Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
A breast cancer survivor reflects on the double mastectomy and reconstruction process two years out from beginning the process.
One year ago, I was completing the final steps of my double mastectomy with reconstruction— the tattooing of the nipples. It is a small procedure but it is a huge final step toward feeling whole after a glance in the mirror. I have now had my completed foobs (fake boobs) for a year. I am no longer "under construction". The scars have faded as have the memories of the painfulness of some of the procedures. Life has moved on.
So, was the double mastectomy worth it? That is a very individual question, I think. For me, yes, definitely yes. The alternative for me, because of my PALB2 mutation, was either a double mastectomy or alternating mammograms with breast MRIs every six months. Since I tend to be an anxious person, I did not want to wait around for breast cancer to show up again. A double mastectomy is not a guarantee but it does greatly improve my odds.
Was the reconstruction worth it? Again, that is a very individual question. For me, yes. I am very happy with the results. I like not having to deal with being flat or to worry about prostheses staying put in my bras. If I had been much older or had any more health issues than I already have, well, I just don't know. Again, it is a very personal and individual decision to make.
What helps someone get through a major set of surgeries and procedures like a double mastectomy with reconstruction? I believed in my doctors, specifically my plastic surgeon. I had done my research and visited more than one plastic surgeon before starting. I learned to trust in the process. I also made myself promptly call the doctor's office rather than stress out when concerns came up. After all, they were much more familiar with all of this than I was. And, lastly, I worked on patience in a world that isn't big on developing this quality.
In a world of instant gratification, patience still is a quality worth developing. Many are learning that now in this worldwide pandemic with COVID-19. Some of us cancer survivors probably already had a head start on growing our patience. With cancer, avoiding waiting is never an option. We wait for procedures, test results, and more. We develop tools to grow our patience. We use mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, regular exercise, support groups, and distractions to name a few tools.
As a wise friend once said, the time was going to pass regardless of what I did or didn't do during any window of time. I chose to take the leap and stick with it through the process. I am grateful to my plastic surgeon and glad that I could trust in the future, a future with my new foods, that I now get to enjoy. When I say "enjoy" I feel the need to clarify: I get to glance in the mirror, shower, dress, and walk around without thinking about my breasts much. For a breast cancer survivor, that is pretty huge - that is a huge reward for practicing some patience and trusting in a process.