One or Both? The Big Decision Many Women With Breast Cancer Have to Make.


Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012 two more people I know have received the same bad news. As I lie awake last night I can’t stop thinking about the most recently diagnosed woman who has to make up her mind soon to have either one breast or both breasts removed.

One or both? One or both? What a decision.

One breast is healthy. Keeping the healthy one means shorter time in surgery, less trauma to the body and still having one natural breast with a nipple. Keeping the healthy breast also means the chance that cancer might develop there later, mammograms on one breast, MRIs on one breast, and having a mismatched chest. Even though, in her case, reconstruction is not a consideration, just having to contemplate the removal of body parts (healthy or not) is almost unfathomable.

If someone is considering reconstruction (I hate that word in this context, by the way  —  it makes me think of hard hats and orange cones), other equally difficult decisions follow:

Both breasts with reconstruction?

Both breasts and no reconstruction?

One breast and reconstruction?

One breast and no reconstruction?

And while one contemplates a mastectomy, the brain swirls with all sorts of other terrible terms:

Invasive.

Stage II or stage III.

Stage III or stage IV.

The grade of the cancer.

Lymph node involvement.

Metastasis.

Aggressive cancer.

Slow-growing cancer.

Cancer.

Radiation.

Chemo.

It’s a lot for one little brain to process.

So much information to sort through and not a lot of time to think it over. One or both? One or both?

Suddenly you find yourself in an alternate universe… a cancer universe. It consumes you. You don’t have time to be sad or depressed. All that comes later, seeping in to fill a supposed “recovery time.” But your family and friends are already heartbroken at just hearing the word “cancer.” Not having to make any decisions, they just worry whether you’ll live and for how long.

My heart truly goes out to this particular woman today, and even though I have just been through the same thing, I am struggling with ways in which I could help. My point in writing this is to give you just a little glimpse into the “just diagnosed” phase for the person who has just found out she has breast cancer, as well as her family and friends.

And, I beg you  — do your self-breast exams every single month.

Don’t depend on your doctor to do breast exams at your yearly check-up, don’t rely solely on mammograms and don’t think you are too young to worry about it. The hard little lump I could feel with one fingertip did not show up on the mammogram. My oncologist said it had probably only been there for two to six months.

Do your self-breast exam every month. I can’t say that too many times. It might save you from having to make the decision: one or both? And, even more importantly, it might just save your life.

This post was originally published on Medium.

Thinkstock photo by PoisonedHeart

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Tattoo Feature

6 Tattoo Artists Turning Breast Cancer Scars Into Works of Art

Life is forever changed when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer or tests positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 –genes that increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancer. Then, when a mastectomy occurs, another layer of emotional and physical recovery is thrown into the mix. Luckily, there are a few talented tattoo artists out there [...]
fast moving woman sketch

What Cancer Survivorship and Whiplash Have in Common

Active treatment has ended — time to celebrate! Yet so often this party comes to an abrupt halt for the person who has ended cancer treatment. You might even feel like you have been whiplashed… whip·lash (h)wipˌlaSH verb 1. jerk or jolt (someone or something) suddenly, typically so as to cause injury. Survivorship can often feel like [...]
children of mother with breast cancer

I Survived Breast Cancer, but Now I’m Afraid for My Kids

I don’t have breast cancer. I had it once, but I don’t have it anymore. At least that’s what my doctors confidently tell me now. I should feel relief. I should feel gratitude. I should feel alive. Others in my life certainly do; they tell me all the time. “You’re cancer-free, that’s amazing,” they say. [...]
two Pink cupcakes

Why I'm Still Crabby After a Mastectomy and Two New Boobs

Today is Friday morning and the second morning in a row now that I’m grabby. Of course I don’t mean grabby — I mean crabby, and it pisses me off that I wrote grabby instead of crabby, because it shows how out of it I am that I can’t even type a word correctly as I [...]