My Mastectomy Results Were Not What I Expected


Choosing to get a mastectomy was a difficult decision to make, but then the pathology results came back indicating a second cancer.

I came home from Disney World, the happiest place on earth, to a phone call with the results of my breast biopsy. “It’s cancer,” the radiologist told me. mI repeated my name to her to make sure this was my news to hear. She gave me names of surgical oncologists who specialize in the breast.

I didn’t start to absorb this news, really, until during that initial appointment. The surgeon spent over an hour explaining, diagramming, examining and reassuring me. After all her thorough work-up, she may have wanted to slap her hand to her forehead but was too polite to do so when I asked, “so is this cancer?”

The first lumpectomy was completed. Now we wait. The surgeon said that it could take up to two weeks for pathology to return and I’d need to take up to four weeks off from work. It could have been less time off from work, if I weren’t a nurse, but I’ll take the four weeks away from the hospital in the summertime! She said that she exaggerated the margin excisions so that all the cancerous scattered foci should be removed and with care to not induce too much deformity.

Less than two weeks later the results were in: margins werestill positive; they’d need to go back in. The surrealness of the story to come was not even on the storyboard yet. What I thought was a small surgery to remove a stage 1 breast cancer would prove to be almost two full years on a mad tea party ride.

Among all the steps prior to making it to the operating room for the lumpectomy, I had an MRI-guided breast biopsy of an area of concern in the non-cancerous right breast. It showed a peculiar finding of a B-cell/T-cell proliferation process that nobody quite knew what to clearly make of or how to proceed, other than we know that the other breast IS cancer so “let’s focus on that right now,” I was told. It made sense to me, but I also could not allow the right breast findings to go without further exploration.

In the meantime, I had decisions to make. My second lumpectomy also resulted in positive margins.I heard the disappointment in my surgeon’s voice with both unsuccessful surgeries. It wasn’t her, it was the disease. It was so scattered. So tiny. Maybe one day in the future, the pre-operative radioactive seed placement will be replaced with radioactive seed raindrops that fall within all of the areas that are invaded with this cancer that is so inconspicuous, it’s invisible.

My surgeon offered me a third lumpectomy. After the second, the breast was already starting to deform and look ill. The other option was a mastectomy. The idea of having my breast removed was inconceivable. I thought I would rather do all the chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the world, than to have this procedure that seemed like cruel punishment for something that I had done terribly wrong. We spoke about mastectomy of the left side, and I also brought up the right side. If there was already a B-cell/T-cell proliferation process happening there, what would become of that? Would it also become cancer? Is it smart to also remove the right side along with the left?

A nipple-sparing total mastectomy with immediate reconstruction was what was determined as my next course of treatment. I knew I could handle this, keeping my own skin and nipples with reconstruction all within the same surgery. Let’s go, so I can get it done and proceed with my wonderful life! I was ready.

The mastectomy happened. The reconstruction did not. I could not believe this nightmare that I woke up to in the post-anesthesia care unit. I always tell myself “It’s OK, you are OK,” and I got through the next two weeks before actual reconstruction repeating that mantra. I begged my plastic surgeon to discharge me home after surgery and to not admit me. I had my son’s third birthday party to prepare. She agreed.

On the drive home, my husband told me that the final pathology was in on the right-sided mastectomy tissue.

“Dr. G said that you have lupus.” he tells me in the car. What in the world was he talking about? How could I be diagnosed with lupus in the boob? Just then, Dr. G called. It wasn’t lupus. It was a rare presentation of lymphoma — a second cancer.

Here's what is important: make smart decisions. Always advocate for yourself. What could be considered drastic unbearable measures may save you. The lymphoma that I have may have actually been cured with mastectomy. Time will tell. There is no solid empirical evidence yet.If I had left my fears guide me though, they would still be encapsulated and left to circulate within my body. Now, I think, I gave myself hope.

This post was written and submitted by Rosaleen Holmes. The article reflects the views of Rosaleen Holmes and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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