Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Brave women

I found this image on Eons (this link will take you to the page). I was just visiting the blog of a new follower, and I am now a follower of hers. She put in her statement about herself a lovely little aside about "having had a little blip on the health horizon" in the form of breast cancer. Well, we have quite a bit in common, but not in the way you might think. I wanted to find a picture of some women who have found a way to celebrate what so many of us fear deeply. If I knew who these women are, I would surely contact them and tell them so!

I've shared a lot of pretty personal thoughts here on this blog, but this is probably the most personal. A bit of background: when my mother was in her mid-forties, she got breast cancer. A really bad form of it, too: inflammatory breast cancer. It doesn't form a lump, but instead you turn sort of red somewhere on your breast. She thought she had burned herself. It wasn't until she developed a lump under her arm that she went to the doctor. Well, long story short, she recovered, after a fashion. Very radical mastectomy, cobalt treatment (more than three times the maximum dose, she discovered later), and consequently developed serious scarring in her heart. This courageous woman, my mother, survived the treatment but died at 69 of heart disease.

In her mid-forties, my sister, two years younger than me, developed breast cancer. It was the usual kind (I forget the name), the kind almost all women get. Since she also was pre-menopausal, she took tamoxifen with radiation and surgery.

Hmmm. Two first-order relatives with breast cancer in their forties. At one of my annual checkups, after giving my doctor the family history, she said, "how do you feel about having those two time bombs on your chest?" I was floored. She asked me to see a breast cancer specialist in Denver (I was living in Boulder), who informed me that I had such scary breast cancer history in my family, he wanted me to either get a double mastectomy or start on tamoxifen in his ongoing study.

I ran out of his office with my husband, who had accompanied me through the ordeal. We discussed all this at length. I was at the time only 52 years old and just could not face the mutilation of still-healthy breast tissue.

But that was then. In 2005, after two suspicious mammograms and complete fear of the disease, I decided to go ahead and do it. On April 19, 2005, I went from a double-D to zip. And I have never been sorry, not once. There were complications I didn't expect, and I don't look all smooth like these women do, but still I am glad I did it.

My husband loves me as much as he ever did, I don't need to wear two bras over each other when I work out to control the bounce, and with strap-on B cups nobody thinks twice about my shape. When I first moved to Bellingham and began to take showers at the gym, I was initially shy. But after a few weeks I realized, looking at the incredible variety of sizes and shapes of us beautiful women, it just didn't matter.

What matters is that not once since April 2005 have I worried about getting breast cancer. Until then, I didn't realize how much time I spent in fear of the future. I am glad to be healthy and without them.


  1. What a touching post. I cannot imagine the fear or the courage necessary to take that step. How wonderful that you have such a supportive husband. I am sorry for the loss of your mother.

    How wonderful that you have found the silver lining in such a physically and emotionally wrenching situation.

  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal history with such a dreaded disease. I lost my mother when she was only 27 to breast cancer. Which reminds me - time to make the annual mamo.

    I love the women at the top of the page! Yay to life!

  3. DJ, Wow - Thanks for sharing something so personal. You are also one of the brave women and are so lucky to have your peace of mind, your health and such a wonderful husband. I love the picture of those 2 women. I think if I ever had to have this done, I would do what they did. I think it's really pretty.

  4. Thank you so much for that post! I believe somebody out there probably needed to read that. You sound so free now... able to enjoy life without carrying the burden of fear. Thanks again for baring your soul.


  5. Beautiful post. I have always loved you, big sister, and in all the important ways, you're bigger than ever.

  6. Thought I'd pop back over and give you a warning...

    Before you go back to 'catch up' on 'My Life... lived my way' you'd better grab a box of tissues!

  7. This is such a personal post, one of great importance to all us girls, and I thank you for sharing your experience with us...
    I'm glad you feel confident and secure in your new shape, as I think most women would. We just have a way of getting through these times don't we :)

  8. A very beautiful and personal post, thank you for sharing. You too are one very brave woman.

  9. I just couldn't comment though i came by 5 times today-connection problems.I think you and those ladies in pic are very brave to share all this with us.
    Though painful to read ,i'm glad your happy & healthy.ENJOY YOUR DAY.

  10. I cannot imagine the courage it takes to be like those women in the picture. Thank you for sharing your story with us, that took a lot of bravery. Thank you for doing your part to remove the stigma attached to mastectomy, and congratulations on your freedom from worry!

  11. Thanks for posting these two beautiful women on your blog and talking about your experience. It must have been a hard decision to make but it certainly was the right one for you and you were very courageous.

  12. Those pictures are awesome, aren't they!
    Thank you for sharing your life with us DJan. You are a very brave woman in lots of ways and I greatly admire you. That operation must have been very hard for you to cope with, both on the physical and emotional level, but heh, you did it, didn't you. My mother also died at 69 and it is difficult to lose your mum so early on isn't it. It leaves a big hole in your life.
    Oh well, onward and upward.
    Blessings, Star x


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