I remember when I was young I was out running errands with my mom. This is a fuzzy memory, but I do remember running into a friend of hers who’d had breast cancer. We talked to her for a few minutes. After we said our goodbyes my mom turned to me and said “Pobrecita, a ella le cortaron un seno” [poor thing, she had a breast removed]. I remember looking back at the lady with curiosity, to see if I could tell she was missing a breast. She looked normal and happy. But, in my mind I concluded that it must be terrible to be missing a breast. It must be sad not to be pretty anymore, I thought. I am sure this wasn’t the message my mother intended to send. Unfortunately, I’m pretty good at drawing my own conclusions based on what others say, just ask Duane 🙂 One of the many faults I need to work on!
You see, I think the reason I came to that conclusion is because in Puerto Rico looking good is a BIG deal. I don’t mean to sound critical. I love my culture and wouldn’t trade it. I am the first one in line at the mall when there’s sale or when I need a new pair of shoes to match my outfit. But, if you have ever been to PR, the only ones wearing shorts, T shirts, and jeans ( a look I have come to embrace) on a night out on the town, are tourists. Puerto Ricans love to dress well and look good, especially the ladies. I mean, have you ever seen the list of Miss Universe Puerto Rico title holders?. The pressure! I think I’ve made my point.
Being in the doctor’s office and hearing the words “lumpectomy”, “mastectomy”, “chemotherapy”, “radiation” took me back to that day I was out with mom. I wondered where her friend was today. This time, I wondered if she was still alive. I hoped that she was. I leaned my head back in my chair and stopped listening to the doctor. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it was me he was talking to. Thank goodness for Duane. There were many occasions we would leave the doctor’s office and I would turn to Duane and ask “What did he say?”, “What should I do?”. He always knew what to say and would leave out what I didn’t need to hear.
Get That Thing OUT, Now Please
Regardless of my upbringing, and realizing that missing a breast would mean people might see me differently, I wanted to have a mastectomy. I was mad at my body for turning on me. Especially because I have always been diligent at taking care of my body by means of a good diet and regular exercise. I have never smoked, drank alcohol, or had a weight problem. The only “risk factor” I had was being a female. So yes, I was mad. And yes, I wanted it out! More than being mad, I was scared that the cancer would spread (if it hadn’t already). I felt like a ticking time bomb. I remember holding Mallory on my lap and being afraid that my cancer would spread if she leaned close to my chest. Weird, I know. My mind was playing all sorts of tricks on me. I was hardly sleeping or eating. I honestly thought I would die of fear and anxiety before the cancer got to me. I needed to pray more. I needed to have faith that God would take care of me. It is easy to see that now, not so easy then.
Lord, please give me strength
When discussing surgery options, the doctor said he could try a lumpectomy, but my tumor size/breast size ratio was such that the results would be less than desirable. In plain English, my tumor was too big and my boobs were too small 🙂 We briefly talked about reconstruction. He said I could consult with a plastic surgeon, but that it would delay my surgery a few weeks. I did not want to wait a few weeks. I had Triple Negative breast cancer. Without getting too technical, this is a type of breast cancer that lacks three “receptors” known to fuel breast cancers. Most breast cancers are fed by hormones. Mine was not. Not knowing what “feeds” your cancer makes it hard to treat because withholding its fuel isn’t an option. To top it off my cancer was also the most aggressive of its type, a grade 3 on a scale of 1 to 3. Talk about bad luck. This meant that in my case, chemotherapy was the only treatment, and they couldn’t start it until I was recovered from surgery. My gut feeling told me that I couldn’t delay surgery. I needed to have a mastectomy now. I remember telling Duane that I didn’t care about reconstruction. I remember saying….what’s the point of reconstruction? So you can bury me with two breasts instead of one? Duane said, I know you, and you may not care now, but you might care later, so you should think about it.
As it turned out, I did care, but it was too much to take in at the time, so I opted to take care of the cancer and chemotherapy first. So, on December 17th, 2004 I had a modified radical mastectomy of my right breast.
I still remember the night before surgery. I looked in the mirror one last time and sobbed.
In My Own Words- Journal Entries
December 19th, 2004
I had a mastectomy two days ago. What a blessing when the doctor came out and told Duane that there was no evidence of cancer spread. I know the Lord’s hand was in this and I feel so blessed. I know there’s a long road ahead but I am more positive now. I want to live. I need to be here for my children. I need to be here for my wonderful husband. I love him so much. Our relationship is so much stronger now. I will start chemo in a month or so, but I’m ready.
December 26th, 2004
I received some bad news a few days ago. The doctor called and said they found some traces of cancer spread in the lymph nodes so I have to have more surgery to get more lymph nodes out. I was very sad and scared again when I heard the news. But after giving it some thought maybe it’s a blessing. We have been praying so hard for our doctors, and for me to receive the best care. I want to be free of cancer and if that means more surgery, so be it. I’ll keep fighting. I have too much to live for to quit now. I’m not ready to leave it all behind. Sometimes negative thoughts come to my mind, like the fact that my children are so perfect, is it because they are supposed to live without a mother for some time? I also think of the fact that I married so young. Is it because my time on earth would be short? I don’t know. I’m so scared to die. Mostly because most of my loved ones are still here. I need to be more positive but it’s so hard. I don’t even care that I’m missing a breast and that my hair is going to fall out. I just want to get better and be here longer to raise my children and love them more. I also want the chance to grow old with Duane. I love him more than anything in the world. Christmas was so hard yesterday, mostly because I sat around watching my beautiful family. I hope there are many more Christmases ahead.
Thanks for reading,