Decisions, decisions…that’s been the focus of my life since being diagnosed with breast cancer. Do I seek treatment in Jamaica or head back to Virginia where my family lives? Some folks I know got treatment in Mexico…do I go there? Lumpectomy or mastectomy? If I stay in Jamaica, do I have surgery in Montego Bay or go to Kingston? End of the year was drawing close….before Christmas or wait til the new year? Do I consider reconstruction right away or wait? To chemo or not to chemo? Do I look into alternative medicine? It was all a bit daunting but at the end of the day decisions had to be made.
The first decision I made before even consulting with a surgeon was that no matter what I was told I was doing a mastectomy. Because my cancer was caught early, I was told that I was a perfect candidate for breast conserving surgery aka lumpectomy. Every (male) doctor I spoke with made sure to tell me that the choice between lumpectomy or mastectomy would not affect my overall survival. There was even one doctor friend who said “You don’t need to lose your nice pretty breast”…yeah you read that…my nice pretty breast. Turns out that as beautiful, and might I add voluminous as they were, I wasn’t so attached to them. Nah, it could go. Plus for my own peace of mind the aggrieved breast needed to go.
You see there is a history of breast cancer in my family. My mother was diagnosed with the same cancer at the age of 43. She had a mastectomy with chemotherapy and lived cancer free for 14 years before it returned, first in her lymph nodes, then eventually spread to the liver and bones. She passed away 4 years after the cancer returned. My mother never did reconstructive surgery so I had seen her live fully without one breast, never once doubting her body image or feeling like less of a woman. No doubt being in a fulfilling relationship with my father who adored every ounce of her being had a little something to do with that.
After consulting with doctors in both Jamaica and the United States, and connecting with breast cancer survivors, I ultimately decided to stay in Jamaica choosing to have surgery in Kingston where I have a strong network of phenomenal sister-friends who supported me every step of the way. With the help of my best friend, I got connected with an amazing surgeon who although advising me to go with a lumpectomy (+ radiation and chemotherapy), completely understood and supported my decision to go with the more invasive mastectomy. He encouraged me to consider doing reconstructive surgery right away and had me consult with a plastic surgeon, who revealed he wouldn’t be able to recreate my ‘volume’ and would need to do a reduction of the left breast to match the new right one. Although the thought of ending up with a summer body and two perky breasts sounded appealing it just seemed like too much to put my body through, especially with chemotherapy on the horizon. Reconstruction would just have to wait.
Fast forward to three weeks ago (just before traveling to the States to visit my family), my surgeon called to advise me that the pathology report from surgery was good, we got all the cancer and my lymph nodes were negative for cancer. Great news but in crept a little doubt….could I have gotten by with doing the lumpectomy instead of losing my nice pretty breast? Well I got the answer last week when I went to see him to review the surgery pathology report. Although the report was extremely positive showing that the margins and 18 lymph nodes removed were all clear, there was a second precancerous tumor present in my breast that was not detected by either the mammogram, ultrasound or CT scan. Had I chosen to have a lumpectomy it may not have been caught and if I was lucky perhaps the radiation and chemotherapy would take care of it. I prefer to think that going with my gut from the outset was the best decision for me.
This process has taught me so much, not the least of which is that I am my best advocate. Changing my diet was the first good decision I made. I’ve lost weight and my body responded extremely well to surgery, considering all it was put through. I got by in the hospital without needing morphine and was off the saline drip within 20 hours of going under the knife. I firmly believe that was a result of cleansing and preparing my body before surgery. Turns out decision number two, the mastectomy was the right one too. There is still an uphill battle , chemo starts next week. I’m admittedly a little nervous but ready for the fight ahead.
The decision I’m not yet ready to make – which breast prosthesis to purchase. Sheesh….who knew there were so many to choose from. I’ve scoured website after website, turns out choosing the right fake breast is more daunting for me than which surgery to go with. Come to think of it, my mother for a long time just pinned a shoulder pad into her bra….yes folks a shoulder pad. Not a soul could tell. So for now if you see me looking a little lopsided, it’s cause the sock stuffed in my bra may have shifted a little….lol.