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As a PhD student in tumor biology, Jamie Holloway survived long hours researching breast cancer in the labs of Georgetown University. Ten years later, after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she survived that too. Now with no evidence of disease, she shares a patient's perspective with scientists and clinicians as a breast cancer research advocate. A wife, mother, runner, and lipstick addict, she shares her story from the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.

The Indignity of Breast Cancer

Thoughts on losing my last shred of dignity during breast cancer treatment and the Mardi Gras beads I earned along the way.
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast cancer CURE discussion group.
I think every woman who has given birth to a child feels like the process of growing, birthing and breastfeeding a brand new tiny human takes away just about every shred of dignity that she has. Like many moms, after getting two kiddos through babyhood, my body rarely felt like it was my own, and it certainly didn't feel nearly as sacred as it had pre-baby.

When my second little guy hopped on the bus to head to kindergarten, I thought I was LIVING. THE. DREAM. Two kids in elementary school and I was planning on using that degree I’d earned to get a paying gig. After they were all settled in at school. Or definitely by the new year. Definitely Instead, that October, I went from living the dream to living a strange nightmare. While everyone else was “thinking pink,” I was screaming at it. Diagnosed with early stage but very aggressive breast cancer, I discovered that I did, in fact, have some dignity left to lose after those babies were weaned.

I realize now that if I had gotten a pair of Mardi Gras beads for every medical professional I had to flash during my breast cancer treatment, I'd barely be able to hold up my neck from the weight. Young, old, male, female, and strangely, almost all good looking — it felt like everyone had seen my breasts. They were all incredibly respectful, trying to let me hang onto any shred of dignity that I had left. But when the plastic surgeon (a dad to young kids, himself) squished all my belly fat in his hands, looking from it to my sad, bruised breasts to see whether he could use it for reconstruction, I realized that I'd probably never be embarrassed about body image again. On the upside, apparently my belly fat was inadequate as he sized me up and announced looking at my breasts, "I could probably only make one of those."

Though my reconstruction was implant-based, my plastic surgeon did do some liposuction (not nearly enough to make it worth it, by the way) for fat grafting to make sure that my new fake boobs didn't look too much like they belonged to a porn star. That means we had to discuss fat donor sites. Luckily, he judged my most jiggly bits — my outer thighs, flanks, he called them — as "completely adequate." Awesome.  Of course, in preparation for surgery, there was extensive work with a sharpie on not only my breasts but the aforementioned jiggly bits. While my husband watched. I think that was the first time he'd met the plastic surgeon. Totally not awkward at all. (Did I mention I was also bald from chemo and rocking a sadly outdated pair of glasses at the time? The picture of glamour).

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast cancer CURE discussion group.
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