I was 41 years old, ate a low-fat diet with little red meat, was in great shape, rarely got sick, and worked out two hours a day, at least four days a week.I had both my children before age 35, and had no family history of breast cancer.When my baseline mammogram was done at 35 and another at 40, neither showed anything suspicious.Fortunately, I did monthly breast self-exams as well and, just six months after my most recent mammogram, I discovered a lump in my left breast. I was in the middle of a very bitter divorce at the time and under enormous stress. After an ultrasound and surgical biopsy, the diagnosis was benign, but the surgeon said, "Come back in three months for a follow-up visit."Three months later, I called the surgeon and said, "Either you didn't get it all or I've developed an awful lot of scar tissue on the same spot." He said I'd better come back in. This time there was no fear on my part since he'd just been in there and determined I was okay. The specimen looked different from the earlier one. Still nothing clicked.
To say I was shocked, angry, upset is an understatement. My life has been filled with many traumas and losses that, together with my strong faith in God, have helped me to have strength. But my attitude was, "Okay, God. Go ahead, hit me with another one, one more thing to deal with. Haven't I gone through enough?"When you are diagnosed with cancer, it's war, as far as I'm concerned. I pulled out all the stops, read everything I could get my hands on, got second opinions, talked with other women who'd been there and made my decisions accordingly—mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, six months of chemotherapy, therapeutic touch and complete change of diet through a nutritional biochemist.I finished chemo in June 1994, am now feeling great and have finished my last reconstructive surgery. (The good news is they look better now than they did before—no more droop!)
2003 Update: Since 1995 when I last shared my experiences with Komen for the Cure®, I thought my last reconstruction then was the final one. I was mistaken.
During the last several years, though cancer free, I've had repeated sports-related injuries to ankles, knees and back. It never occurred to me that these could be related to my breasts!
The "natural" side continued to grow and age (droop) after the last surgery and the reconstructed side developed capsular contraction—both very common side effects. Thinking it was merely a cosmetic problem, I ignored it. Only when my oncologist said I really must "get that fixed," and that it could affect my balance, did it dawn on me that the injuries were related!
Consequently, in November 2002, I again underwent a total reconstruction of both breasts, incorporating new corrective procedures such as fat grafting andimplanting cartilage under the nipple. And, on the natural side, having a different "perky" cut (instead of the traditional anchor cut), liposuction and then insertion of a small implant to keep it level with the rebuilt side. My plastic surgeon was a true artist, and my breasts are again uplifted and symmetrical.
This may not be a final surgery for me, since I've now learned that, for a breast cancer survivor, it's an ongoing process. However, my spirit remains high and I'm glad to be alive! In addition, I've completed an interactive book on breast cancer geared toward recently diagnosed people and survivors, and am actively looking for an agent/publisher!
Coleen Kirnan Friedmann