My experience of Breast Cancer and Bi-Lateral Mastectomy
By: Allison Walsh
Ever since my lymphoma diagnosis in 1996, I have been consciously and sub-consciously waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. In 2012, it dropped. The initial diagnosis dfrom my family doctor was DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. My first reaction was complete terror. Even though I had survived one form of cancer, I didn't know anything about DCIS and assumed it was bad. However, after my husband and I did some research and discovered that DCIS is pre-cancer growth and can be treated, I began to calm down and focus on a plan of action. I found that when I was diagnosed with lymphoma, having a plan was critical: mentally and emotionally. I was sent to a breast cancer surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis and added that the DCIS in my right breast was very spread-out so the surgeon was recommending a mastectomy. Because i had lymphoma in my left breast in 1996, my decision ws to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. Not an easy decision to make, but dure to prior radiation to the left breast, if I did get something down the road, I would have to have it removed. So, my husband and I decided both should be done at one time.
Prior to surgery, it was difficult to imagine my body without breasts. I started looking on the internet and in magazines for photos of women who have undergone mastectomy surgeries. A friend of mine brought over a fitness magazine that highlighted an athlete with no breasts. It made me feel a lot better to see this. I knew I didn't want reconstructive surgery, even though my surgeon was encouraging me to do so. I felt it would be more invasive surgery and might result in some limitations in the use of certain muscles. And even though you know what will happen to your body, it is difficult to actually see it. I remember soon after surgery, I didn't want to look in the mirror for quite some time. I just wasn't ready to see my new body. When I finally did look, it wasn't so bad. Long horizontal scars were where my breasts used to be. But it was weird!!!
I know from my own prior experience and as a Personal Trainer that going into surgery strong is a good indicator to coming through surgery strong and recovering well. I really believe this, so before my surgery date I was doing a lot of strength training and cardio. I wanted to feel as strong as possible. Not always an easy thing to do, especially if you're not used to working out. But it did pay off, as my recovery was fairly easy (besides one or two setbacks).
A strong support system is very important. People with whom I could talk to about the surgery, the change in my body as a result of the bi-lateral mastectomy, and the pitfalls faced during the recovery process. In a show of support, my daughter made me a chest with 2 breasts made out of felt. It was like a stuffie of my former breasts! I kept it on my bed for many years and still have it. ....... It is a reminder of all that I went through.
Thank you so much Allison! You are an inspiration! And I have watched how you and Dev and the kids have tackled this together as a team. I remember the text I got from Dev and your daughter, informing your friends about your situation and asking for our support. Those skills of showing support by making the felt breasts and asking for help from the wider community are so important! Not to mention the exercise. Mentally and emotionally exercise helped prep you and aided your recovery from all of this. You. Are. Amazing.
Your families story is a true love story.
So Happy Valentines Day everyone! Call or write all of your friends and family and tell them about the times that they have shown love to you and how it mattered in helping you to get through hard times. We don't do life alone. No one does. But it's when the rubber hits the road, during hard times, not always the romance, that shows what love is.
Wanna see someone fall in love with his wife again after surgery?
So this is what love looks like.....