Life without Breast (Cancer)

My mom’s greatest fear when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer was that she was going to lose her breast.
This is the case for most women after the initial diagnosis, because no one can fathom losing something that is not only very much a part of you, but also embodies who you’re supposed to be – Woman.

Months ago through chemo, radiation, an infection, low white cell count, being constantly short of breath and finding that Herceptin was damaging her heart, my mom surprised us all by choosing to have a mastectomy.

Mom - Pre Mastectomy

This mustn’t have been an easy decision for her, although I hoped everyday that she would consider this. My mom is a very traditional woman who regarded “chopping off” her breasts just as vicious as the disease itself.

Tomorrow my mom will undergo a mastectomy. We’ve come a long way since that first diagnosis in 2003.
Cancer is a great teacher, it’s changed us. Losing a breast is no longer my mom’s greatest fear; her (and our) greatest fear is that the cancer will recur or metastasize. Cancer teaches you to be a fighter, to go at it with all that you have. And “chopping off” her breast is just one small step my mom has to take to beat this.

One of my mom’s oncologists, a Zimbabwean-born older gentleman with kind eyes (and a last name only my mom can pronounce correctly) joked that after five kids my mom is wise to want to trade them in for newer ones. He gave her some sound and practical advice too; he’s the first person she really listened to on the subject. She called him her brother and pronounced him… “My favourite doctor of all!” she paused for a second, settled down and added “…after Dr. Lim, of course”, Pearlsa and I said in unison “Of course”.

Of course, Dr. Lim is her primary oncologist, an extremely nice and polite young man who apologises when he has to prescribe those nasty cancer fighting drugs. He explained that she had options and that she’s not alone.

My mom warmed up to the idea even more when reconstructive surgery was brought up, we had several consultations with a plastic surgeon, the possibilities seemed limitless. She could even have a mastectomy and reconstruction during the same operation. In the end, she said she wanted to wait, and concentrate on healing.

An old friend upon hearing the news sent me an email “I’m sorry to hear of this turn for your mum” it said. This annoyed me a little (again, forgive me?) because I don’t remember getting an “I’m sorry your mum has to be pumped with deadly toxins” email.

There really are no right or wrong words for instances like this, it’s just a highly emotionally charged moment – but that’s why we have psycho-oncologists (cancer shrinks).

here's to hope and a world without breast cancer!

Tomorrow my mom will go to sleep and wake up with her breast gone – I can’t imagine what that is like.

I wonder what she’ll think of when she goes to bed tonight, her last moments with her cancer ridden breast. Does she hate her breast? Is she glad she’s getting rid of them? I asked her this morning, but she just laughed it off, held up her breast and said “these things have caused me so much trouble, maybe it’s time for them to go”

My friend J says only strong people get cancer, or maybe cancer makes people strong. I don’t know.

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