I am a 70-year-old wife, mother, grandmother and university administrator. My cancer journey began October of 2014 with my annual mammogram followed by the mail notice of an abnormality and the ultrasound to check it out. I was alone in my office when I got the dreaded call from my doctor telling me it was cancer and that I would need to find a surgeon.
After the initial jolt, I picked up the phone, called my husband and made it real by telling him the terrifying news. I tried to minimize the severity by telling him my doctor said it was small, we got it early, and that I likely could get away with a lumpectomy. I have no history of breast cancer in my family.
Since it was now almost Christmas, I made the decision to tell only immediate family and deal with everything after the Holidays. So we made it through dinners, parties, Santa and all the fun with the diagnosis hanging in the background like Scrooge. And did I say there were tears…..lots of tears.
The first part of January, I saw a surgeon. He explained that I could have a lumpectomy or a “mastectomy”– the word took my breath away. No one had talked about a mastectomy. He explained with a lumpectomy came radiation and with radiation came difficulties with reconstruction and increased risks of other cancers. Radiation was a must according to the standard of care. Mind you, this was a very kind qualified doctor doing his job but delivering news that I was not prepared to hear.
I am a take charge person so for the next month, I visited doctors and plastic surgeons, visited with friends and friends of friends who had gone through breast cancer, researched on the internet to the wee hours of the morning, read studies, sent my doctor daughter in Seattle studies to interrupt in the middle of her 80 hour a week residency, drove my husband crazy with the what ifs, and railed against the forces in the universe that brought me to this untenable spot.
I was having an incredibly hard time accepting that I really did have cancer and that I was going to have to make a decision about how to deal with it.
When visiting blogs at 2 AM, it became apparent that I was not the only one out there in my predicament. Many women were doing the same thing trying to sift through all the information by themselves and come up with the decision that worked for them.
As I tell this story, keep it mind it is MY story. Not all woman chose to deal with the diagnosis as I did. There are many types of treatment options and many types of breast cancer. It is confusing at best and paralyzing at worst.
At the end of all my research, I decided a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction was best for me given my fear of the side effects of radiation. So, on March 9th 2014, I had a relatively new nipple and skin sparing mastectomy which leaves the outer part of the breast intact allowing for a good reconstruction outcome. The pathology report came back with the great news: I had the “best type of cancer” if you must have cancer and would not need radiation or chemo.
The next three months were tougher than I imagined both physically and especially emotionally. June 1st was the reconstruction day and for the short term the end of the physical journey. Healing has gone well and results are good. The emotional journey continues, however. The grief process is one that takes a little more time and doesn’t move in a linear fashion. You go through the stages of shock, anger, sadness, and acceptance but not necessarily in that order. I have entered the stage of acceptance– but on any given day anger and sadness can reappear. I know, however, acceptance is where I want and need to be for my continued healing and well- being.
I am a stronger, more empathic person because of my breast cancer journey and try to be a spokesperson where ever possible to push the importance of mammograms for early detection.
Medicine has come so far in what can be done both with the surgeries and the drug therapies for women with breast cancer. I pray my daughters and granddaughters will not have to go through what I have. But if you happen to find that you are one of the unlucky one in eight that end up with breast cancer, there are treatments and options and a marvelous life after cancer if you detect it early.