I first noticed a “bulge” in my breast when I was 39 years old – while getting ready for work and putting on a bra in front of the mirror. I laid down on my bed, and felt what appeared to be a large hard mass in the center part of my left breast (towards the cleavage).
I had always had lumpy breast tissue…probably from too much caffeine consumption. I had asked my OB-GYN doctor how I was supposed to tell the difference between just normal breast lumps and cancer, when I did my monthly self-exams. She said “the bad stuff will feel like a raisin in a bowl of oatmeal”. Well, this was no raisin! It was more like a small LIME! Yes, it was that big! I was completely freaked out. It seemed like it had come out of nowhere!
I went flying into her office the first appointment I could get, and said exactly that. “Look at this! This ain’t no raisin!” She said it felt like a large fibrous mass, and most likely nothing to worry about…but since I was getting close to age 40, and had never had a mammogram, she was going to send me for one. Immediately upon getting the mammogram, my phone began to ring. The radiology office wanted to do an ultrasound. The radiologist said to me, “Everyone is extremely worried about you.” It only took him about 10 seconds with the ultrasound wand to say he wanted to get a biopsy. When we did the needle-core biopsy, he said that he would be able to get a visual on what was coming out, before it went to the lab. He said no diagnosis is official until it has gone to the pathology lab, but that most of the time he is correct in knowing what he is seeing as it is extracted from the breast. He didn’t like what he saw, and he told me to “prepare myself”.
So by the time I got the call that I had an official diagnosis of breast cancer, I pretty much already knew. What I didn’t realize, however, was the huge amount of information-gathering and decision-making I would have to do. Quickly I ran to the bookstore and purchased authoritative resources to explain my options. So much new vocabulary to understand! So many big medical words!
Upon visiting a plastic surgeon, I was told about my reconstructive options. The fibrous mass was so large that it no longer qualified for a “lumpectomy”. Rather, I needed what was called a “quadrantectomy” …which is fully one quarter of the breast. The thing that bothered me about that option was that the quadrant we were talking about was the upper middle quadrant….or in other words, the cleavage. I wasn’t in the habit of wearing low-cut tops…but still, what if I wanted to on occasion? That part of my breast would be forever missing…and with no reconstruction possible, as it was explained to me. The plastic surgeon said he could not replace an entire quadrant of the breast when the other ¾ of the breast is still there. There just wasn’t anything he could do with that scenerio surgically.
My other option, of course, was to have a mastectomy, and then get breast implants. It had been explained to me that my cancer was the rarer form of breast cancer…the kind that only happens 15% of the time. And lobular carcinoma is known to recur more often on both sides.
That was all I had to hear. I picked up my kindergarten-age son at school later that day…took one look at him…and instantly knew I had to have a double mastectomy. I never wanted to hear the “C” word again…and I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that didn’t happen.
Everyone was shocked by my decision. My surgeon said to me, “no one is telling you that you have to take this drastic step”. I realized that, but given all the facts – both from the oncologists and the plastic surgeon – I felt it was my best option. I could rid myself of virtually all breast tissue, and therefore eliminate the chance of recurrence to almost zero…as well as have bilateral reconstruction, so at least I would have “matching” breasts…even if they were going to be completely fake.
Have I had regrets from that decision? Sure, there have been a few sad moments about my “lost” body parts. But in hindsight, it still feels like it was the right decision. Given everything that was being explained to me, I don’t know how I could have decided to do anything else.
I ultimately had to go on to do chemo and radiation…both very difficult ordeals in their own right. But I have been cancer-free for well past the 5-year mark, which is the key time point in the oncology world.
Every woman that goes through a battle with this disease is changed forever by it. Hopefully, all of us can say that we were somehow changed for the better. We hate the disease, and we hate what it did to us physically. But hopefully, we can honestly say that emotionally and spiritually, we are the better for this journey.
By: Madeline Lynn