Personal Stories

Carol's Story

Only a few weeks after I turned 40, I felt a very small lump in my breast. Although I had a doctor's appointment in a few months, I decided to call my doctor right away, just to be sure it was nothing. My ob/gyn felt what I could feel but really thought it was a cyst. She sent me for a mammogram anyway. The mammogram did not show the lump, although the ultrasound did. What the mammogram did find was cancer in one quarter of my breast. It was a combination of IDC and DCIS. I had a lumpectomy for the 1.6 cm lump and lymph nodes were removed. When I received the results, I was shocked to find out that the margins were not clean and that six out of nine lymph nodes had tested positive for cancer. My doctors staged me at IIB, but I think they were being generous. I probably should have been a IIIA. Once I recovered from the lumpectomy, I completed four months of dose dense chemo, then had a single mastectomy without reconstruction, and then radiation.

Lots of people just assumed that I would reconstruct, but I decided not to, based on a variety of factors.

  • Although I had always liked my breasts (they were small, 34B, but nice), once I was diagnosed with cancer they just did not seem important anymore, you know, compared to my life! One thing I learned on my cancer journey is that my self esteem does not come from my physical appearance.

  • I did go to see a plastic surgeon before my mastectomy. I knew that I did not want to reconstruct, but also wanted to be an informed consumer, so to speak. I learned that if I wanted to reconstruct, I would not be able to have any procedure where they take muscle or fat from my stomach. I was too thin for that. My only option would be the latissimus dorsi flap, with an implant. Since I was going to have radiation and there is a 40% failure rate after radiation, I decided it was not for me. Being physically active, I was also worried about losing shoulder strength.

  • I have many allergies to antibiotics. In fact, there are very few that I can still take. I did not want to risk an infection and all the complications that would go along with that.

  • I did not want another medical procedure after all I had been through. Surgery, chemo, and radiation were enough for me. Additionally, reconstruction is a lot more complicated than most people think and requires several surgeries before being complete.

  • Not that I would ever base a reconstruction decision on a man, but my husband really did not care what I did, as long as I was happy with my decision. For those of you wondering, it has not affected our sex life at all.

Currently, I am very happy with my body and cannot imagine wanting to reconstruct. I am physically active and run several times a week. I have three young children and find that not reconstructing has not impacted my daily life in the least.

Am I happy with my choice? ABSOLUTELY!! After some trial and error with different brands of mastectomy bras, I have found that I really forget (until I get dressed and undressed) that the right breast is a prosthetic.

Update: I am now six years out from from my mastectomy and am still very happy with my decision not to have reconstruction. I run, work out, play with my kids, and do everything I used to do, and more, since being diagnosed with breast cancer.