In 1993, at the age of 59 years, my yearly mammogram detected a small lesion in my left breast and I underwent a lumpectomy and a six week course of radiation. Ever since then I have been followed up regularly by my oncologist and had yearly mammograms. I was again devastated in February 2002 when the mammogram showed that there had been a recurrence in the left breast. Learning that radiation is not an option for a second time and that mastectomy is the only safe option, I had no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing to this, feeling that a lack of cancer was far more preferable to the preservation of my breast!
Following this surgery, my oncologist told me that the pathology report showed that there was a “marker”, namely lobular carcinoma in situ, which meant that although this was not cancer in itself, it was a very good indicator that I would again be afflicted with the disease in the remaining right breast, and that a do-nothing approach was not an option. The “normal” treatment for this was the drug Tamoxifen to be taken for five years, and then I would only have a 50/50 chance of not getting cancer again (meaning it was 50/50 that I WOULD get it again!) , and the anxiety would still be there! Also there was a risk of the side effect of uterine cancer, not to mention the huge cost of the drugs as although I have good insurance, there is no drug coverage………… or I could opt for a second mastectomy. My husband and I, together with my oncologist discussed this fully, and although mastectomy was not the recommended course of action, taking all these facts into consideration.
I do not want to make light of the fact that the first mastectomy was an emotional trauma – the actual physical surgery was much easier to bear and I found was really not as bad as I had expected it to be. Also, I am so fortunate to have a loving husband who said to me “I will love you even more” and so with his help, taking the decision to have the second mastectomy was not at all difficult. In fact, dare I say it, I was so lopsided that it was much more “convenient” to have none at all! However, at the age of 68 years, I imagine that it is an “easier” (I use the word reservedly!) decision than for a woman of much younger years. I opted NOT to have breast reconstruction but to have two prostheses which I can wear all the time, or choose the occasions when I want to!
In conclusion – I want to point out how important it is for women to have yearly mammograms, no matter what “they” say! If it had not been for yearly mammograms, I probably wouldn’t be here telling you this story. When people ask me if I am feeling OK, I tell them that I do not consider myself as being “sick” – just mutilated! This may be very facetious but my philosophy is that it is much better to have no breasts at all and be able to wear prosthesis (or have reconstruction) than to have a disease which might kill you, and to take away the constant nagging anxiety that it will come back. Another plus – NO MORE MAMMOGRAMS!