When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer on August 1st, I knew for sure that I had to masses in my right breast which had also invaded the lymph nodes. I was not surprised about the lumps which I had found myself, but was very surprised about the lymph nodes. What was even more surprising was that the doctor said that he had also seen some calcifications in the left breast. A complete shocker since there was no sign of a lump.
Breast calcifications are “calcium deposits within the breast tissue” that can show up on mammograms. They are often benign (non-cancerous) but others may indicate breast cancer. Because I had also had a biopsy of the right breast that confirmed my cancer, that is how we knew that my calcifications were in fact cancerous. But we had not done any biopsies of the left and I was terrified. Would I need a double?
It would be more than two weeks before I found out through more thorough mammograms that what the original doctor had seen was calcifications indicating normal breast tissue (possibly due to breastfeeding?) but we have to keep an eye on them. If they begin to form clusters, that is when we will have to do a biopsy to be sure.
But in between the time I found out about my diagnosis and the possible breast cancer in both breasts until I found out that it was isolated to the one, I had convinced myself that I was going to get a double mastectomy no matter what. Why would I risk going through this again? I just wanted them gone. I wanted them off.
Then my mom came across this article in the NY Times and it was speaking about me. That initial panic of getting cancer and like having roaches all over you, you scream “Get them off! Get them off!” What’s a couple of boobs when it means I get to watch my son walk into his first day of Kindergarten, see his high school graduation, get married, have his own children? That was what was important.
My breast surgeon said that she would do a double if I wanted one, but it would only be for peace of mind, not for any medical reasons. Since no one in my family had tested positive for the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation (although I still need to undergo genetic counseling) there was no reason to think lightening would strike twice. I had a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around this. If I had it once, what’s stopping me from getting it again? Just because we haven’t isolated the gene mutation that is in my family, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. I still wanted the double.
When I finally got the results from my MRI (clean in the left breast), PET scan (no spreading of the cancer) and final mammograms (benign calcifications), I asked my surgeon again. Why should I do a single and not a double? Why should I take the risk?
Everything is a risk but, she felt that it was highly unlikely that this could happen again (not impossible). If the calcifications were in fact the beginnings of cancer, the chemo should kill them. Then I will be on Tamoxifen for 10 years which acts as a preventative. But this was the most convincing argument for me. Let’s say I did end up getting breast cancer again in 15-20 years. Techniques and treatments are changing drastically and how I am treated now will not be how I’m treated later. And I am going to be screened very, VERY carefully for the rest of my life.
So, in a matter of two weeks, I went from being sure that I was going to do a double mastectomy to doing the single. Being just over a week out of surgery, I can’t even imagine what recovery must be like for a double. To those of you who had a double mastectomy either by choice or necessity, I bow to you. You are so strong. In the end, I think I did what was best for me. I just hope it was the right choice.
*All information was taken from reputable websites such as The Mayo Clinic and BreastCancer.org. These are sites that both my surgeon and oncologist suggested I get my information since it is up to date and non-alarmist.*