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!
A well thought out decision. Best wishes for a smooth procedure.
Kathy, I have another friend who made the same decision. She commented on how much easier her recovery was since she didn’t have to deal with treatments and being sick. Best wishes on your surgery! You will be in our thoughts and prayers!
Gretchen, you make a good point. The recovery will hopefully be easier without the stress and worry of pending cancer treatment.
You go girl!!!
You are such an inspiration to so many Kathy! You always study things, weigh the pros and cons and then throw in a little humor…..Love it! and love having you as a friend!
Good Choice! I also wrestled with this thought too. There are days when I wished I had made the choice you have. Reconstruction piece of cake!And maybe the “new” one won’t be as perky as a 21 year old, but it won’t head south like the orginals! But the question is, can you now go topless in the summer? No one seemed to take that question seriusly when I asked. Do all plastic surgeon have no sense of humor! 🙂
Hi Chris. Yes, we all struggle with this decision, but you know me . . . never look back, just plow forward. I sort of feel sorry for the doctors because it would look bad for them to joke about cancer, so we (patients) get to have all the fun. When I met with my surgeon, he walked in and said, “Kathy, it is good to see you!” And I responded, “Don’t look so surprised!” He laughed. I figure somebody has to give them a hard time!
Topless in the summer . . . I think that will still be out since I will still be one sided. It would make me look like I’m winking!
I’d skip the tatts too. Mine faded badly. The only good thing about having them is when that questionnaire comes around on the internet asking all kinds of goofy questions, I get to be a bad ass girl and say I have 2 tatoos 🙂
You’ll love your new boob, it really does go where the old one did when we were 18!!!
Kathy, I want to thank you for your inspiration! I too am going through this journey. I as well am going to skip the tats. Well, maybe going to do temporary tattoos 😉
Hi Shauna. I was going through my “Breast Cancer bucket” this morning and ran across some funny temporary tattoos and thought, “Maybe I will put one on the right side on the morning of surgery just for a laugh.” My husband, the surgeon, probably would discourage it, but what can he do after the fact? And I think the nurses would laugh.
So do you have a stash of things that people have given you that you don’t know what to do with? I keep everything in a container in my office and figure that something will come to me in the future.
Yes Kathy I do. I now have 5 hats, 2 necklaces,3 bracelets 1 watch. You know. As someone else who will appreciate this, when i first had by biopsy in April I was thisclose to asking the doctor if he was a breast man. Somehow I managed to not say it. It’s my odd sense of humour that is getting me through all of this. That is why I enjoy reading your blog so much.