Following much research, consultation, prayer and consideration I made the decision to have a double mastectomy with expanders, then implant, reconstruction once chemotherapy was completed. With only having had a lumpectomy and re-excision of the margins, my surgical treatment was never going to be complete without radiotherapy or mastectomy; stopping at just lumpectomy would have left a very high likelihood of reoccurrence of tumour in the breast. In addition to the mixed ductal and lobular multifocal tumour, my initial pathology had revealed an extensive background of lobular carcinoma in-situ (LCIS), and therefore a higher probability of new de-novo tumours in either breast in years to come. With my history of osteosarcoma and the possibility of radiation-induced sarcomas and further damage to heart and lungs with radiotherapy, and the presence of LCIS, I decided that a mastectomy was the most appropriate course of action for me. During this decision-making process I awoke abruptly one night at 2am with a very clear voice in my head saying “It has to be mastectomy with implants”. When research and logic ultimately drew me to the same conclusion, I made my decision with a great deal of certainty and calm that this was the right decision for me. The voice in the night could not be ignored. The LCIS meant that it made sense to undergo double mastectomy, which would also give better results cosmetically. So the decision was made, breast and plastic surgeons informed and a date set for the operation, Friday 22nd November.
The weeks leading up to my surgery were hard. I knew the right decision had been made, but I felt so incredibly sad, and grieved the impending loss of my breasts. Every time I stopped to think about it, I wept. My wonderful breast surgeon referred me to a psychologist the week before my surgery, and this made all the difference. The things we discussed during that one hour session really resonated with me and helped to see myself and life in a whole new light. In addition to this, advice from forums and friends indicated that I should take the time to grieve my loss prior to surgery, and to acknowledge and celebrate my breasts. Heeding this advice led to a beautiful weekend, forever etched in my memory. A weekend filled with lunch with girlfriends, a massage and facial, the visit to the psychologist, a “farewell boobies, hello newbies” girls night out and then a day in the country with just my boys, with long lunch, art gallery and afternoon tea by a lake – magic! With several more dinners out with girlfriends, an early-Christmas work celebration, a final trip to the physiotherapist, some serious retail therapy at a shopping mall, and a visit to my parents, I was ready to head to surgery. I had closure.
The day of surgery was a long one. I had to register at the hospital at 9.30am and then go to another hospital for a lymphoscintillogram, for the sentinel lymph node biopsy on my “healthy” breast. As I massaged the radioactive dye into that breast as directed, the tears flowed as I relived breast-feeding my 3 boys, and said good-bye to my breast. It was then back to the original hospital for admission for surgery. The plastic surgeon came mid-way through the afternoon and marked me up all over with his purple chinograph-type pencil, and then my husband, Craig, and I just waited. Finally at about 7.30pm I was taken to surgery. Craig came with me to pre-op and held my hand while the anaesthetic went in. I didn’t dance like the woman in the You-Tube video; I shed a tear, but I still consider I was brave. The memories of the beautiful weekend before filled my thoughts, and I felt nurtured and carried by the love and prayers of so many amazing friends and family. I breathed Love in and breathed out Fear, and the sense of calm and peace around me sustained me.
Surgery went well. It was close to midnight when I came out of theatre. The next day I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, but I was pleasantly surprised to be able to move my arms and get up ok. I spent four nights in hospital, feeling stronger each day, and was discharged with a drainage tube and bottle under each arm – painful, uncomfortable and awkward! Boy did I hate those drainage tubes, despite the fact they had a very important task to perform. I was discharged on the Tuesday, returning home via the local bank, where we signed the papers to re-finance our house; having cancer and surgery is expensive!
The days back at home were spent resting quietly, with Craig staying home from work to look after me, and an abundance of food and flowers delivered from friends. Although I didn’t actually have the energy to leave the house, I felt uncomfortably housebound and frustrated that I couldn’t venture to the end of our street to the local café; there was no way I would subject the local community to the repulsive and confronting sight of the drainage tubes coming out of me.
Friday was the post-op visit with the breast surgeon. The pathology results were back and he commenced by saying I should feel good that I had made the correct decision – the breast that had the tumour removed back in April had now been found to contain a small 2mm residual tumour foci that had survived the chemotherapy! This was in addition to the extensive LCIS, which we already knew about. Furthermore, the “healthy” breast was also found to have widespread LCIS and was essentially a ticking time bomb for new tumours some time in the future!! I was definitely better off with both breasts gone. A huge sense of relief and happiness washed over me as we sat in a café afterwards; it was such a huge decision I’d made a couple of months earlier, a decision vindicated.