Hi! My name is Melissa. I’m a wife, step-mom, Mimi, pet owner/animal lover, artist and a healthy skeptic. I’m a purveyor of hope, health, and the good life. Now I get to add breast cancer survivor to that list.
In December 2012, I found a pea-sized lump in my right breast, right next to my nipple. I worried about it quietly and in some ways thought if I didn’t acknowledge it there would be no way for it to realize itself any further. I did not rush to have it looked at despite urges from my husband. I scheduled appointments to see my primary doctor and would later cancel them when my life simply felt too busy to take time out for my health. I would later regret that and advise no woman to do what I did. I waited three months before finally seeing my doctor in late March 2013.
In April 2013, my life changed forever when after a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and several biopsies, I got the confirmation I had breast cancer. My cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and there was also a lot of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) throughout my right breast. My left breast appeared unaffected and a biopsy of what appeared to be a mass confirmed no cancer was present in the left. I tested positive for estrogen and progesterone responsive cancer and HER2 negative. I consulted two breast surgeons and went with the one I felt would take the best care of my body and me. It was conclusive; I needed a complete mastectomy of the right breast. A lumpectomy was not an option. It was a lot to take in. I was just 37 with no apparent family history that I knew of.
The decision for me was easy. I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy in the hope that all potential for cancer would be removed. I remember thinking, “I have “x” days left to live with my big, soft, cancerous breasts.” I was full-chested. I liked my breasts. I identified with them. I didn’t know how I was going to feel without them. For all intents and purposes they were the largest part of me connected to my womanhood. They were what made me feminine. If they were removed, where was I going to see my femininity when I looked in the mirror?
In June 2013, I underwent my bilateral mastectomy and had 11 lymph nodes dissected (thankfully they showed no spreading beyond my breast). I chose to undergo reconstruction so they placed tissue expanders inside my chest for four months to prepare my body for implants. In October 2013, they were successfully replaced with silicone implants. My surgeries all went well with wonderful results. I am currently considering tattooing but haven’t yet decided.
The most difficult part, beyond the thought of my breasts no longer being there or real, was that while I certainly had breast cancer as all lab reports revealed, I did not look, feel, or act sick. So suddenly becoming a patient with cancer was bizarre and surreal. I remember feeling strangely void of any great emotion for a large part of my journey. The scariest, saddest, and loneliest feelings I felt didn’t arrive until it was all over (I know better now, it’s never really totally over).
When everyone else is moving on we, as survivors, often finally stop to process everything we just went through (there is no time to do that during treatment…that’s fighting time). This can be such a dark, overwhelming, and isolating time in our lives. I encourage all women to seek help when faced with such circumstances. I have and I highly recommend it.
I thank all my friends, family, and my loving husband (who was my rock). When my head would spin with thoughts of things I couldn’t control my husband would bring me back to the moment and remind me that all I could do was focus on the next step…just the next step. Everything else would come later. This is so helpful in reducing the intense anxiety and stress every patient with a frightening diagnosis like cancer can feel.
Today I can say I am a proud breast cancer SURVIVOR. I’m on a Tamoxifen regime for the next five years to reduce the chance of recurrence. So far I’ve done well on it with few side effects. I still don’t know if I carry the BRCA1, or 2 gene(s). I have not been able to find out due to declines by my health insurance to cover it despite new laws that categorize these tests as preventative care. I hope to be able to have the test as soon as possible so that I can rest assured I have nothing to worry about.
Cancer can bring new meaning to a person’s life. It certainly did mine. Which is why I started a project called Brave Girl Boxes. We’re just getting under way, preparing for liftoff! I want to help provide a gift of hope, support, and encouragement for newly diagnosed women so they know they are not alone. The fight against breast cancer is a challenge and it’s not an easy one. Every patient’s journey through cancer is unique. What is the same in each journey is the need to be BRAVE! And bravery is so often encouraged by the love and support of family and friends. Unfortunately, not everyone has that kind of support. There are women being diagnosed whose family and friends are far away and cannot be there. Some women simply have no support at all. This is why giving back matters to me.
My new motto…”Live from the bottom of your brave girl heart!”
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.