Against All of My Instincts, I Agreed To Have Implants
In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46 years old. Because of my family’s history with cancer, I started having mammograms at the age of forty (funny enough...3 of 7 siblings have cancer but all genetic testing is negative). I found a lump during a self-check but thought "This can't be anything, I had a mammogram eight months ago". My husband convinced me to get it checked and it turned out to be cancer. That's when the whirlwind started. I felt so overwhelmed, like BAM, I had all these decisions to make RIGHT NOW. The doctor said a lumpectomy and radiation would be the plan. My husband and I decided to get away for the weekend to take our mind off the news and flew to NYC. I was in our hotel room by myself when my doctor called me with worse news... There were actually two malignant tumors. She strongly suggested a mastectomy, and I agreed to have a double mastectomy. I was adamant that I wanted to stay flat. I have had large breasts since I was 13...I was fine with not having implants. I was advised by two different doctors that I really needed implants, that my chest would be very concave. The doctors had mentioned that it would not only be a health risk, but it would also be incredibly hard for me to handle the appearance.
Against all of my instincts, I agreed to have implants.
The plan was bilateral mastectomy with expanders put in place at the same time. Chemo and radiation to follow. My body didn't like the expanders from the start. I very quickly developed an infection, which put chemo on hold. During this time a friend asked what my Oncotype DX score was. “Onco score??” I had no idea what that was. I asked my oncologist and, after explaining the test, he said "We have some time while you fight the infection, let's do it".
Oncotype DX is a test that predicts how likely breast cancer is to come back after surgery and the likely benefit of having chemotherapy. The test gives a score between 0 and 100, and people who score above a certain number are more likely to be offered chemotherapy. My score came back as a 6. Chemo and radiation were taken off the table. Now to just fight the infections.
By this time I had implants. I developed seromas. One burst as I walked across my bedroom, all over my floor. I had fevers and chills, I slept all the time, and my body just would not accept these foreign things. I was hospitalized countless times, eventually having approximately 20 surgeries in a 2 1/2 year period. At one point I was sent home with a pump for my husband to give me a new antibiotic. Four days later, my kidneys shut down from a reaction to the new medication. Each one was functioning at less than 10%. Into the hospital again and I soon started dialysis.
It took four months for my kidneys to start functioning again.
In the meantime, we found a new oncologist who started me right away on radiation. I had lymph node involvement with extracapsular extension, this oncologist did not understand why radiation had not been done before. So thirty-five rounds later, I was blistered and burned....but I did it! And, as much damage as it did to my skin, the blisters healed very quickly. The same could not be said for the infections.
I started dealing with cellulitis. My skin around the right implant was just done. Surgery was scheduled for December 5th to remove the right implant. Ten days prior, my implant started pushing its way out. My plastic surgeon told me not to worry.
In the meantime, I was working as much as possible. I am a kindergarten teacher, so I'd wrap my chest, and off to class I went. The night before the surgery I was sitting on my couch, chatting with my two-year-old grandson. I sat up and felt...I can't even explain what I felt. But I looked down and there was my implant, sitting in my lap. I peeked and there was a gaping hole in my chest. We called the plastic surgeon, who said to wrap my chest and he'd see us in the morning. We threw the implant into my hospital bag and off we went the next day.
I ended up with a wound vac. Eventually, the cellulitis stopped....the infections were gone...both implants, gone. The plastic surgeon did an LD flap. I now have what I lovingly call a "Frankenstein chest". It's full of redness, craters, scars, and valleys. But I love all of my battle wounds. Each one tells a story. I have prosthetics that I can wear, or not. The choice is mine.
I'm on exemestane for another five years and the side effects can definitely suck. I feel like the doctor's appointments are endless but they serve a purpose. My daughter (she's 32) has already started mammograms and self-checks. I tell everyone that self-checks are a must and always, always follow your instincts. Get second and third opinions. And most of all, take a deep breath before making decisions.
Photo courtesy of Author.