In January, 2007, I had several vivid breast dreams, so vivid I bolted up out of bed each time. I had stopped doing breast self-examinations (BSE's) because I had fibrocystic breasts and felt anxious about every lump or bump. But the dreams shook me to my core. After the third dream, I did a BSE. Running my hand over my right breast made me very uncomfortable. I didn't really "feel" anything, yet I had a bad feeling about it. I had planned to wait until I turned 50 for my next routine mammogram, which would have made it six months late. But instead, I scheduled a mammogram as soon as possible, a few weeks later.
My mammogram was clean. I should have been relieved, but I wasn't. I pointed out my area of concern to the radiologist and fortunately she followed up with an ultrasound. A tiny spot shadowed — too small to biopsy. So, I was sent to have a breast MRI. The MRI lit up an area of concern that was in a different part of my breast. A repeat ultrasound showed nothing, so I was sent for a needle-guided biopsy using MRI.
The odds all pointed to it being nothing, but in my gut I knew. My radiologist cried when she called to tell me — I had invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC). ILC is not as common as invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), and is often hard to detect because it's less likely than IDC to form a palpable lump. Also, it's more likely than IDC to show up in the other breast.
My surgeon, my oncologist, and my radiation oncologist all recommended lumpectomy and radiation, feeling it was the perfect treatment for my cancer. But I decided I wanted to have bilateral mastectomies. I'm a worrier and couldn't come to terms with keeping breasts that had failed me. Also, I didn't want radiation because I was concerned about possible side effects.
Next, I met with a plastic surgeon. I'd done enough research to know what was in store, but my husband, who accompanied me, hadn't a clue. He walked out of there shaking his head. He kept asking me over and over if he'd heard correctly what the doctor had said about implant reconstruction, that the muscle wall would be pushed out and readjusted to hold the implant. When I said, yes, he'd heard correctly, he wondered, not mincing words, "Why would a woman endure such a barbaric procedure?"
His reaction took me by surprise. I hadn't even considered going without reconstruction until he made that comment. Thankfully, my husband has always been attracted to athletic women with lean and fit physiques — he loved me despite my 34D bust :-). After surfing the web to learn more, I decided not to have reconstruction. I told my husband that my breasts had served me well and that I'd received enough male attention to my chest throughout my life. Now, without breasts, I would again receive attention, but for other reasons.
Here's why I chose not to reconstruct:
Recovery is faster — I needed zero pain meds after the mastectomies.
I didn't want to wear prostheses, but with bilateral mastectomies I would be symmetrical and could choose to go flat.
I didn't want to have six-month follow-ups for life, consisting first of breast MRI's, then mammograms.
I'd heard enough women talk about infections, shifting of implants, silicone tears, etc. to make me nervous about it.
It has only been six weeks since my bilateral mastectomies. I'd love to say that I feel whole and strong, but I have a ways to go. There are days I still shake my head in disbelief that I got cancer. I was the first in my family. There have been so many wonderful women (with and without reconstruction) who have held my hand through this. I wish there were no more need for hand-holding for anyone new, but if there is, I will gladly be there.