In light of Angelina Jolie’s announcement of having a double mastectomy I decided to be one of the millions to weigh in on her decision. Kudos for not only having the courage to come forward but kudos in putting your life and your family before having natural breasts. WE ARE NOT OUR BREASTS! And for those who might get cancer and have treatment WE ARE NOT OUR HAIR!
Most who know me know I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, 2006. The minute I received the phone call I told my nurse practitioner I was going to remove them both. So many encouraged me to have just a lumpectomy, but I would not be deterred. I was number seven in my family to have breast cancer – my mother and her two sister and three cousins. Some even wonder if my great grandmother, who died in Russia during the pogroms, might have had ovarian cancer. They said her stomach was hard as a rock.
I was tested for the BRCA1 & 2 gene, as was my mother, and we were both negative. But my wonderful doctor, Dr. Anthony Lucci – Surgical Oncologist at MD Anderson, told me based on my family history there must be another gene out there – we just don’t know yet what it might be.
So back to my decision – I had a bilateral mastectomy with TRAM flap reconstruction. When the pathology came back, my breast with cancer had 14 spots of cancer. Translation – I made the right decision. Dr. Lucci said I would have been impossible to follow. Why did I choose the prophylactic (optional) mastectomy of the other breast? I knew it was not if but when would I get the cancer in the other breast, as happened to my mother.
My surgery was 11 hours and my wonderful husband and sister were there for over 15 hours. We arrived at 5am and Bobby saw me in recovery at 9pm.
I did not want them to be alone, so I had a surgery party, and I heard it was great! I planned for people to come all day to the waiting room. I packed a rolling cooler and of course, we had goodies from the bakery. My friend Alyne made a wonderful sign-in book, so I could see later who all came and the nice notes they wrote to us. I think about 40 people came to my party. J But I must admit I was glad to be the one in the operating room because waiting for 14-15 hours in a hospital waiting room does not sound fun – even with a great party.
I remember waking up in recovery and seeing my husband putting lip balm on my lips and next seeing my sister and mother-in-law. Bobby stayed with me that night. The next day my sister was sitting by my bed when I woke up. Later my mother-in-law returned and with my sister looked at the fine work of Dr. Jeff Friedman, my amazing, artistic plastic surgeon from Methodist, and told me I looked like a Playboy bunny.
The Playboy bunny “thing” was short lived because, not sure if you know, our family has a bakery and now my stomach fat is my breast tissue, so it’s the first place I gain weight plus other places. Surgery recovery was about 8 weeks and then chemo for six months. Still, today, I am happy with my decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.
Breast cancer changed my life – for the better. I am a different person both outside (thanks to my great docs) and inside (thanks to family and friends). Life is precious, and I want to leave a tiny good mark on this world. I’ve made so many new friends and expanded my horizons. I even joined the board of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Houston Affiliate, recently.
Today I signed up for the 2013 Race for the Cure taking place October 5th. With your help I would like to see our team raise $10,000. So join me, join my team and of course donate, and let’s raise money and awareness to stamp out this disease.
And thank you Angelina Jolie for giving us the strength and voice to say out loud it’s okay to not save the TaTas and, if we have to, save ourselves instead. 😉