If you were diagnosed with breast cancer tomorrow, what choice would you make?
Could you live without breasts? Would you have a reconstruction? Would you pay extra for nipples? Or would you get nipples tattooed on?
Breast Cancer campaigns and initiatives have been super successful in raising disease awareness and promoting detection in Australia. But there is little awareness about the ongoing procedures, challenges, costs and complications that many breast cancer survivors face.
I spoke to 7 seven women who know about this in all of its gritty details.
Sally, 50, is an artist.
She was first diagnosed at 44 with tumours in her right breast. Her surgery required a right breast mastectomy which resulted in the removal of all 32 lymph nodes.
“I was not thinking of reconstruction at that point. I nearly lost my life, my house…I didn’t think about reconstruction until I had my left breast removed once it started thickening 18 months ago,” she says.
Unlike many women who incorporate reconstruction as part of their mastectomy, it wasn’t until Sally’s second breast was removed, four years after the first, that she commenced her reconstruction.
“Initially I had Stage 3, Grade 3 and secondary cancer. They told me if I didn’t have chemo I would be dead in three months. Also I had to go through 12 months of chemo, and a double mastectomy would have made it hard for me to heal.”
One of the major challenges for Sally for her future reconstruction was the removal of her pectoral muscle along with her right breast in the initial surgery.
“Surgeons need to consider that you are going to live” she says. “A lot of surgeons don’t consider a reconstruction when they take the tissue away. In America they have to have a plastic surgeon consulting before they can remove a breast so the woman has the option to reconstruct.”
Samantha, 48, is the Head of Sales and Marketing for a busy Sydney Event Management Company.
After her lumpectomy failed Samantha opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy, even though the tumours were only detected in the left breast.
“It helped having so many women contacts who had been through it. They said: Don’t mess around. Get them off.”
As a private patient Samantha’s reconstruction options coincided with her mastectomy.
“I had months of chemo, and during that time I went and saw a breast surgeon who my oncologist had suggested. She was very expensive but another friend had been to her and she had done an amazing job.”
Even with private health insurance, it was a costly endeavour but some private fundraisers helped.