As I’ve already shared here, my breast cancer surgery was a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy. I am pleased that surgically my cancer could be treated with the lumpectomy. However, when people know that I had breast cancer and then realize I had a lumpectomy, sometimes they do say things that I find hurtful, or just wrong. Here are some of them:
1. Did you ever think of, you know, just cutting them off?
I get asked to this all the time, exactly like this, always with the “just”! It drives me crazy. First of all, I can guarantee pretty well any woman who has had breast cancer has thought of having a mastectomy. Secondly, there is nothing “just” about a mastectomy. It is a large and intrusive surgery, often requiring more surgeries for reconstruction. Though I have not gone through it, I can assume it is both physically and emotionally very difficult, even after reconstruction because reconstructed breasts are not the same as natural breasts, or even augmented breasts. Asking this question is both offensive to those of us who have not had mastectomies, and those of us who have. Rest assured all of us have thought about the options, discussed the options with our doctors, and made the best decisions we could with the information we had.
2. You are so lucky that it wasn’t that bad.
The fact that I did not need a mastectomy says nothing about how advanced my cancer was or was not. Firstly, although there are absolutely women that need mastectomies because of the way there cancer has spread or grown or because genetic or other factors greatly increase the risk of recurrence, there are also many women that could’ve had a lumpectomies but chose mastectomy is because they felt it would give them peace of mind (which I can completely understand, even though it was not what I chose). I have met women with both less and more “serious” cases than mine that have had both surgeries. Actually, if breast cancer has spread much beyond the breast, sometimes there is no surgery because there is no use to it (that’s right, there are women with cancer that is considered incurable that have had less surgery than me). Although I certainly do feel lucky that I was able to surgically be treated with a lumpectomy, I do not like when people assume that that means that the cancer was not as serious. It is very minimizing to me. My cancer was stage two, grade two, and made it to my lymph node. Although it was by no means the worst cancer diagnosis one could get, it wasn’t a minor little thing that was just cut out either.
3. It’s her choice. Last weekend I was speaking to a friend of mine who told me about someone she knows who has had two lumpectomies, when she discussed the fact that this woman had cancer had come back 11 years after the first, she said “well, was her choice to get a lumpectomy”, putting blame squarely on this woman for having a recurrence of cancer. This is not fair. Research and statistics show that the risk of recurrence is the same for a lumpectomy plus radiation (which this woman had 11 years ago) or a mastectomy. Even had this woman had a mastectomy, the cancer could’ve come back, in the chest wall or somewhere else. It was not her fault it came back, it was not because she chose a less intrusive surgery, it was just bad luck. If it happens to me, I certainly hope nobody will play with me for taking the advice of my surgeon, mine colleges, and my radiation oncologist and going with a lumpectomy.