I'm a seventeen-year survivor of DCIS, diagnosed in my left breast when I was 40. Was I scared? Absolutely — but not for myself. Rather, I was frightened for my three young children and my wonderful husband, whom I did not want to leave behind should this disease take my life.
My first doctor told me that the best way to treat the DCIS would be to remove my breast, a thought that horrified me at the time, given my age. So, I went for a second opinion and was told that all I'd need was a lumpectomy followed by a full course of radiation therapy. That sounded considerably better. So much better, in fact, that I was able to be a bit lighthearted about it, jokingly telling people who asked if I had a family history of breast cancer that even though I didn't, I had very graciously provided my relatives with a family history! Since then, my sister, two first cousins, and a maternal aunt have also been diagnosed with breast cancer but, happily, they're all doing fine.
In the years following my lumpectomy, I had further biopsies on both breasts, all thankfully benign. But the agonizing wait for results after each biopsy was not something a person with my nervous temperament could handle well. And the worried looks on my children's faces each time I had this done was heart-wrenching. I know that their young lives were colored by those experiences and I hated that I couldn't hide my fear from them better than I did.
Even my yearly mammogram wasn't without drama. The days and weeks leading up to it became a hand-wringing, nail-biting, sleepless prologue to the main event. For most women, a mammogram is no more worrisome than any other diagnostic test, but once you've had breast cancer, it becomes a whole new, more frightening experience. At least it did for me.
My decision to opt for a bilateral mastectomy came on the heels of my latest mammogram, which once again turned up new calcifications. Although my radiologist said that the finding was probably benign, I was told to come back for a follow-up mammogram in a few months.
That's when I decided that enough was enough. I'd made myself a promise that if I had another "iffy" mammogram, I would have my breasts removed. After all, they were being taken one piece at a time anyway, via multiple biopsies, so why not just finish them off completely, on my own terms?
I contacted a renowned New York surgeon and scheduled a bilateral mastectomy, without reconstruction. I researched the procedure and saw photos on the Internet of women who had done this. Not only did these images not shock or horrify me — I found them quite beautiful in their simplicity.
I did encounter a bit of resistance from the medical community regarding my decision not to reconstruct. It's almost as if doctors don't understand how a woman could NOT want to have breasts. My identity as a woman was never tied to my having breasts, so not having them would certainly not make me feel less feminine.
In any event, the surgery went off without a hitch. I never even needed pain meds afterwards. My biggest complaint has been the minor nuisance of axillary web syndrome, which has slightly hindered the range of motion in both my arms. It's a condition I've since learned is quite common, and one that should eventually resolve on its own. For me, the happiest moment of all was hearing that the pathology came back negative for cancer in both breasts — and I'm NEVER looking back!
I truly couldn't be happier with my decision not to reconstruct. I have a slimmer, sleeker silhouette, a look that's very sixties Twiggy-chic! I absolutely LOVE not needing to wear a bra. It's a freedom I've never known until now and I'm embracing it wholeheartedly! I thought at first that I'd catch people staring curiously at me, but this has never been the case. More often than not, they don't even notice that anything is different!
Clearly, this road is not for everyone, but it's the right one for me. My only regret is that I didn't do it years ago because I would have saved myself and my beloved family a whole lot of grief.