A Mother and her Two Daughters

01 May 2011

Encouragement from Survivors & Research

 Breast cancer, no matter the circumstances, is terrible.  Make no mistake – all cancers are bad.  It’s a disease that once diagnosed haunts the body and stalks the mind forever.  There are no good cancers.  Period.

Having said that, there are some diagnosed with breast cancer who are able to battle the disease without having a to surgically remove the breast.  And then there are others, like me, where a mastectomy is mandatory, not an option.  The issue can then become a decision about prevention --  “Do I remove the one breast, or both?”   Called a prophylactic or risk-reducing mastectomy, it’s a procedure to eliminate the chance of developing cancer in a second breast,.  It’s often recommended when a woman exhibits risk factors for the cancer to move to the other breast - age, family history, and the presence of invasive or high-risk cancer cells

The benefits of a preventive mastectomy are simple – removing the second breast significantly reduces the chance of developing cancer in the other breast.  Real simple.  I

The risks associated with removing both breasts are twofold:  (1) The normal risks associated with any kind of surgery, and (2) Because a preventive mastectomy is irreversible, the psychological effects on a woman’s body image of loss of normal breast function must be considered.  

And let me tell you, the psychological effects can be real. 

During my own breast cancer battle, it would be almost ten days before the mastectomy surgery that I would have my first real emotional meltdown.  From February through June, I surprised myself by staying emotionally stable, my head in the game of cancer treatment.  However, as the July date for the mastectomy approached, I became terrified, worried about so drastically altering my body.  While I’d never had a love affair with my breasts, they were mine and I really didn’t want to lose them.  It was a tough time of great anxiety, and sometimes a river of tears.  However, though the help of survivor friends and a little therapy, the logical mind would take over, and I successfully made the mental adjustment a few days before surgery.   

At Friday’s annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons in Washington, D.C., there was good news for those of us who've been faced with the "one or two" mastectomy decision.  

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., questioned hundreds of women who sacrificed a healthy breast in the hope of avoiding another cancer. Twenty years after their surgery, 97 percent said they would make the same decision again.  Details about the research can be found by clicking here.

Throughout this cancer journey, I’ve been blessed by amazing women who have openly shared with me their pain and fears, and their stories of conquering the beast.  These champion women remained by my side to calm my fears and hug my soul. Their stories gave me the hope I needed to fight strong, a much better strategy than traveling the journey alone. 

And now we have encouraging news from almost 300 women who 20-years ago were faced with some of these same tough decisions – one breast or two?  It’s nice to know that looking back, they would do it all over again. 

Thank goodness for survivors who share their stories, and for research that calms our hearts.  I am thankful. 

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