This is the first of a few posts. I’m labeling it “My Cancer.” My hope is to make a few posts of information about my initial cancer experience, decisions we had to make, and things that have been useful pre-during-post surgery and what happens next now that surgery is over.
My Family History and How I found out that I had Breast Cancer
My mom passed away from cancer when I was 15. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 5, she was 32. It had spread to some of her lymph nodes, she had a mastectomy, then was fine. She was in remission for 10 years until it came back and has metastasized to her lungs and her liver. At that point, it has spread so much that treatment couldn’t do very much. She passed away about a year and a half after being diagnosed the first time.
My great aunt, Lallie, was born in 1910. My grandmother’s oldest sister. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s – premenopausal. If a woman is diagnosed post-menopause, there’s a less likely chance that it is genetic or in your family history. She was cured of it and lived well into her 90s. She actually took cobalt to cure her before chemo and current drugs existed.
Since my mom had cancer so young, I had to start seeing a breast specialist 10 years before she was diagnosed, so 22. I found my current breast specialist practice when I moved to Atlanta when I was 22 – 9 years ago. I was supposed to get a mammogram starting at 22, but I didn’t get my first one until I was 24 or 25 because the radiation scared me! Usually, women begin getting mammograms at 40. Almost 20 extra years of testing made me worry. When I was 22 I was tested for the two breast cancer genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2- and I was negative for both of them. But, because of my family history it was necessary that I saw my breast surgeon every 6 months for a check up. Start at 25, I would have a mammogram every year and in between them, I would have an ultrasound every 6 months. The funny thing with all of these tests is that prior to finding the cancer I had an ultrasound just 3 weeks before the cancer was found and nothing was seen. It wasn’t until I had an MRI, since I had never had one and we wanted one last check before we started to try to get pregnant, that the cancer was found. It was caught at its earliest stage, 1A, and thank goodness was the best possible scenario for a cancer diagnosis. You can read more about this part of my story with more details (click here). It’s a good story – go read it!
The decision to have a bi-lateral mastectomy was easy. I really believe that God has been preparing me for this for a very long time. Even one of my best friends said, I remember you telling em that if you ever got a bad report that you would just go ahead and have a double mastectomy. She was exactly right! My husband and I discussed and thoroughly went through all of the options, but ultimately I had already made up my mind. The only negative thing about having a bi-lateral mastectomy is that I will not be able to breast feed my next child. This makes me so very sad, but in the grand scheme of it all this is only a small problem that has a easy fix of formula. I can deal with it. I have no doubt that I will be sad again when I actually do have a child and I do not have a chance to breast feed, but I know that the Lord will comfort me and I have peace in knowing that this was the best decision for me. I had a bi-lateral mastectomy. My right side was where the cancer was found so I had a skin-sparing total mastectomy on that side. Then on my left side, I had prophylactic mastectomy meaning I didn’t necessarily need to have a mastectomy on my left breast but because of my family history and any future worries of having to have biopsies or other future testing for suspicious findings. I could have just had a lumpectomy on my right breast (removal of just the cancer), but I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy in an effort to reduce my worries of any other cancer forming in the future. The mastectomy only reduced my chances of the same cancer reoccurring from 4% with the lumpectomy to 2% with the mastectomy. We were more concerned with future cancers and testing that will be involved in the future. A bi-lateral mastectomy decision was very easy for me, mainly to reduce my worrying and not having to have testing every 6 months. Also, if I would have opted for a lumpectomy, I would have had to have 6-ish weeks of radiation and with a mastectomy no radiation is needed because the mass was removed completely. I was also able to save my nipple tissue because my cancer was far enough away from my nipple to safety be able to keep it.
My next post will be about things that I did or wished I would have done before surgery and specific things that were helpful while I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital for 2 nights due to being in recovery longer than expected because there were no rooms open and my pain medicine was not able to be managed in the time we were there so it was necessary to stay another night. Typically, you only need to be in the hospital for 1 night.