Receiving the dreadful news that I have early stage breast cancer, was hard. Really hard for me. The decision of what to do next, oddly enough, was not. Having had a few false alarms with breast lumps that turned out to be benign, I’d already made up my mind that if ever the results would be different, I was going to remove them both. My husband and daughters had heard this from me more than once, and they fully supported my decision.
So, when I went for the first consultation with my surgeon, I felt nervous - not so much because of what he was going to say about treatment, but about how he would respond to my quite determined decision to have a bilateral mastectomy. And - stay flat-chested without reconstruction.
My fears subsided to some extent at the beginning of our consultation when my surgeon explained to my husband and me – at great length - what had been found, and explained the line of recommended treatment: a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy) and radiation. I responded by telling him of my past experiences and circumstances that had led me to choose having a bilateral mastectomy.
He was very thoughtful, then said that before we made any decisions, I would need to go through further tests, and he went on to schedule an MRI scan for the following afternoon. Then, he added one of the most powerful and empowering sentences I’d heard throughout this whole challenging journey: “at the end of the day, it is your body, and your decision.” Later, I read about the concept of patient-centeredness in medical treatment, which according to Epstein and Street, “influence the quality of patient-clinician interactions and may ultimately influence patients' health outcomes.” I was fortunate his response precisely reflected my inner personal and professional belief. I felt I was in good hands.
Some of you who read the above may wonder what the whole fuss is about? Of course, it is your body and your decision. But it doesn’t always work that way. You can hear from, and read about breast cancer patients who’ve had different experiences, whether with their surgeon, or family, or friends, regarding optional tests, type of treatments, or how we want to look afterwards. For me, it was all about my decision not to have reconstruction (which deserves its own future blog post).
When one receives the shocking news that they have cancer, they often feel they’ve lost control of their lives. This is how I felt because I wasn’t able to change what had been found. However, and it is a BIG HOWEVER, I didn’t forget, and we should always remember that we still have many choices: to ask for more information, to consult with another specialist, to consult with other type of practitioner or family member, or to stop for a moment and check with ourselves - what do we think is the right option for us? Or more important – what do we FEEL is the right option for us?
After further medical investigation, consultations, and discussions, it was recommended that I have my right breast removed. However, as I mentioned earlier, I had already decided to remove them both. So, the next thing was to schedule the date of my operation. Another decision, which was actually a privileged one to have; some women don’t even have this option when they need to have surgery immediately.
In preparation, I had to arrange payments with my health insurance, check my surgeon’s availability, and then, with these dates in hand, have further conversation with my family and a couple of very close friends. When all was done, I booked my bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction for the 22nd of June, 2015.
I know it reads like I was all very much well-organised and resolute. But even with those well-thought (or felt), knowledgeable, and consciously made decisions, I wasn’t in a constant empowering positive state. I had my good days and my not-so-good ones. On the 9th of June - with just 13 days to go - I wrote: “the breast cancer nurse spoke with me today formalities…where to go when to come… it is going to be a busy day the 22nd of June! I am going to get up a different person? this is a life changer, this is HUGE! and beside coping with the physical aspect, there is so much to cope with the emotional one, so much unknown…I feel physically sick right now, nauseous because of how I feel emotionally, just unbelievable! This is Sh…”
But…as Stephanie Bennett-Henry once said: “Life is tough, my darling, but so are you.”
Till next time (the story of my Farewell Boobs’ Party),