The month of October has held significance for me all of my life. I was born in October (and today may or may not be my actual birthday), both of my parents’ birthdays were in October, and I’ve both found and lost love in October. This year, October holds even more significance.
The phrase “in the pink” has its roots in traditional English fox hunting when hunters wore scarlet-colored jackets called pinks. If you were wearing your pink, you were ready to go hunting. The more contemporary and American meaning of the phrase is in very good health and spirits and that’s exactly how I feel.
October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) with many related organizations and charities running campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer risks, the value of screening and early detection, and treatment options available. I’ve been on the fence about writing a post that reminds you to “get the girls checked” but I would be remiss if I didn’t, don’t you think? Perhaps it’s now time for an update on my after surgery progress.
It was only because I’d been regular about getting my girls checked that my cancer was detected. You can read My World Has Changed and My World Has Changed (Part 2) to get more on that story. Because of early detection, my cancer was not yet an invasive type which means that it had not spread to other parts of my body. And because of the 30 plus years of the NBCAM campaigns, I was able to find a wealth of information on the internet about the disease and treatments options. I am fortunate to have very good health coverage that allowed me to make the choice for a course of treatment that I wanted and I didn’t have to stick with the standard.
At one time, the treatment for breast cancer was a radical mastectomy and there were no options for reconstruction. Nowadays, the techniques used in breast cancer surgery are intended to minimize disfigurement and scarring, and there are choices related to reconstruction. In my case, the usually recommended treatment for DCIS is lumpectomy followed by a four to six week course of radiation therapy on remaining breast tissue. The recurrence rate for DCIS with just a lumpectomy is 25% to 30% and it drops to about 15% with radiation therapy. Mastectomy is another option (no radiation required since all breast tissue is removed) and the recurrence rate with this drops to about 3%.
I made my choice for mastectomy based on three factors. It gave me the lowest chance for recurrence especially since my DCIS had tested negative for hormone receptors so there would be no after surgery hormonal therapy to further reduce recurrence. All of the DCIS would be removed in one surgery and I wouldn’t be faced with the possibility of needing an additional one if clear margins hadn’t be achieved in the first one. And lastly, in the timeline for getting back “in the pink”, recovery from a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction would be shorter than that of a lumpectomy and radiation.
Before the surgery, the surgeon had estimated that about a golfball size mass of tissue would need to be removed in a lumpectomy. The photo above is from the shoot I did back in June for Remembering The Details: A Sum Of Parts and you can see the comparative size of my lump against my breast. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that I wasn’t worried about how my breast would look after a lumpectomy and radiation. I had my fears about the scars from a mastectomy and flap reconstruction as well but the factors I listed above kept my focus on the end goal.
I’ve been fortunate that my battle with breast cancer has been more of a skirmish than a real war (excuse me while I knock on some wood). There are so many others who have been and will be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, have had or will have more surgery, have had or will have radiation therapy, and have or will endure chemotherapy. The diagnoses and treatments are as varied as we are. I’ve shared my details because you or someone you know may face a similar circumstance. Everyone should make the choice that’s right for them and I believe that the more information you have, the more empowered you are in making your decisions.
Back on the subject of the significance of October, it’s my first one as a breast cancer warrior. It’s now three months since my surgery and like the title of this post says, I’m feeling in the pink and good to go. As I went into surgery, I’d hoped that it wasn’t my time to go and that I was in very good hands with my medical team. Thankfully, I had no after surgery complications, the pathology report was good, and I’m back to my normal routine.
I teased earlier that today may or may not be my birthday. It is and this is the first one in a long time that I don’t mind being another year older.
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