Until a few months ago, I believed that breast cancer was something that happened to other women. Older women. Women who smoke. Women who have a family history. Women who perhaps use too many “dirty” beauty products.
I was wrong.
When I found a lump in my right breast in April, I promptly scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist. I had previously had two non-cancerous breast lumps removed, and I guessed that once again I would need to have surgery. My doctor sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram, and a few days after the scans, I was happy to get the news that my breasts appeared normal.
A week later, I called my doctor back and told her that something wasn’t right. The lump seemed to be getting bigger and more painful. My fourth child who wasn’t yet a year old was constantly bumping into the tender area when I held her, and both my seatbelt and cross-body “mom” purse was causing friction. I was encouraged to see a breast surgeon.
This appointment resulted in another ultrasound and a follow-up for a biopsy. I remained confident that my “dense” breasts were simply being problematic, once again, and that the results would prove that I was just fine.
Two weeks after the biopsy, I returned to my surgeon’s office. I put on the maroon medical gown and shivered. Who invented these damn gowns? I thought to myself. They are the opposite of comforting.
The doctor walked in, iPad in hand. We exchanged pleasantries, as she pulled up a chair beside me. Then said she hated to tell me, but I had breast cancer.
I remember very little of what she said after that. She drew cartoon boobs on her iPad and used big and scary words: mastectomy, MRI, chemotherapy, and radiation. I left her office with brochures and an order for an MRI.
Everything changed after that. I couldn’t eat. My anxiety was through the roof. I continued to care for my four children on autopilot. I was physically present, but emotionally I was either apathetic or having a total sob-fest in the bathroom. My mind was racing with one main question: Was I going to die?
After a few days of sheer panic, on a Sunday afternoon, I stood in my kitchen looking out the widow to the backyard below. My husband our children were swimming in the pool. They yelled and splashed without a care in the world. I felt like an outsider, unnecessary, as if I were already saying goodbye.
Then I realized how completely ridiculous that was. I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a writer. I had purpose. And I’d be damned if I was going to let cancer win.
In that moment, I made a decision. I was going to put on my proverbial big girl panties and kick cancer’s ass.
I got an appointment with a breast surgeon at a well-known cancer medical facility. I had another mammogram and ultrasound as well as an MRI. My doctor, with all the results in hand, offered me two treatment options for the type of cancer I had, DCIS: I could either choose a lumpectomy with six weeks of radiation, or I could have a mastectomy.
Being only 35 years old, most patients my age choose the lumpectomy in order to best preserve their natural breasts. But DCIS is a bitch In younger women like me, it has a high recurrence rate, and when it returns? It comes back in the opposite breast. Just to be a jerk, I guess. This meant if I had the lumpectomy and radiation, I was getting rid of the cancer, but it could come back at any time, and elsewhere.
When I asked my doctor about the odds of having breast cancer again if I opted to have my breasts removed, she informed me that it’d be around 1%. The decision was then easy for me to make: I’d get new boobs and kiss cancer goodbye.
Eight weeks after I was diagnosed, I had a bilateral mastectomy, nipple- and skin-sparing, direct-to-implant. Basically, all of my breast tissue was removed and replaced with implants, and I kept my own “outside.” I am currently only four weeks into my surgery recovery. Every day, I grow a little stronger and a lot more determined to tell my story. Though what happened to me is intimate, even sacred, and definitely terrifying, I know that I have a responsibility to warn other women of an incredibly important message, and it’s this:
If you suspect that something isn’t right, you are probably correct. If you feel the tinge of restlessness, of suspicion, listen. I believe that women are gifted with an intuition like none other, and listening to that can not only be life-changing, but lifesaving.
Less than 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 40. I was part of the 5%. I had almost no breast cancer risk factors. Yet here I am, with a brand-new set of boobs and a scary diagnosis to put on all my medical forms. And I am only in this place of healing and recovery because I listened to my intuition. Please, dear fellow Scary Mommy, won’t you do the same? Won’t you yield to intuition when it calls you?
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To help women in need, please click here.