Mastectomy Trend May Be Misguided

I asked my breast surgeon today for his thoughts on mastectomy for someone in my boat:

  • early-stage breast cancer.
  • no spread to lymph nodes or anywhere else.
  • lumpectomy + chemo + radiation + Herceptin.
  • seven years survival.

“Definitely not,” he told me.  “You’ve come too far, and you are doing so well.”

Plus, I am constantly monitored, and, at this point, my chance of developing a life-threatening breast cancer is slim.

There’s just no need for a such a drastic and major surgery, he said. The resident on service with him agreed.

I told my doc that it seems a trend that woman are removing their breasts after diagnosis rather than saving them when conservation is a real option.

“It is a trend,” he said, sharing that he spends lots of hours in lots of meeting discussing why women are moving in this direction.

If not medically necessary, mastectomy is just not something he supports. He even advises women who do need mastectomy for cancer in one breast to not remove the other one. Why? Because lopping off a healthy breast does not up the odds of survival.

Never did I actually want to cut off my breasts — I just wondered if it was a wise move for someone like me. The majority of readers who responded to my November poll Mastectomy — Do It? Or Too Drastic? chose “Do It.”

But my surgeon picks “Too Drasic,” and so I’m gonna roll with his wisdom.

For now.

Mastectomy — Do It? Or Too Drastic?

I’ve had breast cancer. I’ve had a lumpectomy (tumor was taken, but breast was not). I’ve had chemo, radiation, and more drug therapy. I’ve survived for seven years. You’d think I’d be fine for the long haul. But last Thursday — a suspicious MRI, a report that read “malignancy considered,” and a three-day wait for today’s follow-up ultrasound made me crazy with worry and panic. The ultrasound docs say “benign” to everything they saw this morning, but for safety sake, I’ll have a re-do MRI in two weeks. And this Wednesday, I’ll meet with a surgeon, just so he can check me out and review what’s taken place over the past few days. When I see him, I think I’ll ask him a big question: Should I just cut off the damn boobs?

My initial reaction is that it’s too drastic. I mean, if I were faced with breast cancer again, I’d definitely do it. But without the bad news, do I take prophylactic measures? Do I endure major surgery and the whopper decisions regarding reconstruction?

But what if I continue to have scares like the one from which I’m still reeling? When does it become worth it to just cut the risk right off my body. Why wait for cancer to strike again?

Still, what if cancer isn’t in the cards for me at all anymore, and I go and chop off some of my womanhood?

Heavy stuff, right?

Former Fox News Anchor and conservative E.D. Hill removed her breasts based on family history alone.

What would you do, you know, if you were me?

(Please answer the poll, then leave a comment if you care to share your views.)
(And click on “view results” to see how the responses are stacking up.)

Peeking in at Breast Cancer: Lynea

Lynea was diagnosed at age 39 with breast cancer following a “baseline” MRI. She’d had a mammogram 8 weeks prior, and her OB/GYN’s office pushed for a MRI due to family history, just so she’d have records to look at years from now. Forget years from now — the cancer was already there! Lynea is stage I, triple negative, and her treatment plan includes 4 dose-dense AC and 4 T. No need for radiation. Here is a snippet of her story:

First day of chemo, 2/2/10
First day of chemo, 2/2/10

I came up with the idea of taking pictures at the beginning of my treatment, at mid-point and at the end. I joked that presidents have their pictures taken to show how old they got, so why shouldn’t I have pictures to prove how bad it has made me look — or how well I did!

Halfway done with chemo, 3/30/10
Halfway done with chemo, 3/30/10

I think so far, I don’t feel like I look much different, although, unfortunately, I have found some weight due to the lovely steriods they give me, but I figure there is always time to worry about my weight later.

Just think, Lynea: one day, that tree will be covered with leaves, and your head will be covered with beautiful hair!

Wishing You Well

SuperFantastic, Flickr
SuperFantastic, Flickr

Sending out some well wishes to a few friends — Carmen, who, on her second run with breast cancer, is recovering from tram flap surgery. And Lynea, she’s navigating the murky waters that come flooding in after a new breast cancer diagnosis. Also, Stacie, sporting a newly-shaved head as she fights her way through the burden of chemotherapy. Genne, too. She is healing from a mastectomy and reconstruction, and the whole ordeal has challenged her to the core.

If you are somewhere along the path of cancer survival and would like a wish sent your way, please leave a comment and tell me what’s going on in your world.

Flashback: November 29, 2004

SarahMcD ?, Flickr
SarahMcD ?, Flickr

On November 29, I met with a surgeon at Shands who prepared me for my first step: surgery. He said he would remove the lump and would determine whether or not my lymph nodes were cancerous. He would check all the margins around my breast to see if any surrounding tissue was affected and would identify all the defining factors of my cancer. If he found extensive cancer, he would have to remove my breast. I had to sign a form stating that my surgery was to be a lumpectomy but could turn into a mastectomy. My surgery was scheduled for Friday of this same week.