Cancer sucks, but walking through the valley of treatment will lead to exhilaration when reaching the summit. I have changed in ways so positive, that I wouldn’t trade my experience even if I had the choice.
During an annual mammogram in July 2021, an 8cm x 4.4cm x 4cm area of DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) was discovered. In July 2020, there was no evidence of any cancer. I can’t attribute the enormous growth in just 12 months to anything, but I had been under a lot of stress due to working in an Emergency Room during Covid, catching Covid, losing my father to Covid, etc. I can’t imagine how things might be different had I put off my regular screening. From my original mammogram to diagnostic mammogram to biopsy to official diagnosis was exactly 3weeks. As a nurse, I began doing research to become my own expert and sought out my care team. I didn’t like the way that I was being treated by the original breast surgeon that I saw, so I “fired” her (and she and I work at the same hospital). I found it critical to have a surgical team who would treat me as an individual and who would let me have a voice in my care ,rather than just apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Due to a surge in Covid, I had difficulty securing a hospital that would perform reconstructive surgery (considered “elective”) immediately after my double mastectomy so I had my procedure done at a surgery center owned by my plastic surgeon. They did not admit Covid patients so there were beds available and there was no risk of catching Covid while there. That was a blessing. My surgery was 11 hours long and I only had to spend 1 night in ICU and went home the next morning. I had a combo DIEP/PAP flap procedure which essentially means that surgeons performed the double mastectomy, then used tissue from my lower abdomen and my thighs to recreate breasts. This is a massive microvascular procedure and needs to be done by only the most highly skilled surgeons.
A month later, I went back into surgery to have additional tissue removed to ensure clear margins.
Three months after that, I underwent my 3rd and 4th reconstructive surgeries that included fat grafting from my flanks and nipple reconstruction. About 2 months later, I will have tattooing of my areolas to complete the entire process.
DCIS means that cancer cells are confined to the milk ducts and there was no evidence of invasion beyond them, so I was spared chemotherapy. I have a bit of “survivors guilt” about that, but through therapy, I have learned to appreciate that I had my own journey and my 4 feet (+) scars are evidence that my journey has not been easy by any means.
I highly encourage all women to advocate for themselves by performing self-checks daily, insisting on imaging if you have any concerns (especially if you have family history…I had none), and to get your mammograms annually without fail.
“Surviving cancer has fueled my desire to help others by helping them redefine themselves after cancer and to climb their own mountain so they too can get to the summit. For more information about Melanie and the resources she offers, please visit melaniebradshaw.net ”