifty, an aunt and a cousin on my father's side also had breast cancer. I believed if I could make it past my 40th birthday without breast cancer, I would be okay.
By the summer of 2013, I had a plan. Finally, I was becoming my own person. I was ready to take on the world. I competed in field events with my Irish Wolfhounds, I worked three part-time jobs, I volunteered, and I enjoyed my adult children, my grandchildren, and time with my husband.
On July 5, 2013, all of that changed with the official diagnosis. At fifty-nine years old, the words you have breast cancer changed my life. Because of the type of cancer, HER2+(3+), I knew I wanted a mastectomy but that was all I knew.
There were so many decisions to be made and so little time to research. I wanted the cancer out! I wanted to look “normal” when I was finished. I thought I had to please my husband and my family. I did not know what I wanted.
I was scheduled for genetic testing, my gut was telling me I was BRCA +. If that was true, I planned to have a double mastectomy. I found out I do not have any form of the BRCA gene mutation. I volunteered for the second tier of genetic sequencing - this was also negative. This was great news for my daughters and granddaughters.
I decided to have a mastectomy and preliminary reconstruction. This meant multiple surgeries at the same time. Thankfully, my surgical oncologist and my plastic surgeon work well together. Bandaged, bruised, and broken, I went home the day after surgery. Initially, I healed well. Inflation of the expander was planned after the completion of chemotherapy.
I was scheduled for one full year of treatment: six cycles of TCH (eighteen weekly infusions) followed by Herceptin every twenty-one days.
I was uncomfortable, the expander felt foreign and hard. The more I lived with it, the less I accepted it. I - it - the expander got cold, really cold. There was no comfortable way to get warm. When I moved, it was as if there was a weight on my chest. By the time I was halfway through chemo, I had made the decision to be flat. As soon as I voiced the decision I felt relief! Soon, there would be nothing foreign in my body.
My husband supported my decision. He reminded me many times that he loved me for me, not for having breasts. My younger sister is also a breast cancer survivor (triple negative). She had a bilateral mastectomy with complete reconstruction. We talked about the consequences of reconstruction - lack of feeling, the implants reacting to cold temperatures. She explained to me that her implants have to be replaced periodically. This meant more surgeries and more recoveries.
After a consultation with both my oncologist and my plastic surgeon, approval was given to schedule expander removal surgery. My plastic surgeon did not try to change my mind. He listened to me and accepted my decision. Very realistically, I was prepared for surgery and for recovery. The recovery from removal was more difficult than the initial surgery. My muscles had been disrupted and rearranged several times and now scars and adhesions complicated physical recovery.
I was released from the hospital on the same day as the surgery. A long road lay ahead. I was patiently impatient. I was ready to move on - I was happy and relieved at the same time.
My goal was to be completely flat on my cancer side. Emotionally and mentally, I was happy with my decision. I embrace my new physique, my scars are not disfigurement. I live in a resort area and spend lots of time on the beach in the summer. After deconstruction, I was confident to return to the beach and to the ocean.
Physically, I am regaining my strength. I am working with a cancer certified trainer. I am on the way to becoming my own woman again. I am confident in my appearance. When I was going through chemotherapy, I lost my hair. Being bald was harder for me than being boobless. I celebrated my sixtieth birthday - bald and boobless. This year, I will celebrate being alive, cancer free, confident and FLAT & fabulous!
This past summer, I was contacted by my plastic surgeon regarding an article being written for our local newspaper. This article was to be released for Pinktober. I was pleased to add my opinions regarding the option of remaining flat after a mastectomy. When the article was published, I was thrilled to see that my comments had been incorporated. The first sentence was a quote from me:
"There are benefits to being flat:
I can give closer hugs to my grandbabies,
I have a variety of clothing styles to chose from.
I do not wear foobs, so I have more room in my lingerie drawer for pretty tanks and camis
My husband is comfortable with my new look and loves me for “me”.