Every Monday on the 3rd floor…
All the chemotherapy treatments, all the scans, all the blood draws, all the trips to the Mayo Cancer Clinic on Monday mornings where I would spend all day looking out at the majestic mountains. I was anxiously hoping, that THIS Monday, I would be met with the good news that the cancer was really gone.
Sharing today the journey leading up to my bilateral mastectomy and the options given to me. Not being expert in this field, I do not have an exhaustive list. Actually, it is something I didn’t research. Which is shocking to those who know me. Research meant facing the fear. There was no room in the beginning of the battle to add another level of fear.
When looking back, this surgery was daunting to say the least. More so, the mastectomy is what made the cancer “real” to me. Not the port in my chest, or the hair falling out from the toxic chemicals being infused into my body to kill the cells trying to kill me.. Nope. It was the surgery that terrified me most. So, I put it off. Not just a little but like the whole treatment journey.
Know ALL Your Options at Diagnosis
Lumpectomy, simple or total mastectomy, should you take both breasts or just the one affected? Implants or no implants? Which implants are safe? Subpectoral or submuscular? Will I require mammograms in the future will they be able to see the cancer if it reoccurs? What is fat grafting or flap surgery? Is it safe to save the skin in nipple sparing? There are so many questions to ask. The moment you are flooded with all your options and they ask- “do you have any questions?” You are so overloaded and blank… or I was.
In 2008, I had breast implants put in under the muscle by choice. They were in tact and not leaking. They were a choice to have place because I was 35 and had breast fed my children and had nothing but skin sagging down. I hated seeing those things and chose to do something about it. This surgery was my only preparation for what might be a little like the mastectomy.
Breast Cancer wasn’t my choice.
Having those implants in for 10 years was my choice. That choice; meant that the tumor hiding behind the implant, couldn’t be seen. But it also allowed for me to be an immediate “breast reconstruction” candidate. Implants seemed familiar and an easy choice. I was reassured they weren’t making me sick and even if I chose the “gummy bear” version they would best choice for my body. My push back was met with push back to decide. I hadn’t given myself time to decide anything else.
I want to share this with you because wherever you are in your journey, I want to be inspiration and not judgement to fully research your options. I want to open the door to ask questions of your provider and know thousands of women who have gone before you, are willing to share our experiences in hopes that the care you receive is what you ultimately found to be best for you.
Exhausted and Frightened
Exhausted by treatments and was terrified by the idea being completely and physically cut into deeper than the cancer already had done emotionally. I was terrified of losing any resemblance of being a woman. It was a vanity, I know. Something my hair had only slightly prepared me for. But the girl looking back at me in the mirror was already a stranger. I knew the eye brows would grow back and the hair would come back. Somehow, the visions of scars from the mastectomy laying upon flat or a sunken in chest, I could hardly allow myself to reconcile it all. I wasn’t in the place I am today. Where those scars of battle would replaced with the Victory of God’s Glory.
I met with my plastic surgeon a few months ahead of the surgery for him to see my body and make notes and then just a few weeks before I made my final decision as to what I would do. I decided to go with implants. I was told that the textured implants would provide the best results. It would be a “one and done” surgery. Prior I had soft round saline implants and was weary of anything silicone or gel. He told me that even saline implants were in a silicone shell. I didn’t feel as though it was really my option. I did ask about the implants causing cancer and he reassured me that it was not true and I would be fine.
Chemotherapy effects more than Cancer Cells
I am not sure how long you have been reading or with me, but I made it to Phoenix and Mayo because I was being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A doctor at UTSW in Dallas tried to say it was a breast implant illness mimicking the MS symptoms and my neurologist who referred me to him thought it was crazy and sent me to Mayo. After a year of back and forth from Texas, we moved. I felt better in the dry climate and my doctors were amazing.
Truly, I wish I had researched my surgery options as exhaustively as I researched my chemotherapy regimen. Asking all the questions I didn’t know I would’ve had prior to chemotherapy. I cannot stress enough the effects and changes your mind will undergo. Cognitively, I was fully in a fog and forgetting things all the time. I couldn’t be my own best advocate at this stage in the journey. So being reassured that implants would have no affect on my body already suffering before cancer, was a negligent and poor advise for me to trust so fully without knowing all of my options.
Next Monday, I will share the things I did to prepare for my initial breast reconstruction, the things that you simply need to be comfortable no matter what surgery you choose after the mastectomy. The side effects and pain I was experiencing that I was reassured as normal. The importance of advocating and knowing your body and what is not normal.
An unexpected move home meant I had a new oncologist and a new breast surgeon. The move also meant I had new options. Surgeries I didn’t know were available to me and what you can do to seek out what’s best for you.
Please come back next Monday. I know it’s a lot of information, I know it’s a lot to take in and process. But I want to encourage you where you are and help you find the right options for you and your body.
I have met so many wonderful fellow survivors and those in the battle… no one truly understands the journey and it is unique in every way for each person. But it is nice to find community, answers, and inspiration along the way. I made it through and want to share that to help you do the same.