Personal Stories

Margaret's Story

I found out in February of 2007 that I carry a BRCA1 gene mutation. I'm grateful to my cousin and aunt, who recognized that the faulty gene could be in our family and were proactive about testing. Because of this faulty gene, I faced an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. I figured that, given my other risk factors — being overweight, childless, and never having used birth control — I was not likely to be on the short side of the gene risk equation.

I knew that I did not want to get cancer at all and figured I would not cope well with surveillance. I guessed that, like my mom, who had lobular carcinoma in situ in 1988 and opted for bilateral prophylactic mastectomies, I would be able to cope with mastectomy surgery. Although I got the faulty gene from my dad, my mom showed me how to manage my risk.

When I had to decide whether or not to have reconstruction, again my mom stood out as an example. She never considered reconstruction and goes flat most of the time. She says, "Either people are too kind to say anything or they don't notice." She looks great flat.

I was very interested in having my breasts removed as soon as possible. At 43, I felt it would be risky to wait very long. I was also interested in getting back to work, sports, and summer fun as quickly as possible after surgery. I liked the idea of having only one surgery, without second or third stages. I felt that opting not to have reconstruction meant less risk of complications and would involve a shorter recovery period with fewer restrictions. I am very lucky that my partner felt the same way. She is very anti-surgery in general, which translates to as little surgery as possible in my case.

Going flat fits my body image. I was small-chested when I was young and fit. I still think of myself that way, despite the scale and mirror. I dress in an androgynous style, mostly in men's clothes, which fit better without my size D breasts. My partner and I are accepting of the downside regarding intimacy.

I was very nervous about what people would think, who would notice, how I would look, and how I would feel after the mastectomies, but I trusted myself to be able to handle what would come. After surgery, the relief of being done and having no cancer found in my breasts carried me through the recovery phase. I did have, pain, numbness, and a few minor healing issues. It took four weeks before I could go back to work. I was back to golf in six weeks, and was biking by eight weeks post-surgery. I felt strong and recovered three months after surgery and proved it with a 37-mile bike ride.

At six months out, my scars are still red, my chest muscles tighten up occasionally, and there are weird sensations as the area of numbness continues to get smaller. I like the way I look in clothes and I feel motivated to get fit and lose weight. Strangers don't seem to notice. Some new FORCE acquaintances even asked me what type of recon I'd had!

These days, I don't have to worry about bras, mammograms, or breast cancer. There are no revisions or exchanges in my future. I'm very happy with my decision not to have reconstruction.