Why I Chose to go through with a Mastectomy and Reconstruction
Yesterday was my 11th anniversary being clean of ovarian cancer. On November 17, 2002 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had a hysterectomy. My surgeon talked me into keeping one ovary for hormone reasons. My grandmother on my mother’s side died of ovarian and uterine cancer so it wasn’t really a surprise that it happened to me, but I was only 37 and I was lucky, the cancer almost wasn’t found.
Had my doctor not done an ovarian tumor marker called a CA-125 blood test on his own volition, without even telling me, I might not be around. I asked him why he did this test and he replied, “I do this test on every woman who walks through my door.” I kept being warned that women who have a history of ovarian cancer are at a very high risk of developing breast cancer.
Fast forward to May of 2013. As scary as that experience was, it didn’t compare to the suspected growth on the right remaining ovary last spring. I underwent several scans, tests, tumor markers. The scans ended up showing something not actually on my ovary, but I went through the scare of my life. I had just celebrated being 10 years clean at the beginning of 2013.
My doctor suggested that I have a mammogram. I was given the breast cancer warning and my doctor put a request into my insurance that was initially denied. An appeal approved the breast reduction and/or mastectomy with reconstruction, but I really wasn’t too interested in going through with it.
Then Angelina Jolie came out with her story about testing positive on a DNA test for the “’faulty’ gene” BRCA1 and had roughly an 87 percent risk of contracting breast cancer. I thought about one of my best friends who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 only to have a partial mastectomy and sure enough, it returned in 2003, spread to the bone, then the brain and she passed away in 2006 so I knew it was a good idea.
Unfortunately I had a hectically busy summer and simply forgot about it even though my insurance would pay for it. In August, I got a call from my surgeons office asking me when I wanted to schedule the surgery, the pressure was on and I still hesitated initially.
Being a woman who takes pride in looking younger than my age, I was worried about scarring and loss of sensation as well as just feeling less female. After all, even though I was done having children 11 years ago, as soon as I was told I would not be able to have more children, all of a sudden I was shattered. The information I read about ovarian cancer my attitude was, “Nobody is going to tell me I can’t have more children!”
So I schedule my breast surgery for October and went through with it. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make in my life. It was stressful, depressing and I just didn’t think I would ever be desired by a man again.
I had the surgery and the reconstruction. It was difficult, but I went through with it and felt so much better physically due to all the symptoms I didn’t even realize I had. Because of a little complication due to this surgery going down to the chest wall, I couldn’t drive for a month, walk my dog and I had to hire 24 hour nursing to live with me.
I kept this surgery a secret from my friends and family and had my nurses aid drive me to the hospital. When I had the dressings removed after five days I cried and cried, I felt hopeless, but knew I had done the right thing,
I have to thank Angelina Jolie for coming out publicly about her double mastectomy. Most recently, an anchorwoman on the Today show had a mammogram on air at the suggestion of Robin Roberts, another breast cancer survivor who now has other health problems. The doctor’s found breast cancer on air and she has chosen the same route.
I was laying on my couch, having a pity party when I heard about her story. I wasn’t in the hospital long, I just had a problem reaching out for help. These brave women however, inspired me and confirmed that I had done the right thing. I do not know what the future holds for me, but it is a load off my mind. I realize I was in denial about the chances of the cancer coming back. A lot of patients can stay clean for years and then a recurrence happens, much like the scare I had last spring.
Now that I am in the healing process, and it is lengthy, at least I know that I’m at a much lower risk and I know I’m not the only woman who’s had this experience.
If you have a history, family or personal, I would strongly suggest talking to your doctor. It is much more cost effective than years of chemotherapy. I will live to see my grandchildren and my priorities have definitely shifted. Only time will tell how I ultimately feel, but I am already feeling like my life was saved more than once.
Just sharing this publicly has helped and I hope it helps other women realize that you don’t have to be famous, on television or too full of pride to go through with this serious procedure.