By Laura Callen, WBCC Board Director
Living without reconstruction; it is an option.
When I was laying on the MRI machine listening to the loud clicking noise, in my mind I knew it — cancer again. I had just turned 39. I had DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] 11 years earlier, and my younger sister, Lesa, had died at age 37 from triple negative breast cancer only nine months earlier. It was right there in that MRI machine that I decided to have a double mastectomy. Clearly, my breasts had an agenda of their own, one I could not control.
I clearly remember my doctor telling me I would need to have a biopsy after the MRI revealed a suspicious area. During the biopsy, my nurse practitioner came to check on me, and as she was leaving, I yelled to her: “I know this is cancer. I want a double mastectomy.” There was no discussion.
Of course, the biopsy came back positive. I was scheduled for surgery six weeks later (talk about a LONG six weeks). I decided to visit a plastic surgeon to discuss my options for possible reconstruction. When I found out that because of previous radiation I would not be eligible for implants, I began to think, “Do I really need breasts?” The only other option I had was for a tram flat reconstruction. The thought of a flat tummy was appealing, but I needed to look further into this option. When I found out exactly what went into this procedure, and the number of hours I would be on an operating table, and the time needed to recover, I had second thoughts. I have two small children.
I had many conversations with my husband about what it would be like to be with a woman with no breasts. He was more concerned with me still being here. He had no problem. That was that. I opted for no reconstruction. Luckily, I was connected to some very awesome mentors through ABCD (After Breast Cancer Diagnosis), one who had opted for no reconstruction and one with small children (with reconstruction) who helped me solidify my decision.
After my surgery and the healing began, I will admit there were days that I questioned my choice. What wasn’t shared with me or told to me was that I would need to mourn the loss of my breasts, mourn the loss of who I was as a woman before cancer, and now I needed to try to accept this breast-less woman. At first, I couldn’t wait to get my prosthetics. I remember standing in the “shop” looking at bras and feeling hopeful because they looked “normal.” When I wore my breasts for the first time, I cried. It brought me back to a time before cancer, but somehow it just didn’t feel the same. The prosthetics covered by my insurance were heavy and very uncomfortable to wear. I spent the following year wearing them to work but going “flat” on the weekends. And wouldn’t you know it, flat began to feel like the new normal, the new and improved me.
Soon I began to start to accept and feel comfortable in my new body. I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t have days where I question my decision, days when nothing in my closet will work because clothes are built for women with boobs. I cried a bit when I realized my favorite strapless dresses wouldn’t work for me any longer. And those days where I feel people staring at me (sometimes I wonder if it is just me or are they really looking?), I hold my head high, because I know how lucky I am to have survived. It is worth a few stares now and then. I have since completely stopped wearing my prosthetics. I am now flat and fabulous everyday.
If you are a young woman wondering if you want to have reconstruction please remember you have the option to not reconstruct. It just might change your life.