Editor: “Deborah” asked that her story be shared anonymously. She was lucky to have a surgeon who respected her wishes to go flat, without her having to take extraordinary measures to protect herself. This experience of respect by default – this is what ALL mastectomy patients deserve.
I am sharing my story because someone may need it.
I’ve always been told I had dense, fibrous breasts. So when I felt a hard lump in my right breast in 2009 I wasn’t that alarmed. I had gallbladder surgery pending and I was in between GP’s, so I waited until July when I saw my new GP to have it examined. He felt it and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. Both were negative so he sent me for a biopsy consult. Thinking it was just a consult, I went on my own.
The physician there slapped my blackened images up on his screen and gestured towards them saying, “These tell me nothing”. As I sat there naked from the waist up, he stood across the room looking at my breasts. He walked over and put his hand directly on the lump. He said, “This is what we’re going to do” and led me to the biopsy area. As he was performing the biopsy, he showed me the screen as the needle sucked up cells. He pointed to the area and said, “See? Those are abnormal. They’re not supposed to be there”. When he was finished with the biopsy, I sat up and asked, “This could be anything, right?” He said, “I have to tell you, it was really hard and gritty when I put the needle in and that’s not a good sign”. A little over a week later I received the phone call that it was cancer.
I knew immediately I wanted the whole breast gone, and it was then that I began to Google images of mastectomies. I remember my wife and I looking at image after image as I said, “That’s not too bad”. And that’s why I’m sharing my story. I was able to make an informed decision because other people were brave enough to show their mastectomies on the internet. And I never considered reconstruction. I was a 34A. I didn’t think that mattered. All I could think about was getting that cancer out of me.
I had stage 3a invasive lobular carcinoma, a particularly sneaky form of breast cancer that often does not show on mammograms and ultrasounds. It was, by breast cancer standards, a large mass and it had wormed its way into all four quadrants of my breast. It was in 2 of my lymph nodes but all breast cancer survivors worry. Since I didn’t trust the tests, I asked for and received a prophylactic mastectomy on the other breast once chemo was completed.
I was lucky. My surgeon was a good one and my chest is pretty flat. I didn’t know then to ask for a completely flat chest.
My first mastectomy was 9 years ago this month. The picture I’m including was taken just under a year ago. To explain, I’m in my underwear because my sister had just had a breast reduction and texted me a picture of her in her underwear with her smaller boobs. So I replied in the same manner and we both had a good laugh. But I share it so that I can pass on the knowledge and strength that women before me, those women with their flat chests on the internet, now both living and dead, did for me.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”. ~ Robert Frost