Considering I couldn’t even SPELL mastectomy the last time we talked about it, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the idea. A good friend asked me about the procedure yesterday, so I thought I’d give you guys the rundown. As I understand it, after I slip into unconsciousness from the anesthesia, the surgeon will slice my chest open and remove all the breast tissue from my chest. That’s all the milk ducts, all the lobules, all the fat (hoo-ray!), and the blood vessels and lymph channels in the area as well. Oh, and the cancer. Then she’ll move over to the area under my armpit and take out the fat pad (lovely term) that contains my lymph nodes. All of the lymph nodes on that side will come out too. The diseased skin will come off, and she will close the area with an approximately straight line. After it heals, it will look like a straight line across my chest. It’s called a modified radical mastectomy, and it’s what most Stage III cancer patients have.
Even though the cancer is only in one breast, I have elected to have a double mastectomy instead of a single, for several reasons. The first is that we can’t be sure that there are no cancer cells in the left breast. Since I was nursing when diagnosed, the MRI was somewhat ambiguous to the first reader. The oncologist believes there was no cancer in the left breast, that it was simply increased uptake due to the active ducts, but I’ll feel better just in case. The second reason is that because of my back pain, it wouldn’t be good for me to have one large-ish breast and one flat side. It would torque my spine and be uncomfortable, particularly as time goes on. And I’d always have to wear a prosthetic breast to make them “match.” The third reason is the most important — a double mastectomy will reduce my risk of breast cancer recurrance by 15%. Now, that may be a small figure in most circumstances, but to me it’s huge. Since the risk of recurrance for inflammatory breast cancer patients is 90%, a reduction of 15% leaves me somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% recurrence risk. Much better!
I am comfortable with my decision to have a double mastectomy. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that this is the right thing to do, and the right timing to do it. I’ve had 6 months of chemo to rid the rest of my body of cancer cells and reduce the tumor burden to make the surgery possible. I have looked forward to this for so long….
It will take several weeks for me to heal. Three weeks before I can lift my arm above my head for 30-45 minutes. Six weeks before I can lift my little boys into their beds or down the stairs. But we won’t wait that long to start the next step in fighting this cancer. After three weeks, I’ll be able to be measured and marked (my first tattoo!) for the radiation treatments and we’ll start that soon after. I’ll get a two-day break to go to that science conference and then back to the daily radiation until we’ve done seven weeks of it. After that, we hope, I’ll be done with all this. But the first step is the surgery. And now that we know I’m a good candidate for surgery, I have one thing to say … bring it on!
– Because I’ve weighed all the options, and this will give me the best chance for survival.