I don’t think about it much anymore. But this is my story and please keep in mind that it was 34 years ago and choices I made were so very personal. Every woman is different. Every woman has to do what is right for her. And the times and options were very different then.
I was 38 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was shocked by the diagnosis. I was young, married and had two children. But I am so grateful that I had wonderful physicians who sent me for all the right tests and did all the right things that were being done at that time. They had just started testing whether tumors were estrogen negative or positive and mine was estrogen negative which is a more aggressive cancer. My tumor was less than 1 cm, and I was offered a lumpectomy followed by radiation. My surgeon also talked about reconstruction. But after long talks with my husband I decided a modified radical mastectomy was what I wanted, and I opted for no reconstruction.
My memory is a bit clouded after all these years, but I do remember some things…The morning of my surgery, we left the house at 5:30 a.m. My very dear friend and neighbor looked through her window as we drove by and smiled and waved. When they came to take me to surgery, I remember vividly my husband’s face and kiss and his words, “I love you and will be with you.” I watched him standing there as I was wheeled away…
When I awoke from surgery, my husband was there by my side. I’m a little fuzzy on the timing of everything, but I remember waiting to hear about the lymph nodes. My husband was hanging all his hopes on the outcome of those nodes. The surgeon came and informed us that they were free of cancer. Now we could move on to the next stage. There is only one more moment I remember in the hospital. The day I got out of bed, walked into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I feel like I should say something profound about losing a breast and how I was horrified and saddened by it. But I wasn’t. I think for me, it was all about losing as much of the cancer as I could. I wanted to be around for a lot longer in this life.
When I got home, reality hit and coping with losing a breast involved mastectomy bras and prostheses and putting cocoa butter on the very long scar on my chest every day. But I couldn’t wear anything but a soft shirt for quite a while and it was indeed very bizarre to only have one breast. At the time my son was 16 and my daughter was 12. I don’t remember talking to them about my breast cancer, but surely I must have. I know my husband did.
Then I started my six months of chemotherapy…. I will say at this point that my husband was my rock. Through everything, he gave me more love and support than any human could have done. We are now married 51 years.
Chemotherapy is awful. There is no way around that. The sickness, the lost hair, the fatigue is overwhelming. But I knew it had a job to do, and I wanted that job done! When my chemotherapy was finished, we threw a huge party and invited all the wonderful people that helped me through the surgery and the six months of infusions and blood tests, including family, friends, doctors, nurses, everyone! And they all came. It was a glorious evening. One I will never forget.
A year and a half later, I decided to have the other breast removed. There was so much they didn’t know about estrogen negative cancer at that time, and I had two female breast surgeons say they would do the same thing. So I did it! I have never regretted that decision for even a second I am still here at age 72 and grateful for every day. I can wear prostheses or go without. I don’t mind being flat chested.
I want to end this here and say that my husband is probably the finest human being I know. Our love has gotten stronger over the last 51 years. I also want to say that it is not easy having no breasts. There are still days that I miss them. But not for long. Keep in mind that they know so much more now, and breast cancer is found earlier when it is curable and when breasts can be saved. I was very lucky! I know that all too well. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please get a mammogram, do self-exams, and know that there can be a long life after breast cancer. With or without breasts.
Lyn Banghart is Vice President and Singing Member of Tidewater Singers. She is a resident of Easton.