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Ding Dong the Cancer’s Gone!

My pathology report came back the other day. Having a mastectomy was the right decision. Turns out that along with the ductal carcinoma en situ ( DCIS), I also  had paget’s disease of the breast in my nipple. I pretty much won the breast cancer lottery, this is a rare condition that only occurs in 1 to 4 percent of breast cancers and is usually misdiagnosed until it’s too late.

I always say that I have the world’s best bad luck. My attitude is that even if I have bad luck, if it had happened to someone else, it would have been worse.  My oncologist said that my report couldn’t have been better,the margins and lymph nodes are clear. Now I have to wait a week or so for the histochemical report to determine what adjuvant  therapy I will need.

Some friends came by and they commented that I look perky and vibrant, but I certainly don’t feel that way.  I get tired easily and the other day just broke down and cried.  I still have reconstruction ahead of me, which seems odd. I told La Primera that I am  having a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of being a “normal” B cup someday soon.  She’s inherited my practical side and sees things as they are, her answer-”Better a live B, than a dead D.”

I’ve always had this uneasy truce with my breasts. When I a teen, I thought that I was fat and maybe a bit freakish because nothing ever fit right. I used to joke that most men not only didn’t notice my eye color, they probably didn’t even notice if I had eyes.

To be honest, I am afraid of the reconstruction. My right arm hurts where my lymph node used to be, even though it’s also numb there. My chest feels like someone someone is stabbing me or trying to break my lower rib.  I’m off the pain meds and today is my last day of antibiotics which is good. Last Saturday, my stomach felt like I had eaten fire for breakfast, consequently my doctor has me swigging Maalox twice a day and  I’m downing heavy doses of probiotics.  I’m actually feeling pretty miserable and wondering if I want to voluntarily set myself up for more of the same. In addition, the reconstruction costs three to four times what a mastectomy does.

Is it right to drain our resources further for just cosmetic reasons? I feel shallow because I really want to appear normal on the outside. I know that I will bear scars from this, and that if I have the tram flap, there are possible complications  that are frightening. The whole thing is overwhelming to me.

About Theresa Diaz Gray

Born in New York City, I grew up in California, and have lived in 3 countries and 6 states. I'm a first generation Cuban-American who lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. I'm committed to living an abundant and creative life and helping others do so too through DIY!

21 comments

  1. Theresa,
    I guess it had been awhile since I stopped in on your blog. I had such mixed emotions reading it this morning. How quickly things change! On one hand I am so glad you have gotten some good news concerning the cancer diagnosis and treatment, yet my heart hurts thinking that you and yours are experiencing this at all. I just wanted to let you know Terry and I both are thinking about you and hoping you have a full and coomplete recovery. I have not ever experienced this nor have I been close to anybody else that has so no personal experiences to share, but just know I care deeply for my friend in Merida and am hoping for the best for you. We are in Texas at the moment and will remain here through the holidays this year so I can’t walk down to see you, but I am there in spirit. Hugs! Beverly

    • Beverly,
      That is so nice of you. Things changed in my life in what seemed like over night. I have to do a post today updating everyone on what is new.

      It always makes me happy to hear that someone has NOT had to go through this, I am amazed at how many of my friends have had cancer tough their lives and I truly wish it wasn’t so.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts.
      regards,
      Theresa

  2. Theresa, I have been where you are now and had similar experiences.

    It sounds like you have a good doctor and are getting good advice. Understanding your situation and your options is important.

    I had good doctors, too.

    At first, I wanted a double mastectomy and my scars turned into a tattoo of railroad tracks ( I would add the train later) because I felt I was a candidate for breast cancer in my other breast. I did not want to repeat the treatment scenario but my surgeon convinced me to just have a lumpectomy. Being small breasted, it did not seem like a major change. Boy, I remember having my drain removed, so does my sister because she was holding my hand.

    I can not remember how long it took for my left armpit to feel normal but it seemed to take forever. I, too, had nodes removed.

    I was lucky. It has been just over 10 years but you never forget. I am grateful everyday for the little things that bring joy.

    I joined Breastcancer2 an yahoo online support group and found great comfort there and lots of useful information.

    I wish you well and hope your recovery goes well.

    • Merida Yanqui,
      Someone suggested that I join a breast cancer suvivor’s group here in Merida. I poohpooh the concept. However, maybe it is a good idea. An online support group sounds more my style but I really should check both things out.

      My biopsy was basically a lumpectomy, it wouldn’t have made that big a difference in appearance between my breasts, I would have just put a little filler there to makes things even. What amazes me is how big my tummy looks now compared to my flatish chest.

