Have you ever passed a stranger on the street or caught up with an old friend knowing or maybe guessing they have breast implants? Maybe admired, gawked, questioned or even worse, judged? I am ashamed to admit, I have. All of the above. But only this year did I realize that all of my previous assumptions, judgements and opinions were completely unfounded.
Women get implants for various reasons. I think our first assumption and unfairly so, is that they may be in the entertainment industry. Maybe as a dancer or a model. Some may have them because they did not like their natural breasts. They were too small, too saggy, too pointy or, they sacrificed them to feed their children and wanted a Mom makeover and an extra boost of confidence. And some, have implants because they were diagnosed with a disease such as breast cancer.
Last February, I was diagnosed with early state breast cancer. I have a family history of the disease and had two previous biopsies, one in each breast and fortunately, both benign. But every year, when it is time for my mammogram, I am nervous. I fully expect more testing to be recommended, be it an ultrasound, MRI or the more invasive biopsy. This year, I heard for the third time, ‘We want to biopsy this area’. Having two previous benign biopsies, I knew it was a precaution. I knew the routine. The discomfort. That a majority of biopsies performed are benign. What I didn’t know is that this time, I would hear, ‘your biopsy was positive, you have cancer.’ I knew the moment 2 people came in, the Doctor and an assistant, that it had come back positive. But when those words are said, it becomes surreal. Being a woman with a family history and watching my mom battle and survive the disease, I always knew what my plan would be given such news. But in that moment, you listen to the doctors, pay attention to the details and form a new plan. I was lucky. I was diagnosed with a stage 0, ductal carcinoma in situ that was very small. So small that some doctors consider it precancerous. EASY, PEAZY, we got this! They asked if I had a breast surgeon (I did) and we scheduled my consultation.
My breast surgeon and I knew each other well. She performed my husband’s emergency appendectomy when she was fresh out of school and working in the ER. She performed my Mom’s lumpectomy when she first started specializing in breast/women’s health. And, she removed a benign but painful cyst out of my left breast years prior. I trusted her and knew she was very well regarded in the area. At the consultation, we agreed to a lumpectomy. It was small, so small the radiologist thought he may have gotten the whole thing in the biopsy. Should be a piece of cake. I checked into the hospital for the outpatient procedure. Everything went well. Two days later, my doctor called. Pathology was back and margins were not clean. We scheduled a second lumpectomy. Two weeks later, I went in. Knew the routine. Out patient surgery, very little pain. Not a big deal. Again, procedure went as planned. Took a larger piece of tissue, should be good. Two days later, as I was getting ready to meet girlfriends for dinner, my phone pinged. New email. I sat in my car outside of the restaurant and opened the email that included my pathology report. Margins were still not clean. I sent my doctor a text. She called me immediately, apologizing profusely that I saw the labs before she did. She confirmed that the margins were in fact, still not clean and asked me to come back to her office to discuss. I started crying. I told my friends I would take a rain check on dinner and drove home scared, worried and mad. How could something so ‘small’ wreak so much havoc?
In that meeting, we discussed how hard it is to get all of a ductal carcinoma. It is at a cellular level. Not like a cyst or tumor that you can see. All you have is the marker from the biopsy guiding you to the area of the disease. She recommended a third lumpectomy and then radiation. At that moment, almost before she could finish the word radiation, I said, ‘Nope, not doing it. I want a double mastectomy’. It is what I always said I would do if diagnosed with the disease but being that I was diagnosed so early, wanted to give the lumpectomy a chance. I had given it two. All I knew was, if it was that hard to detect and get a clean margin, I wanted them off.
