One or Both?

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012, two more people I know have received the same bad news. As I lie awake last night, I could not stop thinking about the most recently diagnosed woman who has to make up her mind soon to have either one breast or both breasts removed. One or both? One or both? What a decision.

One breast is healthy. Keeping the healthy one means shorter time in surgery, less trauma to the body, and still having one natural breast with a nipple. Keeping the healthy breast also means the chance that cancer might develop there later, mammograms on one breast, MRIs on one breast, and having a mismatched chest. Even though, in her case, reconstruction is not a consideration, just having to contemplate the removal of body parts (healthy or not) is almost unfathomable.

If someone is considering reconstruction (I hate that word in this context, by the way — it makes me think of hard hats and orange cones) other equally difficult decisions follow: both breasts with reconstruction? both breasts and no reconstruction? one breast and reconstruction? one breast and no reconstruction? And while one contemplates a mastectomy, the brain swirls with all sorts of other terrible terms: invasive, stage II or stage III, stage III or stage IV, the grade of the cancer, lymph node involvement, metastasis, aggressive cancer, slow-growing cancer, cancer, radiation, chemo. It’s a lot for one little brain to process.

So much information to sort though and not a lot of time to think it over. One or both? One or both? Suddenly you find yourself in an alternate universe…a cancer universe. It consumes you. You don’t have time to be sad or depressed. All that comes later, seeping in to fill a supposed ‘recovery time.’ But your family and friends are already heart-broken at just hearing the word cancer. Not having to make any decisions, they just worry whether you’ll live and for how long.

My heart truly goes out to this particular woman today, and even though I have just been through the same thing, I am struggling with ways in which I could help. My point in writing this is to give you just a little glimpse into the ‘just diagnosed’ phase for the person who has just found out she has breast cancer and her family and friends.

Also, I beg you — do your self breast exams every single month. Don’t depend on your doctor to do breast exams at your yearly check-up, don’t rely solely on mammograms, and don’t think you are too young to worry about it. The hard, little lump I could feel with one fingertip did not show up on the mammogram. My oncologist said it had probably only been there for two–six months.

Do your self breast exam every month. I can’t say that too many times. It might save you from having to make the decision: one or both? And, even more importantly, it might just save your life.

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