In 1991, I went for a routine mammogram after being told that a radiologist found a lump, even though it couldn't be detected by touch. A referral was set up for me to see a general surgeon. He performed a biopsy and it was confirmed - I had in-situ cancer in my right breast. A lumpectomy was performed the next month, which was successful in getting all of the cancer.
I had gone through the process with a feeling of numbness and déjà vu. When I was 10 years old, my dear aunt who lived with us had a radical mastectomy of her left breast. I witnessed her fears and pain from the cancer that had metastasized through her body. This experience had made cancer very real to me. I had witnessed first-hand the ordeal that cancer can put people through.
After five years of clear mammograms and frequent checkups by my surgeon, I felt that my prayers had been answered for conquering my greatest fear. All this was brought to an abrupt end when another routine mammogram showed possible calcium deposits—or the return of the cancer. Another biopsy confirmed that the cancer had returned, but it was localized and hadn't reached my lymph nodes. We discussed my options for chemotherapy and radiation therapy or a mastectomy. I knew I could consult another doctor to solidify my options, but I was mentally and physically tired of dealing with cancer and I opted for the mastectomy. I was willing to lose that part of my body that had already been scarred from previous operations.
I wanted so badly for the surgery to be over with that I requested to have the mastectomy first and just deal with the breast reconstruction later. My surgeon insisted I speak with a plastic surgeon before the surgery. Now, I'm truly grateful for his insistence. The plastic surgeon answered my questions and provided me with before and after pictures of former patients.
I was grateful to my surgeons for expediting the process. I completed paperwork needed for a disability leave from my job. The surgical procedure took five hours to complete. When I was ready to go home, my wonderful family and friends were waiting to support me.
I kept a journal of my feelings and it helped a lot. My priorities have changed and my appreciation of life has a greater intensity. My suggestion to my brothers and sisters going through this passage is to be as sure as possible of your choices and to believe in the skills of your surgeons. We each take the journey in our own way and I hope you don't concentrate on why shit happens, but try to think about what it is you're supposed to learn from this experience.