I don’t talk much about the “reality” of having cancer. It’s not the same for everyone and my cases (two, one for each breast and each different from the other) were relatively mild. The lymph nodes were not attacked, the tumors were (relatively speaking) small. The bigger one in my right breast was the size of a small lemon and the other was half the size. I was assured they were slow-growing but at the same time, I was also warned that it only took a single wandering cell to make it grow somewhere else — probably my lungs.
I had a choice between two complete mastectomies or just having the tumors removed. But I had highly cystic breasts. Figuring out what might be cancer and what was “benign” was going to be very difficult for everyone, especially me. I went with the mastectomies.
To keep the hours of surgery down, I had two surgeons working, one on each side, then two plastic surgeons. A previous hospital had told me they couldn’t give me implants because I had so much scarring from earlier surgeries. I went to a better hospital with more experienced doctors. Seek out the best, most-experienced surgeons you can find. Try to find one who has done hundreds of surgeries like yours. This is not the time to give a newbie her first opportunity. And find a surgeon who listens.
Prefer women. They understand. They have the same parts you do.
The odds of my getting cancer in both breasts at the same time were staggeringly small. I pointed out that I probably didn’t get them at the same time. I had one and over the years when my doctor forgot to send me for a mammogram, I grew the second. Even though my mother had died from metastasized breast cancer, neither of the tumors was genetically linked. There are lots of genetic linkage involved, but they only know a few of them and insurance will only pay for one test. Pick your tumor. It’s the cancer lotto. Men don’t get our connection to breasts. They see them as a removable piece to get rid of a tumor, not our connection to our womanhood. Where we nursed our babies.
Breast cancer is frighteningly common. There’s a theory that if you live long enough and your were born female, you will get it. Men get it too, by the way and it often gets missed. They aren’t trained to feel for lumps.
When I woke up from surgery, I already had two breast implants in place. This was an act of extraordinary generosity by my plastic surgeon and her associate. Usually they wait for the original surgery to heal, but they felt I needed to be able to look at myself and know I was still a woman. I am deeply grateful. With all the other madness you are going through with cancer, it is good to have surgeons who are also concerned with how you feel about your body and are willing to help.
They don’t keep you long in American hospitals. There’s a rumor that it’s because insurance companies don’t want to pay the money, but the true reason is that there are so many diseases in hospitals that the moment they can get you out of there, they send you home. I’m not talking about poverty stricken hospitals out in the country, but top-notch research and surgical facilities. They want you to leave healthier than when you arrived — and that means getting you out as fast as possible. Also, the odds of your getting edible food are better at home — even if it comes out of a can.
Honestly, I don’t remember much. I know I was in pain, but I was taking so many drugs, my brain was very blunt.
It has been ten years since the original surgery. I have no sign of regrowth, but that doesn’t really mean much. Because of the heart surgery and my metal pacemaker, I can’t have another MRI, so it could have spread. My grandparents, on my mother’s side, both died of pancreatic cancer as did my brother. Just because you’ve had one kind of cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get another. My first husband had kidney cancer, but died of heart disease. It’s all a game of craps. Some of us get everything yet we live on for many years. Others seem completely healthy, get one bout of pneumonia and die.
Moral? Be nice to everyone. You just don’t know what’s coming around the next corner.
So for anyone struggling with cancer or heart disease now, do the best you can. Within the realm of reason, follow your doctor’s orders, but if you don’t feel that the treatment you are on is working for you, speak up. Sometimes medications make you so sick, you have to stop taking them. If you don’t tell them, they may not realize things aren’t going well. When they ask how you feel, tell them. Icky and unpleasant as it is, they need to know and sometimes, small things that don’t seem important to you may be much more important than you realize.
None of us want pity, but all of us want support, sympathy, and kindness. If you don’t know what to say to a sick friend, you aren’t alone. Potentially lethal disease tends to leave us speechless.