Back in October of 2016 I went to get a mammogram like I normally do once a year. Nothing seemed amiss when I was getting my mammogram. I was surprised when I got a call about my mammogram. An abnormal growth was spotted. I needed to come back in for further screening. After a more targeted mammogram and a biopsy later I was told there were two small growths. One was benign and the other was cancer. The breast cancer was so small that the doctor couldn’t feel it.
I was devastated! That doctor’s visit changed my life forever. It really stops you in your tracks.
I got a referral from my doctor for a breast surgeon. After my husband and I met with my surgeon I decided to get a lumpectomy. I had to go through further testing first. One of the tests was genetic testing. They take a sample of your blood and analyze it. Afterwards, they send you a report of their findings.
The genetic test results weren’t what I was expecting. The test revealed that I had the defective BRCA 2 gene. This is one of the most common defective genes that causes cancer. It also causes ovarian cancer. Reading my genetic test results felt like a swift kick to the gut.
My chances of getting breast cancer again in the other breast was a 50-80% chance and the risk increases as I get older. The recovery rate gets slower and more complicated as you grow older as well.
I weighed the option of getting a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery over a double mastectomy. Since my chances of getting breast cancer again was great, I didn’t want to be faced with facing cancer again in a few years. Having the double mastectomy would remove my cancer and reduce my chances of getting breast cancer again to 1%. I like those odds much better.
I was referred to a great plastic surgeon by another breast cancer survivor. My husband and I met with him and scheduled my surgery. First, my breast surgeon would remove the cancer and then my plastic surgeon would start doing my reconstructive surgery immediately afterwards.
After arriving at the hospital with my husband I was prepped and received anesthesia. That’s the last thing I remember. When I woke up I was in another hospital bed in my hospital room. I was so glad the surgery went smoothly and that the cancer was out of my body! I had some new scars but overall my surgeons did a good job.
I had a few weeks to recover before starting chemo treatment. My oncologist advised that the chemo treatments was a precaution to eliminate any cancer that was missed during my surgery. I reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t crazy about losing my hair. However, I wanted to do everything I could to reduce my risk of getting breast cancer again.
Before, my first chemo treatment I got a shorter haircut. Then I had my first chemo treatment. Six weeks later my hair started to fall out. My hair stylist advised me before my chemo treatment that with cancer there is so much that’s out of my control. By shaving my head, I would remove the stress of losing my hair. It got to a point that I was tired of my hair falling out just by brushing it or washing it. My hair stylist was right. I made the appointment to get my head shaved.
I arranged for some friends as well as my husband and daughter to join me at my “head shaving” appointment. I needed moral support and I had some liquid courage to help with my anxiety.
I even got some of my hair colored purple before it was cut and shaved off. I won’t lie. It was depressing getting my head shaved. It was also very freeing and a relief. I didn’t have to be constantly reminded that I was losing my hair after every shower.
I wore scarves on my head instead of a wig. The wig felt too tight and gave me a headache. After I finished chemo treatments my hair slowly grew back. It took a year or so before my hair was at the same length pre-cancer.
A few months after completing my chemo treatments I met with my doctor to chat about my defective BRCA 2 gene and what my risks were for having ovarian cancer. My grandmother died from ovarian cancer. I decided to have an oophorectomy. This is a procedure that removes my ovaries and fallopian tubes. It was revealed after that surgery there was no sign of cancer on my ovaries. This was a huge relief! The recovery time was minimal. I had three small incisions in my abdomen area that quickly healed.
I’ll be celebrating my 4-year anniversary of being cancer free this December. Looking back at my breast cancer journey these are my take aways:
- You are stronger than you think.
- It’s up to you about who you want to share your cancer diagnosis.
- Give yourself grace and credit for all the milestones in your cancer journey. Make a list of all the milestones that you’ve accomplished in a notebook. You’ll be amazed when you look back at it in the future and realize how much you overcame.
- Make plans to go to those places you wanted to visit and things you always wanted to do.
- Having a creative outlet was helpful for me. I painted tulips during my cancer journey. It was a nice distraction and was something that would make me feel happier when I looked at it.