Elective surgery was right for me
I found my first lump in 1996.
Immediately I panicked and yet, it was as if I had been expecting it.
My mom, four of her five sisters, my maternal grandmother, and two of my first cousins had all been diagnosed with breast cancer. Three of them died from it.
I was 15 years old when my mom was diagnosed the first time (the cancer returned in her other breast 12 years later). I watched her endure chemotherapy and all of its classic side effects. As a single mom with very little support, I saw her attempts at making it all look normal so that my two siblings and I would not worry about her.
But I did worry — all the time. Even then, I thought about my newly formed teenaged breasts, how the left one was unusually larger than the other. I remember going to the library (there was no Google) to research what that meant and if perhaps I had breast cancer, like everyone else.
When I discovered the lump in my left breast in 1996, I immediately got tested. It was benign, which was good – but the lump was removed as a precaution given my family history.
In 2002 I noticed that my left breast was getting bigger still, and the size difference in my breasts was visually noticeable. The doctor said I had multiple nodules or cyst. Again, they turned out to be benign, and I elected to have the cysts removed in conjunction with a breast augmentation to reduce the left breast to be more symmetrical with the right.
My doctor suggested that I take the BRCA test, but my insurance wouldn’t cover it. Truly though? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know if I had the gene or not because to me, it didn’t make a difference. If I had the gene, that would only let me know that I was likely to get breast cancer.
It couldn’t tell me when.
If I didn’t have the gene, I still had a chance of getting breast cancer because of my family history.
The fear of getting breast cancer still lived with me daily, and I diligently examined my breast. I discovered another lump in 2012 — once again, in my left breast.
For me that was it. Enough was enough.
After consulting with several doctors and my closest girlfriends, I made a choice to have my left breast removed.
I made the choice before telling my fiancé because I feared that his reaction would be one of selfishness… that he would tell me to rethink my decision. After all, I thought, what man would want a woman with one breast?
I should have given him more credit.
It didn’t dawn on me at that time that I could have the reconstructive surgery at the same time as the mastectomy. When I decided to tell my fiancé of my decision, he was incredibly supportive.
I had the reconstructive surgery, but for me, it was a traumatizing experience because of the painful recovery. My surgery entailed using my own tissue from my belly to develop my new breast. However, after the healing period, my left breast is now smaller than my right breast, and I have to wear a small prosthesis because I do not want any further surgeries.
I’m still self-concious… but the good news? I no longer have to worry or wonder when that “active” breast would turn cancerous.
I wear my “deformity” as a badge of honor for having the courage to take control of my health and beat this cancer beast that’s been tearing through my family at its own game. My fear of getting breast cancer is 99 percent gone.
Not every day is perfect, and when my shirts don’t seem to fit properly (to me), I get frustrated, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.