When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to make a lot of decisions about my treatment in a short amount of time. I was understandably frightened, nervous, uncertain, and worried as I worked my way through half a dozen doctor’s appointments and listened to their advice. It became clear quite early on that I would not be a candidate for a lumpectomy and would need a mastectomy. But I had to make a decision on whether to remove one breast or two.
My first instinct was to remove both breasts. I had cancer and it scared me. I wanted it out. Even though the tests said that I didn’t have cancer in my left breast, what if they were wrong? But I didn’t want to over react either. After consulting with my surgeon and my husband, I still wrestled with the decision, but decided to trust the science and only remove the affected breast. My sweet husband assured me that if I ever changed my mind, I could always have a prophylactic mastectomy done later.
As time wore on, a few things became clear to me:
- First, and foremost, I don’t ever want to have to go through diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer again. I’m a strong person, but to face this again would be so difficult.
- I don’t want to worry for a week before and after my mammogram each year that they will find something. I was surprised at how much that bothered me this year when I went for my annual mammogram. My doctors had assured me that with the amount of chemo that they had put into my body, they would be shocked if a radiologist found anything on my x-rays. But I worried anyway.
- The asymmetry of having only one breast is a nuisance. Prosthetics are heavy and hot. And I’m not sure they float so what if I’m in the pool . . .?
- I promised my children that breast cancer would not kill me, and I plan to do everything within my power to make this true.
- I’m not feeling particularly lucky.
- And I have exceeded my attention span for being a cancer patient.
With all this in mind, I have decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy done on my left breast later this month. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I am at peace with it. I know it is the right thing to do for me. It turns out that I get choices with this mastectomy, AND I get to have the surgery done at my convenience. I love this!
The first decision I had to make was whether or not to keep the nipple. Let me tell you, this is a fun conversation to have with a stranger (doctor)! My doctor explained that by leaving the nipple, there is a very slight increased risk of cancer, and that there would not be any feeling or sensation to the nipple. So in my mind, what is the point (get it?) of keeping it?
The next decision I had to make was whether or not to have reconstruction done on that side. I met with a plastic surgeon who described my options, and I decided to have immediate reconstruction following the mastectomy. I did ask if he could relocate my breast back to its original position. (I don’t think he appreciates my humor.) I was advised that I cannot have reconstruction on my right side for another year due to the skin damage from radiation. So we will give the left side a whirl and see how it goes.
The final decision was whether or not I should get nipple tattoos after surgery. I have talked with a number of women about this as well as my husband. He assured me that it was up to me to decide. So I have made a decision . . . I’m skipping the tattoos and going straight for stickers instead. Yes, you read correctly. I’m going to get seasonal stickers to use as nipples purely for entertainment. I can change them out each day to match the season or my mood. They won’t hurt, and I can laugh as I think about what people don’t see. Who says cancer can’t be funny!