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I don't care who you are. The words "you have breast cancer" are gut wrenching, stomach dropping, and fear gripping. They stop your heart and your life changes.
So it was in 2002. I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I found the lump in a self exam. The whirlwind that ensued was fast and swift. Imaging, ultrasound, and surgical lumpectomy biopsy followed. It was confirmed and required a second surgery to remove all the cancer margins. My newly downsized breast was subjected to 6 1/2 weeks of radiation. We caught it early, it had not spread to my lymph nodes. My therapy was completed in July of 2002. I was a survivor!
I continue to advocate for early detection, knowing your body, and keeping regular appointments for mammograms. And every year since then, I have gone in for imaging, sometimes having to undergo further imaging and ultrasound, but nothing was ever too alarming. Until recently.
On June 20th, I went in for my annual mammogram and fully expected to receive a letter the following week telling me that everything was normal. Instead, two days later, I found myself speaking to a radiologist from the Piper Breast Cancer Center who informed me that there were some changes in my "other" left breast that were concerning. She recommended that I come in for further imaging, possible ultrasound and biopsy. The appointment on June 28th heightened my fears as imaging led to ultrasound and ultrasound to 2 areas being biopsied. Two days later, another call from a nurse indicated that there was a third area of concern which required an x-ray guided needle biopsy which was scheduled for July 8th. The next day's phone call from a doctor at Piper confirmed early stage ductal carcinoma. There were those 4 words again.
On July 15th, I underwent my first breast MRI and consulted with my surgical oncologist. The appointment revealed that I have an 8 cm area of atypical ductal proliferation, calcifications, and flat epithelial atypia (a bunch of small possible tumors) along with the small diagnosed tumor in my left breast. The good news is that this is all very early stage!
I am choosing to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. This choice was not made lightly. I am hoping that this decision ends my breast cancer path. That the 4 words won't echo in my head ever again. That from now on I will be free from the fear of its return. And I go forward trusting that the scars I receive will forever be beautiful reminders that I have survived!
The surgery will take 8 hours at the Piper Cancer Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital on September 1, 2016. It will take 2-3 hours to perform the breast removal by the surgical oncologist, Dr. Cassandra Anderson and 5-6 hours to perform the reconstruction by the plastic surgeon, Dr. Timothy Schaefer. Dr. Schaefer will do a latissimus dorci flap on both sides using that muscle tissue for the "new" breasts under which he will place my expanders. I will be in the hospital for 3 days and at home for recovery for about 6 weeks. Dr. Anderson will sample my lymph nodes and any indication of cancer spread will determine further therapies. While the journey to my "new" breasts will be painful and long (it will take about 6 months barring any complications), I can't wait to be braless and "perky" for the rest of my life!! :) And every ounce of pain is well worth the sacrifice to be cancer free!
Thank you so much to those who have lifted me in prayer, said a kind word, sent an encouraging note, shown your kindness, or served me and my family in some way! Your thoughtfulness is beyond wonderful. I am truly humbled and more grateful than words can express for your love. Stay pink, stay encouraged, and stay beautiful!! You are all important to me and to this world!