By Guest Blogger Shannon Ford
I have my Brad Pitt, and I have one child that keeps me busier than I ever knew possible. So yes, this is about the boobs, tatas, breasts. A few years ago, I wrote a heartfelt blog encouraging women to get mammograms – you can read more about it here.
So what happens when you do everything suggested by your doctors and specialists: diagnostic mammograms, 3D mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and your results are inconclusive? You are called to search deep within yourself. Research as much as possible. Trust your gut to make a very personal decision.
I am high risk for breast cancer – believe it or not, it doesn’t matter if I test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations– my mom and sister were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50. In fact, my sister tested negative. And as if genetic testing isn’t confusing enough, there is now information saying that testing for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations can unfortunately encourage high-risk women to postpone mammograms when they are still very high risk – read more here.
I have very dense breast tissue which causes a lot of difficulty in reading my mammograms. I was having diagnostic mammograms every six months, and I had undergone three breast MRIs. Every six months this ugly weight hung on my shoulders – will this be the time that I am diagnosed with breast cancer? Every six months, I had radiologists and other specialists examine my test results and tell me how difficult they were to read. It was always the same result – you have several areas that are “probably” benign. We recommend follow up in six months.
During the last mammogram, the radiologist informed me that if they biopsied every area that showed in my mammograms, it would be approximately 40 areas – which is unreasonable and would never be done.
I am 39 years old. I had my first mammogram as a freshman in college. I could be the lucky one that escapes the disease; however, I could spend another 20 or 30 years undergoing these same tests every six months. Not to mention the inner demons that weigh heavily every time you feel a different lump or a sharp pain shooting through your breast.
It was my breast specialist that gave me the option: continue to be monitored closely or have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. In all honesty, just writing everything down helped me to decide. It is an extremely personal decision, and I highly support anyone that chooses either route.
I decided to have the surgery.
The date was March 19th. I was at the hospital at 7AM. I was surrounded by my friends and family. It was the day that my breasts would be amputated. I’m proud of my decision, but these are the facts: I was scared. I was emotional. I relied on faith. I didn’t know if they would find cancer. I didn’t know what I would look like in the mirror after the procedure. I remember taking pictures of my real girls the night before my surgery. I wanted to document every step of the way. And just in case you know someone making this decision or going through it, please remember, “THIS IS NOT A BOOB JOB.” It’s an amputation. Just don’t compare it.
My surgery lasted about four hours with two surgeons. Not only were all of my breast tissue and nipples removed, but two lymph nodes from my right side were also removed. I didn’t expect that. Apparently it was necessary. So now I am forever bound to blood pressure, blood-work, IVs, etc. being performed on my left side. The decision is a big one. It changes things. Plastic surgeons are amazing, and I happen to think I have the best. But, they can never recreate an exact replica of your body. Even without cancer, it’s an emotional battle.
I have now completed my second surgical procedure in the process to remove my tissue expanders and place the implants. I want to be a resource to other women. I would love to talk to you and be your biggest supporter in researching all of your options during such a scary time. I’m a lucky one – some women have so much more to fight. And even if they lose the battle, it doesn’t mean that they were not one of the most courageous and avid fighters of our time. This terrible disease is not a level playing ground. My best advice is to arm yourself with knowledge, support, and preventative care when possible.
Shannon has graciously offered her email, email@example.com, to anyone who many want to contact her with questions. Mom to mom – we are there for each other! In addition, if you would rather remain anonymous, you may leave a comment below with your question. Just do not fill in the box for name or email and your comment will post anonymously. Thank you, Shannon!! ~Rachel
You are so brave and an inspiration to so many! Love you sister!