      I was thinking about how nice being alive is, I intend to enjoy life and be grateful too.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story with me.

      regards,
      Theresa

  3. Give yourself time and space to heal. That’s the most important thing your life at this point — more important than having that reconstruction v. no reconstruction debate making the endless loop of consternation going olkn in your head. You can put that debate off for another day.

    Remember, you’re much more than your mammaries.

    • jennifer rose,
      I know that I am more than my mammaries.I just like the idea of being symetrical again if it’s possible. If it’s not possible then I’ll deal with it. It’s the logistics of the whole thing, do I want to have to deal with a prothesis when I live in a hot and humid climate?

      I am healing remarkably well, the doctor removed my stitches today! He was planning waiting until Friday but decided that I could have them out today when I had my check up. I credit the fact that I have been eating an amazingly healthy diet for the last two years, especially this last year. I just wish I had exercised more, but it’s always been my failing.

      regards,
      Theresa

  4. Hi Theresa,

    You are so right about never being the same again. I mean that the experience of cancer changes you, and unbelievably a lot of the changes are good ones.

    I have wondered what I would do if I had to make the decision you’re facing. First, I think I’d wait a while, experience life with a prosthesis and see what I thought. I know reconstructed boobs have no feeling and still don’t look normal without clothing. I imagine there are lots of blogs and websites discussing the pros and cons that will be helpful to you.

    I have made my peace with having a flawed body that isn’t easy to look at sometimes (my cancer scar is very long and very dark and my belly is puffy and weird) and for me it’s just who I am. But that’s different than being lopsided in clothing.

    It’s a hard one, I hope you take your time and let the answer come to you. Take care, sweetie… you have a lot of people who love you and are rooting for you.

    • I never considered a prosthesis. I don’t want to have to deal with it. I wear a 30G which is the same cup size as a 36DD just a smaller band. Having a prosthesis equal to a size 36DD cup is crazy sounding to me. I have a hard enough time with bras as it is.

      There are several types of flap surgeries now, which is what I want rather than having an implant. However, the scary part is also being evened up. My plastic surgeon says that he only rebuilds to a B cup, but I have to find out what he means by that. He would then reduce the other side to match.

      If I decide to do implants, it takes much longer, they insert a bladder in your breast and slowly inflate it. My understanding is that it can take months to stretch the skin enough. Then you have the problems of having an implant which probably will need to be replaced and won’t ever really look real. Surgeon said that unless you have implants done on both breasts they won’t match and they can cause false readings on mammograms.

      My boob doesn’t have much feeling now, I don’t have a nipple anymore and my underarm is numb where I used to have lymph glands.

      Friday, I will probably have my stitches taken out, I have a scar from my armpit to my sternum with what looks like Frankenstein stitches along with two weep holes on my ribs, really attention getting LOL…

      Thank you so much for your support. I really do value your advice and opinion.

      regards,
      Theresa

  5. theresa,

    i haven’t been reading blogs lately and when i checked yours tonight i was very surprised to see what you are going through. i’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had to deal with this. i am so glad to hear t hat the surgery went well. it’s just like you to say something funny like, ding dong, the cancer is gone ;-) glad to see that you have accepted things as they are because what else can we do? a good attitude goes a long way in healing. my best friend back in the states had a double mastectomy 5 1/2 years ago. she had reconstruction but was not happy with the results on one side so had it done over some years later. she was very happy after her 2nd reconstruction. good luck with yours theresa. know that i will be praying for you. and by the way, the scars from my skin cancer are healing very nicely. hang in there. as my husband’s grandmother used to say, “this too shall pass.

    teresa in nagoya

    • Teresa,
      I’m glad you checked in. I know what you mean about cutting back on blogs, I finally got a news reader (I use feedly) instead of going to all the blogs to see if they updated. I think between all my interests I probably read 150 blogs on a regular basis (but not all of them blog on even a weekly basis) and some of them are more for information rather than entertainment.
      Scars heal and I have no intention of taking up modeling, so that is okay,

      regards,
      Theresa

    • good hearing back from you. wow-you sure read a lot of blogs, i could see where you’d want to cut back as well.

      take good care of yourself.

      teresa

  6. Theresa,

    Yes, there’s no getting around the fact that this was unwanted, unwelcome, and undesirable. But, I think you nailed it on the head when you said you had the best of bad luck. Sounds like your surgery was very successful, and it’s fortunate that you caught it early, so that it had not spread. I’d tend to agree with Joanna that reconstruction is a decision you can make later. But if you decide to go for it, don’t worry about the expense. You deserve to be whole, if that’s how you feel. And if you decide against reconstruction, well, all the more power to you! You’re a survivor, a fighter, and someone who does it herself.

