Yesterday (May 13th) was my birthday. It was also Mother’s Day, so it was an important day not only for me, but for women everywhere. But today is perhaps an even more important day in my life. I refer to it as my Re-birth Day. On May 14th, 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so, as of today, I’m officially a five-year survivor. I actually dislike using the term survivor because it implies that I faced death, and I didn’t—but others do. It implies that there’s something heroic about me, and there’s not—but others are. I’m simply someone who had a disease, and by the grace of God and the marvels of modern medicine, I’m cured.
I’ve been aware I was at high risk for the disease my entire adult life. My grandmother had breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer. I had a benign tumor when I was 22 and started having routine mammograms early on. So when the doctor confirmed what I already suspected after having several biopsies in as many years and a scare with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) two years earlier, I wasn’t completely surprised by the diagnosis.
What did surprise me were my options. I went in expecting a lumpectomy like I had with the DCIS. However, although the cancer was Stage 0, it was in more than one area and scattered. A lumpectomy would require losing one-third of my breast, radiation, and chemotherapy. My other option was a mastectomy. I would lose my breast, but no chemo and no radiation.
My decision shocked everyone including my husband, my doctor, and maybe even me. I didn’t choose a mastectomy. I chose a bi-lateral mastectomy. Both breasts. People told me how brave I was to take such a radical approach. Let me assure you in no uncertain terms that I was not brave; I was terrified. Terrified that in three months or three years I would be hearing the same terrifying diagnosis about my other breast.
I chose an option many women aren’t aware of—a simple, skin-saving mastectomy with only a 4% chance of recurrence. The surgeon and the plastic surgeon were both in the surgery. The surgeon removed my breasts, leaving as much skin as possible (which wasn’t much). When he finished, the plastic surgeon inserted saline implants, each containing a port. For two months, I went to the plastic surgeon’s office every two weeks and he would inject more saline solution through the port. The skin stretched a little at a time until he had the mounds the correct size. I was fortunate; he was able to stretch me to my previous size. Then, we waited six months for everything to settle.
After the wait, I had a second surgery. The plastic surgeon removed the saline implants and replaced them with silicone ones followed by another wait (three months). The third surgery was optional—nipples. But I’d gone this far and was thrilled with the results, so why stop now? I took the option and loved the completed feeling I got from it. No more blank faces staring back at me in the mirrorJ.
When the post-op report came back after the first surgery, I learned that my “good” breast did indeed have cancer; it was just too small to show up yet on a mammogram. I made the right choice and have never regretted it.
I realize how blessed I am to have caught the cancer early, and I acknowledge the others who haven’t had the choices I had and have bravely faced whatever they had to endure. But there are a lot of women like me out there who could have a choice. Please help me get the message to them that EARLY DETECTION IS THE KEY. I pray that every one of them can celebrate a Re-birth Day like me!
So my question for you today is an extremely personal one. When was your last mammogram?
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