Dan has suggested that I write about how I (really we; because Dan is in this too) came to the decision of a double mastectomy. So here goes…
My options were 1) lumpectomy followed by 7 weeks of radiation for 5 days a week; 2) mastectomy to the right breast only with the possibility of radiation and/or chemo to follow; or 3) double mastectomy with the possibility of radiation and/or chemo to follow. The doctor said that with opt 2 and 3 the possibility of radiation would be less, but nothing can be ruled out until after the tumors are removed. My initial thought was opt 1; why would I want them to take more of my breast than necessary? But that opt came with 7 full weeks of radiation for 5 days each week. I’ve not heard anything good about radiation, but I’ve not really heard anything good about cancer in general. Then I started to think maybe opt 2 would be better. At least I would get to keep one of my breasts and feel partially whole. But the doctor starts talking about reoccurrence in the left side and that it was a real possibility that I needed to consider. I had the gene testing done and was negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are the breast cancer genes. This test was really done to help me with my decision on mastectomy or double mastectomy. It also would serve the purpose of maybe helping my sisters know what to be tested if I was positive. Since it was negative it didn’t help my sisters and it didn’t seem to help me either. Dan and I talked about just a mastectomy, but even if that was done, I would still have to have an implant placed in the left side to make it match as much as it could. The more we talked about it the more I felt that doing both at the same time was the right thing for me to do. I couldn’t stand the thought of going to every mammogram screening and just holding my breath until the left side was cleared, I couldn’t stand the thought of being told I have breast cancer again and going thru all of this again and thinking that it could be worse the next time around. I know that even with a double mastectomy I have a risk of the cancer coming back, but the % is much lower. The peace of mind of removing all breast tissue now was more than I could pass up. If I have the left breast done now when it is cancer-free they will do a “nipple sparing” surgery. This will at least preserve the look of that side instead of waiting for cancer to take more than what it should. Everyone comes to their decision for different reasons, but mine was more for the peace of mind. It hasn’t been an easy decision and I wouldn’t wish anyone to have to make it.
– Holly Thompson
Double Mastectomy: A Husband’s Perspective
I’m a boob man… there, I said it. The thought of my wife having her breasts removed was, selfishly, not really high on my list. When the doctor put that on the table as a treatment option I immediately removed it from the table mentally… especially since he seemed to suggest that a lumpectomy (or partial mastectomy as they refer to it) was still very much a viable solution. Why go so extreme, if it’s not absolutely necessary? That was my initial thought anyway.
After listening further to what the doctor had to say, and listening to Holly rationalize all the data… the reasoning behind my internal decision started to seem a bit silly; and yeah, selfish. Several years ago we had a cancer scare. The doctors told Holly they were all but certain she had cancer; turns out she didn’t. Since that time though, when it starts getting close to her oh-so-loved yearly appointment you can feel the tension mounting; and we were nervous until the “all clear” reports came back. As Holly alluded to, this just wasn’t a good time of year for us, and that really plays into this decision. What if you could preemptively rid yourself of that worry (or at least take great strides towards that)? That’s a big deal to us. The stats show that if you remove the one breast prior to cancer being found, the odds of that side ever developing cancer are way down in the single digits. Tack on to this the number of women we heard from who had lumpectomies and then said they regretted not just going ahead and having a mastectomy… it really starts to be a lot clearer of a decision.
The second part of helping with this was meeting with the plastic surgeons about the reconstruction. I’ll just say I was shocked at the results these doctors can get. Many of the reconstructions simply looked like the women had had a boob job… you really couldn’t tell had you not known what you were looking at, and if it weren’t for the extra scars. Is it exactly the way they were? No… but it certainly wasn’t the mental image I was walking in with. The plastic surgeons also mentioned that the reality was it was easier to get symmetry… and maintain it as she ages, if they did both sides the same; and as Holly mentioned they were going to have to put an implant in that side anyway to make them match… why not safeguard ourselves and give them the best chance at the best cosmetic appearance at the same time?
This feels to me like a no-brainer, but it is ultimately Holly’s decision… it is her body after all; and her life… but we definitely feel this is the right decision, for her and us. I’m comfortable with that.
– Dan Thompson