I liked my boobs. Sure they had aged, but they were still great shape. Could be bigger, could be firmer but they were mine. But I also knew I did not and was not, going to mess with this disease. We discussed options and this is what I learned through my doctor and friends who had been through this, and what I want to share you. Being that it was an early stage, I would be a candidate for a nipple and skin sparing mastectomy. I had never heard of it before. But what it meant was, I could keep my nipples and skin. It would basically be ‘replacing the stuffing’ as I called it. She referred me to a plastic surgeon whom I had already contacted, to see if I would also be a candidate for a direct to implant surgery. That meant that she would perform the mastectomy and he would come in right after and place the implants. Sometimes an expander is needed to shape the skin, muscle before an implant can be placed underneath. Expanders can require not one, but two or more surgeries. I got the news I was hoping for. I was a candidate for the direct to implant. It was the best case scenario. I could keep my nipples and get implants all in one surgery. My mood was positive, I was slightly excited about my new look and spirits were high. I was going to nip (no pun intended) this disease in the bud before it went any further.
Surgery went beautifully. Both of my doctors, who frequently work together on such cases, were thrilled with the procedure. I spent the night in the hospital, came home the next day. Even went to my son’s baseball game. My incisions looked great and were ‘underwire’ so from straight on, you couldn’t even see them. Two days later, my doctor called me from the airport as she was heading out of town. Pathology was back. I had clean margins! No further surgery, radiation, anything was needed. Although, 1/4” of disease had still been in the mastectomy tissue! That doesn’t sound like a lot but when your radiologist thinks he got it all in the biopsy and three surgeries later, there is still disease, that is a little alarming! But it was all gone now. I could relax and just heal with my new girls.
While this sounds lovely, let me assure you, it is anything but. You have drains, you are measuring fluids and emptying a lot of nastiness for days. You’re swollen, bruised and slightly uncomfortable although, I will say, I have had headaches that are more debilitating from a pain standpoint. Think more along the lines of breast milk coming in discomfort times 3. Painful but more dull, not sharp. As time goes on and the swelling subsides, bruising fades, you start to feel more like yourself. But you’re not. Your breasts don’t move the way your natural ones did. While my nipples react to cold, I have no feeling in either breast to the touch and while they are larger, firmer and yes, finally make my hips looks smaller, they are not mine.
There is a mental aspect to even the smallest of breast cancers and the decisions that go along with it. I am blessed that mine was found early, only due to the fact that I am diligent about my mammograms and I wholeheartedly ENCOURAGE you to do the same. And I share the details of my story to not only encourage you to get your mammograms BUT, be aware of the latest technology, make sure your office offers it, know what questions to ask and what procedures are available. Mine was found on a 3D mammogram. Even the MRI did not show it very well. Finding it early was crucial. While it was still a little bit of a production and I am not quite ‘myself’, I am very lucky. I had a fabulous team of doctors who listened to me, reassured me and have continued to be there for me months after the fact. I would choose them again in a heartbeat.
There are far too many women out there that have surgery after surgery, endure weeks, months, years of chemo and radiation and continue to fight every day. I don’t consider myself a survivor because that title, that badge is for the women and men who truly suffer through weeks, months, years of surgeries and treatment. But my other point in this is, next time you see someone with ‘fakers’, don’t judge. You have no idea why that person may have them and honestly, it’s none of your business. They very well could be fighting, have fought or still dealing with the mental aspect of a disease that took them down that path. So for breast cancer awareness month, get your mammogram. Know your risks. Know your options, what questions to ask and think about what you would do at ANY stage because even an early diagnosis, stage zero can lead you down a new path, a new you. As we age, so does our body image. Let's help support other women in their fight, whatever it may be.
Cheers to the women AND men (yes men can get it too) everywhere who have been diagnosed, fought, still fighting, survived and died from this disease. May we honor them, learn from them but most importantly, support them. The best way to increase the survival rate is through early detection. The technology is there, you just need to make the appointment.
HELP OTHERS DO THE SAME!
Want to help others? We have created a Bonfire fund with 'Nice Rack' t-shirts! Not only will you be flaunting fabulous artwork by my niece, but you will be promoting breast cancer awareness, positive body image AND partial proceeds will benefit various breast cancer foundations! It is a process to go through and that is why on the t-shirt, there is no ribbon, a half ribbon then a full ribbon on the woman. From not being diagnosed, to going through treatment, to evolving into the new you and trying to embrace that change.
To order, click on the link below: