My Story: From Baggy Boobs to Belly Boobs
I wasn't surprised when the diagnosis actually came. In fact, I was relieved. I always somehow knew it was a matter of time. My mother is a
20-year breast cancer survivor; she was diagnosed in 1992 at age 55 with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and chose to have a mastectomy and reconstruction. Yet even after watching Mom, it still was unreal to be inducted into the pink-ribbon club myself.
Throughout my 30s and early 40s, my breasts were rather bothersome (especially the right one!), with cysts being the only thing that gave them volume after two pregnancies. Year after year, I endured painful mammograms and then ultrasounds to measure the size of the clusters of fluid-filled cysts. In 1996, my gynecologist drained a large cyst in my right breast, and the pathology report came back "atypical cells." In 2003, I had a lumpectomy to remove a non-cancerous lump on my right breast.
So with baggy (deflated A cups), lumpy and sore boobs, I was not particularly attached to my "girls" when a series of tests and a biopsy revealed problems. In May 2009, at age 47, my annual mammogram and ultrasound showed something suspicious in my right breast, which led to a stereotactic needle biopsy and then an MRI. The radiologist concluded it was a 5 cm x 5 cm x 3 cm area of LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ). Lots of questions ensued, and I made an appointment with a well-respected breast surgeon. On July 9, I underwent a lumpectomy/MRI-guided biopsy. The pathologist report revealed a mixture of LCIS and DCIS with a tiny spot of invasive cancer (4 mm) that had escaped outside the duct. Hearing the word "invasive" was the kicker! Because of the large size of the area (and get clean margins was impossible during the biopsy), my surgeon suggested a mastectomy.
Given the cystic nature of my left breast, too, and the diagnosis of LCIS, I chose NOT to wait and worry mammogram after mammogram through my 50s and 60s. The choice I made to have a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction was very personal. Ditto for my decision NOT to get breast implants. I chose instead to go for a more complicated (but more natural) surgical option for reconstruction ... and have a matching set of "girls" for the rest of my life.
Coming in June 2013! A Prayer and a Pink Pedicure
Fortunate to live only three hours from Charleston, I put myself in the very skilled hands of Dr. James Craigie at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction for DIEP flap reconstruction. On Sept. 22, I arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. The bilateral mastectomy and the microvascular DIEP flap surgery took about eight hours. I remained in the hospital for four days and stayed in Charleston for three additional days for a follow-up visit. With drains coming out of both breasts and both sides of my lower abdomen, I returned home to Charlotte on Sept. 30. My 48th birthday was Oct. 5, and I was one week into recovering well at home. About seven weeks later, I was back at work part time.
Because the cancer was caught early and my lymph nodes were clear, I did not require radiation or chemotherapy. Also, because both breasts were removed, my oncologist told me a course of the cancer-preventive drug tamoxifen was unnecessary. I realize how very fortunate I am, and the true heroes are the women whose battles against breast cancer are hard-fought and long.
I consider myself extremely blessed to have had access to such outstanding medical care. I have two matching new boobs that aptly fill a B-cup bra (and they stand up on their own now!). I had a loving husband who cared for me, and I had plenty of friends who offered their support and helped to alleviate my fears.
What's the take-away? Get your squeeze on!
Every year ... no exceptions, no excuses.
Blessings ~ Lee