Determining what kind of breast cancer surgery to have is daunting. There are a lot of factors to consider when making that decision, like the type of breast cancer you have, the size of the tumor, your family history, genetic testing results, your age, etc. That’s why it’s important to have a breast cancer surgeon and a plastic surgeon who you can trust. They should also have a history of working together to discuss the best options for your body.
As I considered which breast cancer surgery to have, there were only two things I was sure of after talking with my care team: One, a double mastectomy is NOT a cure, and two, it’s an extremely personal decision and yours to make.
My breast cancer and plastic surgeons were both skilled and fantastic. They made sure I had all the testing needed to come up with the best recommendation, and they let me know that ultimately the decision was mine. It was the one part of my cancer experience that I could control.
I used to be under the misconception that a double mastectomy was the best and only choice, because I thought it would prevent a recurrence. The cancer can’t come back if both breasts are removed, right? Well, that is not quite true. I learned that even if both breasts are removed, you can still become metastatic. You can develop metastases in your chest wall or another part of your body. I remember being shocked when my surgical team explained this to me.
There is no guarantee that cancer will be gone forever after surgery. That’s why I no longer use the words “cancer free.” I prefer to say, “no evidence of disease.”
Once I was armed with all the information about my type of breast cancer (stage IIA invasive lobular), genetic testing results, and family history, I agreed with my surgical team and decided a lumpectomy (removing the lump in my breast) was the best surgical option for my body.
I was feeling great about my decision until I told others both in and outside the breast cancer community. I was surgery shamed. I heard countless times:
“You’re only getting a lumpectomy.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to remove both breasts?”
“You won’t be cured unless you have both breasts removed.”
I was horrified, dismayed, and angry about these ignorant remarks. That’s when I realized that Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns may have done a disservice to women. It seems like they highlight women who had a double mastectomy as the warriors of the movement because it’s the most invasive surgery. But how often do we hear breast conservation being celebrated?
I am still satisfied with my lumpectomy, breast reconstruction, and breast reduction. I know I made the best and right choice for my body. I made the decision armed with facts. It was not one that I made lightly. My surgical team said we must stop going off antiquated knowledge and practices when it comes to breast cancer surgery.
Having breast cancer no longer means an automatic loss of both breasts.
Having breast cancer no longer means that a double mastectomy will prevent metastases.
Having breast cancer no longer means that you are without options.
It is up to each woman (or man) to be armed with the facts about your type of breast cancer, family history, genetic testing, and take into consideration what your surgical team recommends. More importantly, don’t let anyone surgery shame you if you decide against getting both breasts removed. All surgery is invasive and scary. At the end of the day, it’s an extremely personal choice and one that should be supported and not shamed.
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