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My Battle with Breast Cancer: The Mastectomy

Lucy continues her personal story about her fight with breast cancer.

This is the second part of Lucy’s story about her battle with breast cancer. You can read the first part, her diagnosis, here.

It’s funny how our perception of time changes according to the events we’re expecting; or dreading. The weeks prior to my mastectomy were filled with a battery of pre-op testing, but they went quickly.

Even though time flew, silence became my enemy. If there was no noise, the silence would envelop me like a steel cloak, weighing heavily on my heart and mind. Even though I tried to be upbeat, those moments of solitude allowed the fear to creep into my mind. Cancer was a well-trained, aggressive opponent, with fear as its general and death as its ally. I was one person. I had no control over what was going to happen. The horror of the journey I was about to embark on attacked my conscious mind and invaded my dreams.

But I made a decision; cancer dictated what was going to happen to my body, but I would be damned if I let the advancing army invade my conscious mind. I decided to force the dark thoughts away. I would face this with a positive attitude and as much humor as I could muster. Thankfully, I had family and friends who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me as I faced the fiercest battle of my life.

On Nov. 23, 2009, that war began. I went to the hospital whole, and came out – different.

The right breast was taken, and they ended up removing about a third of the other. They took 20 lymph nodes, 13 of which tested positive for cancer, which meant that I was Stage 3, with a bullet. Had I waited just a few more weeks, the cancer would have metastasized and I might not be here today.

My plastic surgeon, Dr. Morrissey, placed a tissue expander under the muscle of the removed breast. As I went through chemo, he would gradually fill the expander until the muscle was stretched and an implant could be inserted. It would make reconstruction much easier. For me, I still had a semblance of a breast; I was okay with that and returned home to heal before chemo.

What I didn’t count on were the drain tubes! Holy cows, they were a pain. If you’ve ever seen Star Trek, then you’ll understand this reference – I felt like I was turning into a Borg. Plus, I couldn’t shave under my arms for a few weeks – eww. Honestly, how do men walk around like that?

Finally, Dr. Morrissey was able to remove the last of the drain tubes and then asked me what it is I call him. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. He explained that when he came into the operating room, they called him something. After a minute, I realized what he was talking about. I’d taken to calling him my “booby daddy.” Apparently, that stuck, much to his chagrin.

Things were going along fine, when a few days before Christmas, I began to run a fever. Then my incision began to leak. On Christmas day, my fever spiked to 104.5. The next day I was in the operating room. During the original mastectomy, I’d contracted the invasive and difficult to kill bacteria, MRSA. It was so bad, the infection literally ate the tissue expander, leaving only shards that Dr. Morrissey had to pluck out one by one. He said he’d never seen anything like it.

Swell. First my breast tried to kill me, then its replacement gave it a shot.  

The next few months I waged a new battle with the often times deadly virus. When I should have been starting chemo, I was instead having surgery after surgery. It finally took a five-day hospital stay with the wound packed and IV antibiotics before we’d beaten it.

I’ll never forget that stay because we had a beautiful snowfall the first night. I watched it alone, wishing I was with my family in our sunroom with the fireplace roaring.

Alone with the silence, I broke my rule and cried.

Lucy continues her story next week. In the meantime, "like" her on Facebook.

Ralph Lydick October 07, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Your strength is amazing and frankly inspirational, not only for what you have had to personally endure, but also for your willingness to re-live and share your story with others.
Tamara Kells October 07, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Thank you Jim & Ralph! If this story can get a woman to get her mammogram, then it's worth it. We need more than early detection, though; we need a cure. Thank you both so much for your kind words!
Ron Goralski October 08, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Proud to be one of your newer friends.
Tamara Kells October 08, 2012 at 09:30 PM
If 1 woman gets a mammogram because of my story, then I'm happy I shared it. I'm also happy to be one of your friends, too, Ron!! Thrilled to work for Patch - who lets me run amok when I'm writing my silliness; yet lets me get serious for something I feel strongly about.
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