Dallas, TX –
My breast cancer recovery journey was moving along quite well until a recent report from the Journal of Clinical Oncology took the wind out of my sail. The report focused on the growing trend toward double mastectomies, when only one breast is cancerous. There has been a 150% increase since 1998 of women making this choice.
I am one of them. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago and I panicked. I dove in, head first into despair and depression. An annual mammogram found stage zero cancer, but it covered much of one breast and that it could not be spared. It is horrifying to be told your breast must be removed to save your life. It was a scene right off of some television program. How in the world could this be happening to me?
I went numb for a while and literally I stumbled upon the option of removing both breasts even though one was healthy. This brought me a strange sense of peace. Not so much that I was surrendering both breasts to cancer, but that I was increasing my chances of living. After much prayer and medical consultation, I selected this "aggressive operation" for three reasons. One I did not want to worry when and if cancer would show up in the healthy breast. Two, I did not want the painful and grueling process of biopsies to be repeated. My third reason was pure vanity. If one breast was removed, and it was to be replaced with prosthesis, that new one would not match the old one, so I wanted both removed and replaced.
Having the double mastectomy brought me joy in the midst of my cancer battle because I felt some sense of control over an insidious disease. I thought, "Maybe, just maybe, I can beat cancer." I was one of the most giddy cancer patients around.
Now I learn that my double mastectomy decision have been in vain. The report says that overall, the chances of survival are not improved by the double mastectomy because the "initial cancer tumor already may have sent seeds of spread to key organs."
Also, the report says that having the healthy breast removed greatly lowers, but does not eliminate the chances of new cancer developing on the other side.
Well, the proverbial ball is in my court. I have decisions to make. Do I return to depression because the cancer may have spread despite the aggressive surgery? The American Cancer Society estimates 178,480 U.S. women will be found to have breast cancer this year. About 40,460 will die of it. Will I be one of them?
Or do I remain celebratory because the double mastectomy may eliminate the chance of new cancer developing on the other side. The word "may" has never sounded so good. It means there's a slim chance and I am ready to hold on to it, no matter how slim it is. Slim is better than none when you are fighting cancer.
My decision with this health matter is probably similar to something equally as serious going on in your life. Maybe it's your health, or your family or your job. Of course we cannot control our outcome, but we can control our response. Bad news does not always dictate a bad reaction.
I have decided. I am going to keep on celebrating until the end comes, whether it is from cancer in the near future or from old age if I live to be 100. Life is never guaranteed, but what is guaranteed is our ability to celebrate regardless of the circumstances.
Dr. Sheron Patterson is senior pastor of Highland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas.
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