Lumpectomy or Mastectomy? If I focus on one problem at a time, maybe I can do this. The Breast Center emailed me a video which cheerfully explains the choice, with detailed pros and cons, and what to expect from each procedure.
The video shows animated breast pictures diagraming tumors and surgeon’s cuts. I can’t look at them too closely. I don’t know where my life-long horror of injury to my breasts comes from—did I have some clairvoyant knowledge that this diagnosis loomed? Or is it an artifact from my predatory stepfather? I can’t say. But I’m so squeamish that my breasts are all but walled off with a “No trespassing” sign—even for my gentle boyfriend.
Since watching the film “Resilience,” I’ve been reading a book on trauma called, The Body Keeps the Score. In my body, there’s no question where the tallying takes place.
I look away from the pictures and read on. I will be unconscious for the surgery, that’s my consolation. And I did breastfeed both my kids for a full year each—I can be tougher than my phobia if the cause is worthy enough.
I learn from the video that lumpectomy is an option if you have one small tumor, and no evidence of spreading. From my ultrasound, that looks to be the case. The narrator goes on to say that for early stage breast cancer, there’s no survival difference between lumpectomy and mastectomy.
So, I can keep most of my right breast and it won’t affect my outcome? That decides it for me. I’ll need radiation treatments to kill off any cancer cells in the remaining breast tissue, but the video explains that the side effects aren’t too bad—mostly fatigue and dry, sunburnt-like skin in the affected area.
My decision made, I close the video.
It’s a big choice, lumpectomy vs. mastectomy, but it isn’t the question weighing on me most. Breast cancer has taken over my brain. Not with tumors, but with pre-occupation. I can’t escape thoughts of it, and the main thought is this one: Will I survive this? What are my chances?
I take to the Internet wanting reassurance. I type in, “survival statistics breast cancer.”
My screen fills, and I click through. The range seems to be 83-87%, some citing five years and others ten. Those time spans seem meager—I’m only 56. I do find one encouraging result: If I turn out to be Stage 1A, my chances of surviving 5 years is close to 100%. The ultrasound isn’t definitive—only surgery will tell for sure—but I’m most likely 1A.
Even so, there are other alarming possibilities. I start running into terms like Triple Negative and HER2 positive. There seem to be quite a variety of breast cancers, some harder to treat, and some quite aggressive.
Is my tumor one of these nastier varieties? I’m jumpy with wanting to see my pathology report, but after checking my online medical record a dozen times, it looks like I’ll have to wait until Monday. I’ll finish out this week of waiting with still more waiting.
I settle for ordering three books about breast cancer online, all with recent publication dates. Something else to wait for.