Mastectomy Background: A mastectomy is a major surgical procedure conducted to remove breast tissue if a woman has breast cancer, or is at an extremely high risk of developing it. The procedure can be both unilateral (involving one breast) and bilateral (involving both the breasts). Usually recommended before chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the purpose of a mastectomy is to remove as much cancer tissue as possible. Sometimes, if the tumor is very large and has spread, the surgical procedure is performed post chemotherapy.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancers faced by women; countless women go through the nerve wrecking process of not only getting treated, but also have to learn how to cope longer term.
We spoke with Amber, a brave breast cancer survivor who was kind enough to share part of her journey and answered our questions in order to help others. Let’s find out!
IC: Let’s start with talking about how your journey of fighting breast cancer started. When were you diagnosed and how did you find out?
A: It all started with a long ignored lump inside my armpit, disguised as an “ingrown hair” for a few months. But just over the course of five months, I noticed that it had started changing its shape and was growing rapidly. The very next thing that I did was make an appointment with my GP. And as soon as she examined the lump, the first thing she did was to ask me to get mammography done and take a sample of the tissue for biopsy. I was diagnosed with stage-II breast cancer just after a week of my first visit to the doctor.
IC: What was your course of treatment and how did you go about it?
A: In April 2018, I started my cancer therapy with chemo, and after about 8 weeks, I had a double mastectomy. By the end of August, I started my radiotherapy.
IC: What was it like for you post mastectomy, and how did you take care of yourself?
A: Well, credit for my recovery goes not only to my medical team but also to my family and friends; they took extra great care of me. My sister made sure that I was already stocked up on all things grocery related, and had the most comfortable and oversized clothes to go with my post op journey. The best advice that I had received and I would love to give to my fellow breast cancer fighters is to get yourselves two to three pill boxes, and fill them up with all the post op meds before the surgery. Trust me; this in and of itself is a stress reliever! Other than that, getting myself comfy mastectomy shirts, tank tops and a pouch with a lanyard were a lifesaver when it came to dressing, being able to look good outside the house and while taking a shower.
IC: Is there anything you’d like your fellow breast cancer fighters to know about chemotherapy and radiotherapy?
A: The side effects of chemotherapy are quite well-known already. So, all I would like to tell my fellow women with breast cancer is to stay strong! Make sure that you have a support group at your end and a physical workout routine to look forward to. Most importantly, know that your hair will grow back, and your face will start glowing again. All you need is a little self-love and a lot of hope!
If you are set for some radiotherapy after surgery, I am sure you are already strong enough. But when you are getting the treatment done, don’t hesitate to share and ask your doctor to recommend medicines to endure side effects. Also, SPF - protect your skin always, and again, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor all kinds of questions!
IC: What was it like going back to work after your treatment?
A: It was honestly a bit odd, a lot of things had changed. I was still recovering from the surgery and my radiotherapy appointments were set for a few days later. I decided to start working again during radio, and I think that was both a good and a bad decision. Even though for the first few rounds, it greatly affected my work and I had to take extra days off, it also made me realize that I was surrounded by wonderful people who loved me and I was lucky to have around.
IC: Did you opt for reconstructive breast surgery?
A: Since I was had radiotherapy after surgery, my doctor recommended that I wait for at least six months post radiation before undergoing breast reconstruction. It has been 7 months now, and I have still not been able to decide whether or not I should get this surgery done.
IC: Do you have anything to say to our readers who might be interested in breast reconstruction?
A: I don’t have much on my plate when it comes to this procedure as I am still weighing the pros and cons. But if anyone wants to weigh them with me, let’s do it together! Dr. Google, even though a very useful friend, should never be your oncologist/surgeon/physician. Ask them whether or not it is suitable for your body, which type is likely to best suit you, potential side effects, and finally, in your case, what you should expect. Once you have answers to these questions, you will be able to look into the pros and cons of the surgery with a clear head and with factors specific to your case.
Just after a few weeks after this interview, Amber told us that she decided to opt for breast reconstruction surgery. Even though she is clear of cancer now; regular screenings remain important. She is happy, back to her routine and continues to work as a cheerful and loving teacher! She is 47, and is a staunch believer of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’