“If it were me, I’d just have them removed,” a friend told me.
She was talking about my breasts. I had a cancerous lump in my right breast and was doing research on mastectomy versus lumpectomy. “It would bother me so much,” she went on. “Knowing that the cancer could come back. I really think you should have a mastectomy.”
My friend is in healthcare, and she loves me. She wants what’s best for me, but she is one among many who simply don’t believe that anything other than a mastectomy is an acceptable solution in breast cancer treatment. Some well-meaning friends even implied that any other option is the coward’s way out.
When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, my oncologist told me that a mastectomy isn’t always the best choice.
What many people don’t realize is that mastectomy is a serious procedure. We read about famous people who opt for it even when they don’t have cancer, and it dulls us to reality. Personally, I’m surprised that a doctor would amputate any perfectly healthy body part on the chance that one day it might become problematic. But what other people chose to do is their business.
For me, I’m not going to volunteer for a complicated surgery if I don’t need it. In mastectomy, besides the obvious — that breasts have to be removed — skin and fat often have to be harvested from other parts of the body for healing and reconstruction.
Of course, like many women, I indulged in the fantasy. My friends and I even joked about it. Harvesting fat from my thighs to build bigger breasts seems like a dream come true. If I had to go through cancer treatment, I thought, surely this was the silver lining.
But the reality is that when I actually got diagnosed with cancer, I just wanted the fastest route to getting my life back. Although I would mourn the loss of my hair and my figure, such as they are, I would be grateful for the return of good health if that were a possibility.
The fact that a skilled surgeon could actually create a more beautiful silhouette for me from the ashes of cancer wasn’t worth it if it meant one extra minute in the health care vortex.
But these decisions can be complicated. The first surgeon I saw strongly recommended mastectomy. In fact, she wanted to schedule it for the very next day. It took fortitude, on my part, to stop that process and get a second opinion. Something in my gut told me to slow down and explore other choices. It helped tremendously that my husband was with me, and he felt the same way.
I consulted with new physicians, at a bigger more prestigious facility. There, both the oncologist and surgeon recommended a lumpectomy. With solid evidence to back up their advice, they told me that a lumpectomy offered the same statistical outcome as a mastectomy in my particular case, and that the procedure would be far less invasive.
Ultimately, I had neoadjuvant therapy to shrink the size of my cancerous tumor. Then, I had a nipple saving lumpectomy to remove the shrunken lump. After surgery, I went home with an ice pack, and within a day or two I felt pretty good. My tiny scar is barely noticeable, and I didn’t need reconstructive surgery at all.
I know many women who have undergone mastectomy with beautiful results — women who consulted carefully with highly trained physicians and made the best choice for their unique situations. For me, a lumpectomy was the right option.
Cancer treatment didn’t give me the thighs I’ve always dreamed of. But it did give me the option of going back to the gym, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.