. . My Own Story -- The Long Journey Back to Normal

I was diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer at 49, during a routine mammogram. After a large lumpectomy, we found that the area was bigger than previously thought, and the pathology report showed that my cancer was the nastiest kind -- '9' on the Bloom-Richardson scale of 1-9-- the highest possible rank for aggressiveness and likelihood of recurrence. Lucky me. So, although DCIS is usually treated with a simple lumpectomy followed by radiation, it was recommended that I have a mastectomy to keep the chance of recurrence low. So in December 2008, I had a left mastectomy and reconstruction. Some say that this procedure is one of the most grueling and painful to go through, and I would have to agree--this was by far the the hardest thing I've been through. But I am so grateful that we live in a day when we don't have to die of breast cancer if it's caught early.

I'm fortunate to have a quizzical mind, and through it all, I stayed very near the web. I love having information of all kinds just a keyboard away. I spent about two months searching the web for information -- the best doctors, the latest techniques, the latest breast cancer advances, as much as I could find -- it was painstaking work ferreting out all this information, which was all over the place. As I went, I bookmarked anything that looked interesting. I realized lately that having this information all in one place could be a tremendous help to others, so I am compiling it here for you! I also plan to continue to seek out the latest, and pass it along when I have it. It is likely that you're here because you or a loved one are also battling breast cancer. If so, know that you have a comrade-in arms. Over time there will be a lot of information gathered here, so please take a look at the archives, as well, and poke into all the corners.

See the archive below to navigate through the posts.

Welcome, and I hope you will find some answers here.

Sunday, June 20

Thoughts on Keeping Your Breast

I know that many women choose to have a mastectomy as they were originally performed, and I would never argue with a woman's choice to just have the breast taken off and be done with it. Everyone's situation and attitude is unique. The majority prefer to keep their breast and carry on with some semblance of their former bodies. We should never be ashamed to go after what we want when it comes to such a personal part of our bodies. I know I felt a little guilty at paying so much attention to the 'reconstructive' part of the cancer that I was dealing with. But I had the luxury of doing this because my cancer was early, and getting rid of it was a given from the very beginning. I suppose I would have been far more concerned about just surviving, were my cancer more advanced. So I am grateful that I could concentrate on keeping as much of the normalcy to my breast as I could.

There are many personal reasons for a woman to choose to just have the breast removed. Many women are older and really don't care whether they have a breast anymore. Perhaps they are widowed or divorced and plan to be alone for the foreseeable future. Others may feel strongly on principle that it shouldn't matter if one has a breast or not, and they want to accept what life has brought them. I respect those decisions, and the thoughts below are not intended for those ladies.

However, I know there are some out there who may be debating about whether to have reconstructive surgery, and they are considering avoiding it because they don't want to face the many difficulties involved, and for no other reason.  I have an approach to decision-making that may help those ladies.

Here it is:

I try never to use short-term criteria to make a long-term decision.

The difficulties are there, for sure, and they are many -- no way to sugar-coat that. But all of the pain and suffering you will experience is short-term, and you will come out the other side pretty quickly all-in-all. Now, over a year later, I hardly remember the hard parts. And when it's over you have a breast that behaves pretty normally -- it fits into a bra or swimsuit, it looks natural in clothes, it feels more or less as it did before, although pretty numb, at least for a while. So, I guess I am saying that some short-term discomfort will result in a long-term outcome that you may find easier to live with. I can't promise that you will be entirely happy with the results (I haven't been) but it may be preferable to not having your breast at all. Only you can decide that.

And certainly, if you have a man in your life, consider how he feels. Most supportive husbands and significant others will, of course, say that it is up to you and they will love you no matter what. Nevertheless, they are human, and it may be difficult for them to face a major change to your body, if you choose to go without your breast. It may be impossible to get this brutally honest information out of them, but only the most angelic man would not be affected at all by this. Take their human-ness into account in your decision, and consider how it might impact your romantic life -- whether it be his reaction to the New You, or your self-consciousness about the big change, regardless of how supportive he is to you as you make your decision.

When making your decision, remember that choosing to give up your breast entirely may mean some long-term issues, especially if you are going to want to look as you did before in clothing. Prosthetics are available, but they do have their issues, so you may want to talk to someone who has chosen to use them, and get their input. The medical center where you get your cancer care may be able to help put you in touch with someone. Most have wonderful support departments. Going without prosthetics has its own considerations that must be addressed.

And you should give some thought to how you will feel seeing yourself without a breast for a long time after surgery. Yes, you can always choose to have reconstructive surgery later, although keep in mind that this means another entire surgery, and the skin will have to patched at that time -- only with immediate reconstruction can you generally keep all the skin.

You may sense that I am encouraging you to keep your breast, and I guess I am, if you are not otherwise philosophically opposed to keeping it for any reason. I hope my remarks do not offend anyone. I know there are many, many ways of living life and making these kinds of difficult decisions, and no one can truly walk in the shoes of another.

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