Breast cancer can be devastating to a young, single woman.
In June 2003, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal cancer of the right breast. I was a healthy 45-year-old with no family history of breast cancer. And, since I was premenopausal, I had not taken hormone replacements. Even though I had been having annual mammograms and clinical exams since I was 40, I did not know that I had fibrocystic breast disease—a noncancerous disease that can sometimes cause lumps in the breasts.
I found the firm lump in my right breast while I was bathing one night in early April 2003. My gynecologist ordered a diagnostic mammogram which was read as normal—no masses detected. I then underwent an ultrasound, which did show the mass. One month later, I had an excisional biopsy that revealed malignant, invasive multifocal ductal carcinoma.
My experiences over 27 years as a registered nurse did nothing to prepare me for the devastation of this diagnosis. I remember my surgeon saying words like "malignant," "mastectomy," "reconstruction," "chemotherapy"—my head was just spinning. I couldn't believe he was talking about ME!
I believe God led me to this extremely caring, compassionate and gentle surgeon. He spent a great deal of time with me discussing my options, and was always available when I had questions or concerns. I believe this made all the difference in the way I dealt with my diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
As most newly-diagnosed cancer patients probably do, I wondered how far the cancer had spread and whether I would live or die. I wondered about a lot of things. Because I was single, and a relatively young woman, I wondered how I would look after surgery—would I still be sexually attractive? How would the chemotherapy affect me—would it make me really sick? Would I lose my hair? How much was all of this going to cost, and would I even be able to work? There were so many emotions, feelings and worries to deal with immediately after my diagnosis.
It has now been one year since my mastectomy and six months since I completed chemotherapy. And I'm pleased with the result of my breast construction, thanks to a great surgeon. I've gotten by with some beautiful wigs, but my hair is now growing back!
I attribute my blessed recovery to several things: my faith in Jesus Christ (He has been with me all the way and I could feel the power of prayer working for me); the excellent medical care I received from nurses, physicians (surgeon, plastic surgeon and oncologists) and other health professionals; and a large network of friends and family who were there for me. I had a PET scan (entire body) in June 2004. It was normal and showed no metastases or recurrent disease. I am thankful for each day and look forward to many healthy and happy days ahead.
Sharon Spencer Schlesinger