When I went in for my annual exam, I pointed it out to my family practitioner. He could feel it too, but it was reassuring that he wasn’t particularly worried as there were many explanations for lumps and bumps in the breast, and statistically I was on the young side for breast cancer. At age 38 I was sent for my first mammogram. The technician clamped the 2 sandwich plates onto my breast and cranked the handle down until I was securely held and squished flat. I thought to myself, “Is this what women were always complaining about? I would take this over a PAP exam any day!”
Breast Cancer Survivor
The imaging center doctor reviewed the mammogram and said there were little calcifications on the x-ray, but a needle core-biopsy returned that the lump was benign. I was asked to follow up in six months. In November I returned and repeated the mammogram. I thought the lump was a little bigger, but the imaging center doctor said we would continue watching. I was told “There’s been no change. See you in another 6 months.”
With that good news our family took a trip to Australia. It was while sunbathing that I noticed something strange. My right nipple was standing up, but the left nipple was completely flat. In the change from hot to cold air there was still no response. When we returned after the holidays I went back to the gym and while standing in front of a mirror with dumbbells in hand I definitely had one headlight out. By February I was sure the lump was bigger, or maybe it was harder, but the nipple wasn’t just flat now, it was sinking in.
May 2009 I had another mammogram. I was ready with my questions following the mammogram, the technician said, “The doctor says everything looks good and you can go.” That is when I said, “WAIT! Everything is NOT fine. I’m not leaving until someone here explains how nipples work, because mind doesn’t.” I was sent for ultrasound and then told I was being sent for an MRI. I knew I was going to get bad news. The MRI turned up another lump that they had not seen before. It was much lower down on my breast by the bra line. I was scheduled for another core-biopsy. Monday, June 1, 2009 the phone rang. The doctor said it wasn’t good news. I said, “I know.” The core biopsy revealed a malignant tumor. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1.At age 39, I had cancer.
Dr. Daniel, whom I had met 7 years earlier, was one of the first phone calls I made following my diagnosis. I had successfully breast fed my healthy baby girl for 15 months, but was left with a very flat ‘A’ cup. I decided if I ever wanted dresses to fit properly again, I was going to need a breast augmentation. My husband and I met Dr. Daniel and felt very comfortable with him, but also felt we could trust in his precision and his artistry to make the outcome look as natural as possible. Dr. Daniel transformed my figure with saline implants from that very flat ‘A’ cup to a very nice ‘C’ cup. I looked and felt amazing with my new curves!
The breast cancer diagnosis brought very difficult choices. Do we try to remove just the malignant tumor or do we remove the whole breast? Must I have the saline implants removed or can they remain in place? One thing I knew for sure – I wanted both tumors removed, even if the first was benign. The location of the tumors made the decision for me. I could not keep the areola and nipple. A surgeon specializing in breast cancer performed the mastectomy. Al of the breast tissue, and a sentinel lymph node as well, were sent for pathology. The good news was that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes; however it also revealed that both tumors were malignant. This was confirmation to me that a mastectomy was the right choice for me.
My left breast tissue was gone, but I was able to keep the saline implants in place. I still felt like the old Bible saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” My busty curves were now uneven, distorted, flattened, warbled, and scarred. However, it was never far from my mind that Dr. Daniel was going to be there for me, and he would fix things when I was all done dealing with the cancer.
The next step after removing the tumors was to make sure all the cancer cells were extinguished. Chemotherapy was recommended and I had my first round of chemotherapy just before September. Following 6 rounds of chemotherapy, I was advised that radiation therapy should be considered as well. I was really concerned about radiation therapy and thought it would cause permanent scarring and skin damage that would prevent successful reconstructive surgery. At my consultation with the Oncologist at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, the doctor spent a long time answering my questions, and making a strong argument in favor of radiation. In the end, the plan for radiation would be a more superficial level of radiation and would be done with the implant in place. I finally agreed to radiation therapy. This was one more opportunity to attack residual cancer. I completed 6 weeks of radiation that left my breast tender with a sunburn in roughly the shape of a lemon. I was done with treatment. This was everything I could throw at cancer to make it go away.
In November 2010 Dr. Daniel performed reconstructive breast surgery to improve the natural look and feel of my breasts by changing the old saline implants for new silicone implants. The scar from the mastectomy now replaced the left areola and nipple complex. The scar would continue to fade with time. The natural right breast was given a lift up to balance the two breasts. The newly aligned breasts filled my bikini top and gave me cleavage again. From all outward appearances I was completely normal. In time that scar would fade away.
I thought I would just leave it like this, but it began to wear on me when I saw the blank breast in the mirror every morning or after a shower. I missed the matched pair in my reflection.
In April 2012 I once again met with Dr. Daniel. I decided I was ready for the face to be put back on my breast. May 2012 Dr. Daniel performed the final stage of reconstruction to replace the missing areola and nipple on the left breast. He outlined the procedure and answered all my questions and I was very nervous about the donor site scar, but I was also very excited. Following the surgery I was completely bandaged up. I had to wait another week to see the results. When the bandage came off I was shocked! It was back! Like the missing earring that just reappears one day. I had a matching set again. Suddenly I was looking down upon a piece of me that was gone for so long, and here it was again. I truly missed it and now I had it again. It felt great!!
It has been a long road, but under the excellent care of Dr. Daniel, I can confidently look at myself in the mirror. With each procedure he has worked magic in my life. The process does take a long time because each step requires the time to heal and settle for the best results. Yes, it is possible to speed things up, but the best work is done with time and care.
One more thing please spread the word about the importance of self-exam and knowing your body. I found the cancer at a very early stage because I found it myself. There is no history of breast cancer in my family. Doctors screen for breast cancer in the family, but you do not have to have breast cancer in the family to get breast cancer. I was statistically on the young side, but that didn’t prevent me from having breast cancer. I don’t even want to think about how my story could have ended, had I not insisted something just didn’t feel right. I am grateful for this experience in my life in that it opened my eyes to just how wonderful people can be. It taught me that being positive is the most important thing. Not to worry about how it happened, but to find it and do something about it.
I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. I will fight the fight armed with a smile, and surrounded by those I love.
Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Lee Daniel is trusted by people who want a meticulous, deeply caring doctor.