By Amanda Stewart – My relationship with the demonic being called cancer started when I was only two weeks old when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know a lot about it growing up, other than it was something that made people sick.
As I got older, more and more family members fought this barbaric menace. Medics believe it is genetically related to, but not the same as, the recognised “Jolie genes,” BRCA 1 and 2. My beautiful aunts lost their hair, but not their pride or dignity.
When I reached my twenties, I was referred to a breast clinic and given my options to prevent this from entering my family’s little world. I had various options – I could continue my yearly screenings of physical examinations, mammograms and MRIs. Or I could opt for preventative surgery, which would mean the removal of both of my breasts with or without reconstruction.
Our family has been informed that we possess an approximate risk of 97% of getting breast cancer at some point in our life. Having had 8 known cases of breast cancer throughout three generations, including one male great uncle, the odds were not in my favour, so I opted for the prevention route.
Luckily for me I live in the UK where the National Health Service provides full financial support, taking that burden away from me, so I didn’t have any medical bills to worry about. My consultant, who I see every year for breast screenings, reassured me that I was making the right choice considering my circumstance and options.
The hard truth was my healthy breasts, which were used to feed and nurture my two babies for almost a year each, had to be removed.
Prophylactic. Bilateral. Preventative. Mastectomy… four words that floated around my mind for months. The hard truth was my healthy breasts, which were used to feed and nurture my two babies for almost a year each, had to be removed.
I found out the facts, spoke to psychologists, checked the boxes, and booked my operation in August 2015. The day came like Christmas to a child, the nervous excitement, and butterflies that build up; that relief that it’s finally here, the day I can take a stance against this evil. Cancer would not take me.
I had both breasts removed on the 6th of August 2015, and felt like the weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No more worrying, my 97% estimated risk was obliterated. I now have less of a chance (5%) of breast cancer developing than the average woman, who has a 12% risk.
Immediately post surgery I was wheeled back to the ward where I was advised to wash the iodine from my skin and take a look at my scars. Looking upon my fresh wounds, which were just two lines across my chest where my breasts used to be, I felt immediate relief. Even though I had no breasts and had removed the part of me that many perceive to be a “womanly” part, I felt empowered and free. Free from the ticking time bombs.
Three weeks post operation I took an infection in the wound area. I tried to fend it off using antibiotics and IV drips, but to no avail. I was advised the tissue expander that had been put in place for reconstruction had to be removed. To make matters worse, the only surgery day available was on my baby girl’s fourth birthday. I hit a low.
I came home with a heavy heart and a hard-to-fill emptiness. Over the next few weeks of hospital visits, I had a decision to make. What should I do? Reconstruct one breast? Leave them both? I had not wagered on any problems occurring, but still I was fortunate. I did not have cancer!
Three months down the line I had reconstruction of my right breast, aka Foob (fake, fantastic, fabulous and free boob), which made me feel unique, like a unicorn. I was a unifoob!
Three more months later, I received news (with some forceful complaining to my surgeon) that I had a date for surgery before Christmas. I had my expander replaced and have reconstructed both breasts. I have used my chance to remove my ticking time bombs and prevent this from affecting and casting a shadow over my little world.
One thing I had decided on before going ahead with surgery was that I wanted to share my story. I wanted to help other women who were in limbo wondering how scary the process would be, and if they would still be the same woman they were before losing a part of themselves. So I plucked up the courage and inner strength to document, blog, and post every detail of my journey on my page, Mastectomy My Way: Cancer, You Lose.
Unlike many other women who do face this disease, I did not have cancer, my hand was not forced, it was an informed choice, which I had control over… I did it my way. And cancer has lost.
About the contributor
Amanda is an early learning practitioner within a nursery, caring for 0-5 year olds. By sharing her experiences and photos of her scars, she hopes to spread the word of preventative surgery, genetic and hereditary cancer and its affects. Amanda lives in a small village near Glasgow, Scotland with her husband Jamie, 7-year-old son Callan, and 4-year-old daughter Erryn. She enjoys spending time with family and friends and making the most of life.