Ray of Sunshine after Breast Cancer Diagnosis
It just doesn’t seem that a ray of sunshine might even play into the discussion the day I was told I had breast cancer does it? There actually was that one ray of sunshine for me and here is that story.
The Breast Cancer Diagnosis
The day of my second breast cancer diagnosis I was sitting in the office of my breast surgeon, Dr. Michele Ley, who I had seen about five years previously to remove a benign area in my left breast. I chose to go to her because I was very impressed with her demeanor, compassion, confidence and skill for that minor surgery five years ago. I was asked by the radiologist who did my biopsy for this second diagnosis if I had a breast surgeon in mind to go over the final results of the biopsy report. I immediately asked for Dr. Ley so there I was in her office again.
I had steel in my back the day I was scheduled to go in to see her. I was alone. My husband was out of the country on business. I had been down this road before twelve years previously so I had that #CancerSucks attitude. My radiologist was so sure that what she saw on the films was breast cancer that I injected some self protective grit into my veins to be able to handle this day alone.
My breast surgeon began unraveling the details of the report and since this was the second time for me to have breast cancer she presumed she would be moving forward with a double mastectomy. She wanted to make sure that was the best option, though, and planned more in depth imaging to verify her course of surgery.
I was doing OK at that point. I was taking in a lot but we knew each other from before so the conversation was as easy as it could be. I wasn’t tearful, just stoic. I didn’t feel overwhelmed with information because Dr. Ley took the time to listen and talk about options. And then… the ray of sunshine.
The Conversation Switched
I went into that appointment with absolutely nothing on my mind but “get the damn cancer out!” Mastectomy? Fine! Bring it on. I don’t want this to happen again. Remove the vessels that seem to harbor this insidious disease in my body. She switched the conversation to something I didn’t even consider discussing that day, breast reconstruction. She handed me pamphlets on AlloDerm with implants. We discussed scheduling, timing, and subsequent lab reports that would need to be assessed before any surgery took place.
Then, she turned her attention to what she classified as the “gold standard” in breast reconstruction, DIEP flap. She told me that it would have to be done by a very skilled micro-surgeon, a sub-specialty of plastic surgery. She explained to me that I could use my own tissue, fat and blood vessels to create a soft warm breast mound that was all me. My eyes widened and that one ray of sunshine entered the room for me that day. She had me at “use your own tissue”. She sensed the amazement in my eyes. She lightened the conversation by looking at my belly and telling me to start indulging in some beer and pizza so I’d have enough to donate. Another smile came across my face.
I have since written a lot about this topic but the key take away from this entire blog for me is,
Why can’t every woman be as lucky as I was to be told about breast reconstruction the day they are told they have breast cancer and are facing a mastectomy?
If I could sprinkle magic dust and make this happen I would air drop this news over every physician’s office that is responsible for giving women or men the news that they have breast cancer. Almost in the same breath I would like each physician, whether it is a breast surgeon, oncologist, primary care, no matter; I would like each one to say in the very same appointment, “You have options for breast reconstruction after your mastectomy.” Here’s what they are.
Last year, I used my grateful and small voice to bring awareness to a bill, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act, through my various social media outlets. With much work from the members of ASPS (The American Society of Plastic Surgeons) and several interested members of Congress, the bill passed into law on December 18, 2015, no small feat by any means. Very soon after the passage of the bill I registered the Symplur hash tag, #BCPEA, so that followers who so strongly support this effort can use that hash tag and help spread the word and bring awareness to this all important information. I am forever thankful for their continued interest in this cause.
What I’ve realized is this; however, even with the passage of the bill, we have more work to do. All of our collective voices must continue to let the messengers of this information know that all patients deserve to know their options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. I administer a Facebook group and each of the grateful women and men in that group who tell someone else about their breast reconstruction experience are spreading that one ray of sunshine. I honor those members of the Journey for doing that! They are indeed a strong group.
You have choices. You can choose to reconstruct your breasts or not after breast cancer. Each choice is respected but everyone has the right to know their options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy.
I feel so fortunate to be given that one ray of sunshine on an otherwise dark day.