    I totally respect whatever you decide. But right now, you just have to take it one step at a time, rest, recover, and live to fight another day.

    We’re all rooting for you.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA

    • Hi Kim,
      That was Joanne not Joanna. Almost the same name, both Canadian too, now that I think about it. But definitely different people, though I am fond of them both.

      This is entirely new territory for me, I read stuff about the disease and then digest the information, then I go back and reread and come to an entirely different conclusion. I have an idea of what I want but really need to weigh all the factors. It’s not a one size fits all decision

      I certainly appreciate the support.
      regards,
      Theresa

  7. Reconstruction is likely not a decision that has to be made right now. You have time to think about it. I do think the biggest advantage to reconstruction is that the body feels more symmetrical and the reconstructed breast feels like a part of your body vs a prosthetic breast in a bra. I am guessing at that, but it seems to make sense to me. A friend of mine waited a long time and had reconstruction earlier this year. She had a different type of cancer with a much longer treatment regime but eventually had the surgery. She seems happy with her decision, but she thought a long time about it.

    It is just wonderful to hear that your margins and lymph nodes are clean. I have been thinking of you and praying for you.

    • Hi Joanne,
      Actually my doctor mentioned that we can probably start on that soon. It depends upon the histochemical report that I should get on Friday. My understand is that only people who have chemo or radiation therapy need to wait until those treatments are over. However, it still isn’t instantaneous. I believe the skin has to heal a little more before I start, though I have a friend who had a reconstruction immediately after her mastectomy (like in under the same anesthesia) but my doctor said that they don’t like to do it that way.

      I can’t imagine stuffing my bra to make it a 30G, sounds like an I Love Lucy episode. The twins used to be pretty formidable even if I avoided flaunting them.

      I do so appreciate everyone’s prayers. Thank you!
      regards,
      Theresa

  8. My attention has been elsewhere it seems, and I was unaware of your troubles until right now. Seems, however, that things are looking positive. I wish you well, truly.

    • Hi Felipe,
      It’s not like we have a blogger’s phone tree to gossip about each other. I didn’t write about the cancer when it was diagnosed and it was a major decision to write about it now. I don’t want how people view me to be through that particular filter.
      I appreciate the good wishes.
      regards,
      Theresa

  9. Excellent news about the good surgical result, and the early detection of Paget’s disease. That WAS good timing, the best bad luck and all. Regarding Tamoxifen: My experience conferred two, well, serendipitous side effects. First Tamoxifen, a so-called anti-estrogen, prevents bone loss. Second, and, well, I’ve not read this anywhere, even in the pharmaceutical fine print, the drug presented certain positive benefits evident at intimate moments. I was pre-menopausal at the time, which might have been a factor.

    As regards the reconstruction: I cannot speak from first-hand experience. With reconstruction, there’s no “free lunch.” With the TRAM flap, one loses some abdominal strength, and, as you mentioned, there is the grueling recovery to contend with from a complicated surgery. The abdominal tissue is actually “tunneled” through the trunk to retain the blood supply. Any surgery this major entails risk and a long recovery.

    Several friends from my support group were content and accepting of the new normal.

    • Jan,
      Thank you. I am doing much better today, I had my drain yanked out yesterday. That should be a memorable experience but thankfully I have managed to forget just how painful it was.

      Friday is the day I find out about my further treatment. Sounds like the best outcome is to have to take the Tamoxifen.

      I’ve been staring at my Frankenstein like stitches (they come out Friday) and the empty space, it’s just too weird. One of my friends had a TRAM flap and she is happy with it. I am in really good shape and recovering well from the mastectomy so I can expect the same from the reconstruction. I had enough problems from the biopsy to last me a lifetime between the hematoma and the staph infection.

      I just have to be accepting of what’s going on and keep moving forward.

      regards,
      Theresa

  10. Tancho,
    It would be so nice if you were right, I do plan on enjoying every minute that I have. Thanks for the good wishes.

    I don’t know when my life will revert to normal if ever. The histochemical will decide on further treatment, the best result that I can hope for there is to have to take tamoxifen or something similar for the next five years. The side effects are remarkably similar to menopause, hot flashes etc. I believe it takes about 4 months to heal from the mastectomy. Then there is the whole, “I will never look the same again”, issue combined with restrictions on things I no longer can do.

    Then the whole reconstruction thing which can take another 4 months to heal from. It’s daunting, but at least I can start thinking about these other things now.
    regards,

  11. What a relief it must be for you! Now to get back to the norm for you, rapid healing and enjoy each day!

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