On the heels of losing a long time co-worker to breast cancer and finding out that my boyfriend’s aunt was newly diagnosed, I was not prepared to find out that I, too, had breast cancer. My journey, however, was much different than theirs.
In March of 2016, during my yearly breast exam, a lump was found. Upon being asked how long it had been there, I quickly replied, “I don’t know.” Of course, this gave away that I don’t do monthly self- breast exams. I’m never going to let that slide again! After two mammograms, two ultrasounds and a molecular breast imaging, it was still unclear as to whether the mass was cancer or not. I was then sent to a surgeon to obtain a biopsy.
After waiting for a grueling week to hear the pathology report, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma that was hormone receptor positive. The prognosis was that it was early stage with possibly no lymph node involvement. This was due to the mass being found early and only being 1cm or less in size. However, that can only be confirmed once you have your surgery and the lymph nodes are tested.
The surgeon discussed my options with me and also had me consult with a plastic surgeon to give me a better understanding of those options. My two choices were a lumpectomy with radiation or a nipple sparing mastectomy (NSM). My initial thought was to have a lumpectomy with radiation. Actually, I was hell bent to go in that direction until I had my appointment with the plastic surgeon.
First, let me stress how important it is to have good doctors that are willing to take their time and explain everything to you with care and patience. I am blessed to have had that. Once it was fully explained to me the side effects of a lumpectomy with radiation vs. an NSM, my decision was to have the NSM. The reasoning for my decision is that there is a better chance of getting all the cancer, radiation side effects could be negative, and that finally the reconstructive outcome would be better in my particular case.
Going into my surgery, I still had a lot of anxiety not knowing about my lymph nodes. Fortunately, they were cancer free when all was said and done. Surgery was about three hours long due to the type of procedure being done, the lymph node removal, and the expander that was placed for reconstructive purposes. In order to have an NSM, you have to meet certain criteria. Thankfully, I met the requirements due to the size of the mass and the small amount of breast tissue that I have. Basically, the surgeon makes an incision, leaving your nipple and skin intact and only removing breast tissue.
My follow up appointment with the surgeon was one week post operation. When he took the surgical bra and bandages off, I wanted to cry for joy. It looked so good!! Other than the scar, it looked like a normal breast with the expander in place. Reconstruction will not take place for six months in order to give that breast proper time to heal.
Since my lymph nodes were not involved, I didn’t need to have any chemotherapy or radiation. However, I do have to take a drug called Tamoxifen (an estrogen blocker) for 5–10 years. Although the drug has a number of potential side effects, the most likely result is that you will immediately become menopausal. I’m 50 years old and heading that way anyway, so the benefits certainly outweigh the risks.
I know my journey isn’t nearly as bad as that of many courageous women, but if putting my story out there could help anyone in anyway, it is worth its weight in gold. With the Grace of God, good doctors and a strong support system, I am a SURVIVOR!!!!
– Kim Dunn