I was recently at an ultrasound appointment (for possible gall stones) and the technician and I were talking about my medical history. She asked if I had any surgeries, scars or implants which might show up on the ultrasound. I mentioned I had breast cancer and have implants in place now. We talked a little bit about how I was diagnosed which is not the typical way. Just over a year ago I had breast reduction surgery to help relieve my migraines and back pain which I felt was a result of my large chest. It was such an odd surgery to me because I had been busty since the time I hit puberty. Never had the thought crossed my mind that surgery would be something I would do to make life more comfortable for me.
Around January of 2014 I saw a random Huffinton Post article which talked about breast reduction and how it was a life changer for this one woman. Then oddly, several more articles appeared in my FaceBook newsfeed over the next several weeks. I actually talked with my chiropractor about a reduction trying to get his opinion to see if I would benefit from it. What I got from him, was what I felt was a normal male response and not one of a person who was treating me from chronic back pain.
I took the time to contact my insurance company and found out there is a magic formula of breast size, your height and weight that all fit into this scale which then tells if you qualify for medical coverage to have a reduction. Well, lucky me I totally fit into the criteria. I quickly found a plastic surgeon; got it all approved and scheduled surgery for May 5, 2014. This all happened so fast, that I barely had time to get my own husband on board with all I was planning.
I have always been a very intuitive person and even more so with my own body. With all of the cards falling into place beautifully, I began to wonder why? I asked my plastic surgeon what are the chances they find cancer when doing reduction surgery? She assured me it rarely happens and it has never happened to one of her personal patients. Well, ten days after surgery I was called into her office to inform me the pathology report from my reduction showed DCIS breast cancer in my right breast. Since I had a reduction and not a lumpectomy there were no clear margins and I would require radiation to my full breast and also hormone therapy treatment. This did not sit well with me since I am a person who rarely even takes medicine.
If you’ve read my earlier blogs I go into much more detail about the entire above mentioned experiences. The reason I mention it again today goes back to my recent ultrasound on my gallbladder. Yes, it appears my body is falling apart! The technician after hearing my story says, “oh, you’re a survivor.” I told her, “no, I don’t really identify myself as a survivor.” And she said, “Why not? You had cancer and now you don’t.” This was hard for me to explain because when I think of being a survivor I think you have to be a “victim” first before becoming a survivor. I have never felt victimize by anything in my life. I have always considered myself more of a “fighter” than a “victim” or “survivor”. Here is are the definitions of these words and why I don’t feel I am a survivor:
Survivor: noun “a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.”
Victim: noun “someone or something that is harmed by an unpleasant event (such as an illness or accident)”
Fighter: noun “a person with the will, courage, determination, ability, or disposition to fight, struggle, resist, etc.”
In my 40 years of life I have experienced things many people may never see or do. I have been raped, done hard drugs, seen life taken in front of me, lost friends to suicide or drug overdose, been in abusive relationships, had skin cancer, breast cancer and now raised a very medically complex child. None of these things have ever made me say “why me?” or made me feel like a victim. I don’t personally feel I have ever fallen victim to any challenge that has been placed in my path. I don’t consider myself a survivor for having lived through these things. However, I am a fighter. I identify with the word fighter as a person because I have the “will, courage, determination, ability, or disposition to fight, struggle, resist, any challenge” I face. My life is in my hands and I control how I deal with the challenges presented to me. Life is about choices and how you choose to deal with what has been presented. In tough situations I choose to fight.
I personally have had a hard time identifying with the Breast Cancer community because the fact I did not go through radiation, chemotherapy or even any hormone therapy. I DID elected to do a double mastectomy with expanders and reconstructive surgery, but I didn’t happen to go through many of the stages most women (and some men) go through when they are diagnosed. For me, I was fortunate my cancer was caught incredibly early. Without having any clear margins, in my situation, it only made sense for me to remove all breast tissue and possibility for any more cancer to grow. My cancer was undetected on 2 mammograms one week prior to my reduction surgery and a breast MRI with contrast 2 months following my diagnosis. When I had all my breast tissue removed it confirmed more cancer, so I am beyond glad I made the decision for a double mastectomy.
Last week I went through what I hope was my last phase of reconstructive surgery. It involved fat grafting from my thighs, abdomen and back to harvest enough fat to then add around my breast implants to give them a more natural appearance. As my husband would say, let’s be real and call it what it is: liposuction. Yes, he is true to some degree. The process to remove fat is done through liposuction, but then the fat is converted into a liquid and injected back into the body with hope that 60% of it will take and fill in the gaps left behind from breast tissue removal. It was important to me to be in control of the size of my breast and to have them look and feel as natural as possible. I think right now – mission accomplished!
So, going back to my original question: “Am I a survivor?” My answer today is: “No, I am still a fighter.”
In the words of Rachel Platten:
This time this is my fight song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care
If nobody else believes
Cause I've still got
A lot of fight left in me