It was time to make the call. I decided to do a little digging into my family history. Mom’s grandmother (her mom’s side) had ovarian cancer, my grandfather (dad’s side) had prostate cancer, my dad had an issue with a tumor near his kidney, my mom was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer, one sister was 28 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died just a year later, and my other sister is healthy and has not been affected thus far (knock on wood).
Although my own genetic test results were negative for the known BRCA mutations, my updated family history and recent personal history bumped me into the “high risk” category. Thus far everything that came my way via experience and information gave me more reason to move forward with the procedure. Other than the risks that go hand-in-hand with any major surgery, there was nothing significant that made me question if this is the right thing for me.
What if the MRI uncovered that the masses in my breasts were cancer? What if it was a false-negative and by the time I felt the lumps myself, it was too late? Will I ever trust another ultrasound or MRI? And if I don’t do this and down the road breast cancer comes into my life, will I be able to live with the decisions I make now?
So that’s it. Say tootaloo to the boobies. Time to part ways.
I never really worried or thought much about cancer until my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 28 (10+ years ago). She died a year later. So … annual mammograms began in my mid 20s and mid-year ultrasounds were added a few years later. The topic of a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy came up on a couple of occasions, but I didn’t think I had enough reason to seriously consider it. So far, so good.
In March 2012 an ultrasound spotted some issues. Three separate masses were present – two on the left breast, one on the right. They developed in the six months since the last mammogram. Based on quantity and consistency, the oncologist thought they were cysts. Rather than doing a biopsy to draw fluid for testing, he recommended that I first undergo an MRI screening. At this time I started doing some casual research on prophylactic bilateral mastectomies. Waiting for test results was hell, but when they eventually arrived, they were good – no cancer. Whew! High five!
Fast forward to June 2012. I felt something unusual during one of my monthly self-exams. The lump I felt was in one of the three spots where the ultrasound found issues. Another ultrasound confirmed that two of the three spots had increased in size and were now palpable. Fine-needle aspiration biopsies were done and results sent for testing. I got names of a few plastic surgeons in my area and left with a plan to start the conversations, no matter the results. The biopsy results were negative for cancer, but there were abnormal cells detected. I already knew I have “extremely” dense breast tissue/fibrocystic disease (which can make diagnosis of cancerous tumors more difficult). I was told to continue my self-exams and keep regular screening appointments as I had in the past.
January 22, 2013. Seems so far away, but I know it’ll be here before I know it. That’s the day I’m having a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (PBM) and start the breast reconstruction process. A PBM is an elective, preventative procedure which surgically removes breast tissue (see more details under WHAT IS A PBM?). You’re doing what with WHAT? Ya, I am doing it. I have thought long and hard about what this really means. I have discussed this with family, friends, and doctors. I have done hours of research, almost ad nauseam. After considering all of the factors, the risks, the benefits, the uncertainties, the consequences, I know this is the right decision for me.