Breast Cancer
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Do you have a Breast Cancer story you’d like to share? Email us at!   DOUBLE MASTECTOMY Lisa AdamsDoctors warned Lisa Bonchek Adams — who was diagnosed with an early cancer in her left breast at age 37 — that the risk of developing cancer in her healthy right breast was very low. But she couldn’t believe it. She had already been unlucky enough to get breast cancer at a young age once, she says, and didn’t want to take any chance of being diagnosed a second time. “Even if research showed the risk was low, I did not feel comfortable,” says Adams, 42, of Darien, Conn. Adams doesn’t carry any of the known genetic mutations involved in breast cancer. But she was concerned because of studies that breast cancers in younger women tend to be more aggressive, and because her mother also has had advanced breast cancer. Adams also thought her cosmetic results might be better with a double mastectomy, rather than a single mastectomy, because her plastic surgeon could reconstruct both breasts at once, to make them appear more symmetrical. Adams chose a type of reconstruction — using silicone implants — that allowed reconstruction to begin at the same time as her cancer surgery. Follow-up tests further convinced Adams that she had made the right decision. After surgery, when doctors looked at her breast tissue under the microscope, they learned that cancer was larger than they had originally realized, and had even spread to one of her lymph nodes. Doctors also found abnormal cells in her healthy breast, suggesting that Adams would have had a higher risk of developing cancer there. Adams says aggressive treatment allows women “to take control over something that they can control.” “The decision to remove the breast that was seemingly cancer-free was an easy one for me,” she says. “It wasn’t just about the fear of getting cancer in that breast; it also had to do with what would happen if/when anything suspicious showed up on screenings. … I knew that a cancer diagnosis would mean more mammograms, biopsies, and perhaps even lumpectomies if I kept the breast.” But such aggressive cancer therapy hasn’t been easy. Because the mastectomy took away so much of her skin, leaving her with the flat chest of a boy, her doctor could not place breast implants right away. Instead, they placed tissue expanders under the skin where her breasts had been, to slowly stretch her skin to accommodate implants. Adams then returned to the clinic five times, so her doctor could add fluid to the expanders, a little at a time. Eventually, her surgeon replaced the tissue expanders with breast implants. In later operations, her doctor gave her “surgically constructed nipples” and areola pigmentation. And because the surgery removed the nerves in her breasts, “you are completely numb” after mastectomy, Adams says. “You don’t get that sensation back.” To further reduce her risk of relapse, Adams had four months of chemotherapy and, at age 39, had surgery to remove her ovaries. Taking the ovaries out dramatically lowers the body’s levels of estrogen, a hormone that can fuel breast tumors. But ovary removal also put Adams into instant menopause — with all of its accompanying discomforts. “Surgical menopause is brutal,” she says, noting that she went through a process “overnight” that normally takes several years. “I’ve had horrendous health problems because of it. It gives you a higher risk of heart disease, bone loss, sexual side effects, dementia.” Even five years later, Adams says, she still sees her oncologist every six months, her surgeon once a year and her plastic surgeon every two years. While she no longer needs mammograms, she does have a yearly chest X-ray and blood tests. She also takes a daily pill, Arimidex, an aromatase inhibitor, to keep her estrogen levels low. Today, Adams says she feels confident about her future. “Only time will tell if I made the right decisions, but I am content with the ones I’ve made,” she says. Source: USA Today