Recently, I went to my breast cancer surgeon expecting to get a surgery date as I had completed all of my preliminary testing before surgery for a prophylactic mastectomy of my right breast. My left breast had been removed because of Stage 3 Her 2 Positive Breast Cancer 7 years ago, and it was recommended I have it removed because of my genetic mutation which puts me at even higher risk for another Breast Cancer.
My surgeon is very credentialed and is the Director of the Breast Cancer Center at the large university hospital where I am a patient. I’ve met her on several occasions because she was my sister’s surgeon for my sister’s mastectomy due to breast cancer, and I had met with her one time previously when she ordered all of my preliminary testing.
She began by telling me that when she reads my chart and sees everything that I have been through, she always expects to see someone who looks rather decrepit. Instead, she said it always surprises her to see me looking younger than my age and with a vibrant appearance. Well, that certainly got my attention and endeared me to her!
She went on to say upon reviewing my chart and my recent tests, she did not think it was wise to proceed with surgery at this time and truly gave me a laundry list of the reasons why especially my heart which was permanently damaged during chemo and Herceptin. My cardiologist told me he would put a lot of demands on the surgery department, and he must have! She was very concerned about the risks of not only my heart, but lymphedema which I have in my “bad” arm, infections, and complications because I am at higher risk. The surgeon went on to say that she wanted me to think long and hard about it, and if I was absolutely certain, she would do it.
Then she said something that made the most sense to me: “It took you 7 years to get to a good place where you are now. I don’t want to screw it up for you if you have complications or major setbacks.” Further, she said that if I decided against it, she would come up with a plan with the Head of the Mammography Department, and the Head of the MRI Department to monitor my remaining breast more closely. Of course, she said, if cancer appears we would all feel terrible, but that is the risk of not doing it now.
She spent over 50 minutes with me along with her nurse. When the surgeon left the room, I asked her nurse if she was always so direct with her patients. Her nurse, who is also a breast cancer survivor and went through bi-lateral mastectomy said, “No she isn’t, but she feels very strongly about your situation and how well you are doing right now.”
My thoughts were and I verbalized them to her nurse, that if cutting off my remaining breast took all risk of cancer away from me, I would do it no matter what the risks. But it only takes away the risk in one body part. I have a lot of other ones to be concerned about and you live with that fear daily. Since her nurse is a fellow survivor, we had a support session right there. It was helpful to both of us.
I have three months to make my decision, but based on the information she gave me, deep in my heart I feel I need to take her advice and listen. I am grateful for physicians who give wise advise based on their experiences, and not just ready to do surgery!
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