RealSelf Breast Cancer Survivor Series, Part 2: "The Scars Will Fade, But They Tell a Valuable Story"

MadsP on 8 Oct 2014 at 5:00pm

Last week we kicked off National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the
first of our three-part series featuring real stories from amazing women who overcame breast cancer and chose to undergo breast reconstruction surgery. Make sure to check back throughout the month for more powerful stories from breast cancer survivors who chose to share their stories on RealSelf.

KATHLEEENRealSelf: When were you diagnosed?
Kathleen: I was diagnosed in September 2010 during my yearly mammogram, with Stage 0 DCIS. My plastic surgeon was the ordering doctor for the yearly mammogram... so when it all went down I knew where I was going to end up, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there.

RealSelf: What was the most supportive thing someone said to you or did for you that helped you get through it?
Kathleen: I had a lot of support from many different people. Without my family and dear friends (who flew in from around the country to get me through my eight cancer-related surgeries), I don’t know how I would have made it. The day I found out I had to have a mastectomy I was dealt another heavy blow — my stepdad told us he had MDS, which is a type of leukemia. Sadly, at his age, he was not able to go through the bone marrow transplants necessary for treatment. This quickly put my cancer into perspective — I was a survivor and needed to be strong for him and my mother.

RealSelf: Did you immediately know you wanted breast reconstruction post-surgery? If not, what changed your mind?
Kathleen: I knew from the beginning I wanted reconstruction surgery! I was young (46) and had a lot of living to do and wanted to look as normal as I possibly could!

RealSelf: What type of reconstruction did you have and why?
Kathleen: My reconstruction was done with silicone implants. I never considered any other method because they involved other surgical sites. The double mastectomy with implants was the simplest way to go with the best results. The nipple reconstruction was made from my own breast tissue and look very real! I had my nipples tattooed by Vinnie Myers, the Van Gogh of nipple artistry.

RealSelf: What are some things you wish you’d have known before undergoing your surgery?
Kathleen: At first, it was recommended I do a lumpectomy with radiation because that is the common treatment for my diagnosis. However once the doctors started surgery and saw the size of the tumor, which was 5.6cm, I had to have a mastectomy. Radiation was a fear of mine because it has complications all its own. I was devastated at first after hearing I had to have a mastectomy, but when I was told I would avoid radiation if I had a double my world got brighter. I didn't know I could avoid radiation with a mastectomy.

The day of my lumpectomy I had to have an MRI to put wires in my breast to surround the tumor. The procedure is called a wire guided lumpectomy. Imagine lying on a table for almost two hours without moving, while they insert wires into your breast. It was horrible. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have avoided the lumpectomy and gone straight for the double mastectomy.

RealSelf: What advice would you give to a friend who is currently trying to decide whether to get reconstruction surgery?
Take both breasts, it may save your life. What shows up (or does not show up) in a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI may not be exactly what is going on inside your body. My tumor according to the mammogram and MRI was 2.8cm, when in reality it was 5.6cm. Listen to your doctor and follow his orders. Do not push the limits, otherwise you may end up with unnecessary complications. Be kind to yourself, rest, and listen to your body. It's a process and it takes awhile for your body to heal.

RealSelf: What advice would you give yourself (if you could go back)?
Kathleen: My advice to myself would have been to ask more questions about lumpectomy vs. mastectomy vs. double mastectomy, as well as the side effects of radiation. Had I listened to my reconstruction doctor from the beginning I would have had the double mastectomy and avoided the lumpectomy, which was an awful surgery for me. It's been four years now and I've had a beautiful recovery.

The one thing I learned from all of my other doctors (radiologist who found my cancer, gynecological oncologist, reconstruction doctors, to name a few), taking both breasts was the right thing to do because I'm young. Drastically minimizing the risk of getting breast cancer again was worth it for me.

To read more of Kathleen's story, check out her profile on RealSelf.