Happy (Re)Birthday to Me

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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22 Responses

  1. Happy anniversary, Pam! I’m so happy about you hitting the five-year mark!

    My mother died of recurrent metastatic breast cancer, so I’ve been getting mammograms since I was 32. My most recent one was March 1. 🙂

    • Yay for you, Natalie. So sorry about your mom, but you’re doing exactly what she would want you to do. Stay vigilant. (((hugs)))

  2. Pamela, if I had been a gene carrier or had a history of breast cancer in my family, I would have done the same thing. Why walk around with a time bomb?

    • That’s the way I felt, Abigail. I had the DNA test done, but that was seven years ago before they knew too much about it. The test came back inconclusive. Yes, I had a mutation, but not the familiar one, so the outcome was murky. Now, we watch my ovaries.

  3. Wow, what an amazing story, and in my book, you are a survivor because it’s not about merely facing death, it’s about facing fear. So glad to hear you are doing so well, and that your surgeries are over. My mother-in-law had breast cancer nearly 15 years ago and had a partial mascetomy. She’s lopsided 🙂 but so far has remained cancer free.

    I don’t think what you did was radical in the least. You have boobs and they are low risk boobs…and probably much perkier than mine.

    • LOL, Liz! My husband says when we’re sitting in the nursing home some day, I’ll be the little old lady with the boobs still pointing straight out:-)
      My mom is lopsided, too–but an 18-year survivor!

  4. I HATE the idea of not having you in my life. It simply wouldn’t be the same. I am SO glad you not only find the cancer but weren’t afraid the face the bitch head-on!

    My next mammogram is next Monday! 🙂

  5. Pam, thank you so much for sharing your remarkable journey.

    IMHO, cancer doesn’t kill as often as fear of it does. I’d like to think that I’d have made the same decision you did. I’m SO happy that yours worked out so well!

    I am NEVER late with my mammogram, or pelvic – having a sister who died at 32 of Cervical cancer will do that to you. She was two months late, having her annual exam.

    MAKE that appointment, Ladies! NOW!

    • You’re so right about the fear, Laura. Many women won’t even go to the doctor because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear. Sorry about your sister–glad you heed the warning left behind in her legacy. (((hugs)))

  6. Yay! In medical coding you are what we call a V10 (history of cancer). It’s one of the best diagnoses in the book because it literally means the cancer is history!

    And shame on me, I am overdue for my mammogram. Indian Health Services was supposed to send me a letter with an appointment time and they haven’t, and I haven’t gotten around to nagging them. Will be doing that as soon as I get back from my various trips this next ten days.

  7. Kari, in eleven days I’ll be on your ass like ugly on an ape:-) And I’ve always wanted to think of myself as a “10.” You’ve given me legitimate backing!

  8. What an awesome story to start the day with. And I’m glad the decision you made kept you here to tell it.

    To answer your question my last one was about five years ago. I got it because I was in so much pain I would have happily sliced them off with an ax myself. Turns out I had a couple of lumps and was lucky enough they were benign. I have an appointment in two weeks for the same reason.

    • Erin, your five years made me shudder, but I’m thankful you’re scheduled for two weeks from now. Sending good vibes your way!

  9. Wow! What an inspiring story of courage! So glad you shared and are cancer free! 🙂 Mine was in Nov.

  10. Happy re-birthday!
    (Had my mammo in January. I always schedule the first appt of the morning so I’m not walking around too long without deodorant on.)

  11. Pam-thank you for sharing your story…you definitely made the right decision, and I’m so glad! I had displasia (mutating cells) in my uterus when I was in my 30’s and chose to have a complete hysterectomy. I have never regretted it either. We women have to be diligent about taking care of ourselves!
    Jill

    • Amen, Jill! How wonderful to be living in a time when woman are able to talk openly about the things happening with their bodies. I have a good friend whose mother died of cervical cancer because she was too modest to discuss her symptoms with her doctor until it was too late.
      Thanks for stopping in and sharing your story. No regrets means you absolutely made the right decision. (((hugs)))

  12. I LOVE this post! and you are too a survivor AND a hero. you’re inspiring and someone to look to. Sometimes all it takes is “she did it, she made it through, I can too”

    Congrats!

    • Exactly the message I want people to hear–I made it, they can, too. Thanks for reminding me of that, Keri! (((hugs)))

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