Kelly is a 47 year-old woman married and a mother to a son and daughter. She’s a fighter who did not let her breast cancer diagnosis define her. She talks almost comically about her meetings with her plastic surgeon to discuss breast reconstruction and the decisions she made prior to having a bi-lateral mastectomy. Kelly fondly speaks of the support that came from her close circle of friends and how important it was for them not only to support them, but also her husband and children. She shares candid moments about sex, intimacy and how it is important to accept your new body as it continues to heal.
Hi, my name is Kelly, and I'm 47 years old, and I'm a mother of two children. I have a son and a daughter that go to school in the community and married to a local architect. Born in Texas. Come from the mid-West. Come from a big family, four brothers, the only girl, so pretty active, pretty outgoing, can hold my own, and I'm a fighter.
When I was 45, I went in for a routine mammogram, and at that time on the mammogram the radiologist saw a few spots. Wasn't really concerned but she thought we should just sort of keep an eye on it because it just shouldn't have been there.
So I went back in six months later for another mammogram; looked exactly the same; no change; and I really wasn't concerned because I've always been healthy; I've always eaten right; I exercise; so this has been a full-year cycle, so six months later we went back and the spots had exploded.
You could see that the radiologist was concerned that something didn't look right and that its characteristics concerned her because of the growth in the six-month period so right away she started making some phone calls, and she said, I want you to be seen, and she picked up the phone and made a phone call to an oncologist and said, I want you to see Kelly right away, and fortunately the doctor was there; she spoke with the doctor; and they scheduled me within three days.
Well, I tell you the first thing I did, no lie, I hugged my radiologist because what if she had not recommended me coming back in six months; what if she said after the first two mammograms come back in a year, not much change, you're okay, you're still young. Imagine what it would have looked like then.
And so I just scheduled the appointment and went in, and it's interesting, on that appointment I didn't even bring my husband cause I said everything is going to be fine. So I went in and had the biopsy done and that's when it started to become real. That's when I started to think that, okay, this is something I can't wish this away. I can't go for a five-mile run and make it all better. So we had the biopsy and then have to wait so you have to wait a week. Like I said to you earlier on, I'm sort of a fighter and I think I can take care of everything so no plan in getting everybody upset. I'll handle it.
A little back history. The nurse at the front desk, she and I hit it off right away when I went in for my first appointment and we were laughing and joking and everything was great. When I went in for that follow-up appointment and she said good morning, my stomach dropped because it wasn't anything she did but I can just tell; there wasn't that twinkle in her eye. I just knew something, call it women’s intuition whatever you want. I knew something wasn't right. And my husband was with me and I turned to him and I said I have cancer. I just knew and so they called me in; it was our turn to go in; and the doctor came in and she handled it just like how I would have handled it. There was no beating around the bush. There was no sugarcoating or anything. She walked in and she said, okay, we got the results back, not good, you have breast cancer, and then she just went into this whole deluge of what we were going to do and what needed to happen, and I so appreciated that because it just was nice to have her just kind of say, okay, this is it, this is what I think we should do, let's move forward. But what was interesting about it is not only did she say you have breast cancer, you have to have a mastectomy, we can't save your nipple because it's in your nipple. She went through this whole thing and I remember thinking to myself, okay, time out, let me absorb the cancer, now let me absorb the mastectomy, and hell, I don't get to keep a nipple?
I was just sort of quiet and I could feel my husband start shaking next to me. I could feel it and then I started shaking and then she stopped and I said, okay, time out, time out; let's go back. No matter how much you prepare and you can read everything you want, it's still not the same as when someone says to you, and by the way, you have breast cancer.
The oncologist was great. She did a great job, breaking it down to a level where I could understand it, but it didn't matter. It went out. It went out cause I just heard cancer, and I started to think it's summertime, what about my children, what about our vacation, what about all the things that are happening in life, how do you fit this in. There's no time. There's not enough hours in the day, and my husband is looking at me like who cares about all this stuff. We're having this conversation in the doctor's office and she's sitting there and he's saying who cares about all that stuff. And I think I just started crying and then he started crying.
So the oncologist went through the options of a lumpectomy, radiation or a mastectomy. The reason she didn't recommend a lumpectomy was just all covered in my breast. It was just so much that would needed to be removed that I would have ended up probably having to have a new breast, anyway, and so to really be able to have me have a clear bill of health, her suggestion was let's have that mastectomy and just remove it all.
So we walked out and we said okay, let's call back, let's figure out what we're going to do, and I remember leaving there. We got into the car and I just started crying and I said to my husband, okay, I want a drink, and he said, okay, so we drove over to a restaurant and ordered a bottle of wine, and then we just started chatting and I was crying and then we called my parents and then we just sat there and just kind of talked about what it means.
Then I asked my husband what did she say, what are all the other things that she said about what type it was? Because I didn't pay attention to it and he wasn't much better; he didn't get a lot either; so it was a pretty weird moment. It's not like finding out you're going to have a baby.
So after you find out you have cancer and you know what you need to have a mastectomy, you have to start researching plastic surgeons, which I did right away. I had gotten a few referrals and I went in and interviewed them and my husband and I interviewed and we just fell in love with the plastic surgeon that we chose and so we met with him and he talked about what it would be like and it was really interesting because he was asking me questions like, are you happy with the breasts you have now, do you want to go bigger, do you want to go smaller. It was almost kind of this weird moment to talk about, that well, do you want this, do you want that, do you want them to be high, do you want this, so I just want them to look like me. I just want them to be a part of me. That was really important to me. I just wanted them to be like who I was, just to feel like they were my own. That was really key to me.
So we scheduled the appointment and I had decided that I was going to have the removal and the initial reconstruction at the same time. It's a long surgery. I would not change it but it was pretty painful and I felt like crap right afterwards but I did go in and have it removed and the first part of the reconstruction process at that time.
So I woke up and it was like feeling like you had bricks on you. The first couple of days were all about just managing the pain and managing the drainage and having to deal with all the medical aspects of it.
And I had just pretty much decided that I was just going to take the medication. I was going to lay low and just concentrate on just feeling better.
It was completely uncomfortable to sleep. I laid on my back the whole time because I had had both breasts and I was just bound and then I had tubes and it was just no good way of sleeping.
After about two weeks, I said, oh, I feel good. I can start driving. I can start doing this. I can start doing that. And that was a bit of a mistake. I looked down one day in the shower and I thought that doesn't look right. I took a photo of it and sent it to the doctor. He said, yeah you need to come in. You've opened that up.
So that was a little bit of a setback on that and then of course you have to wait for the swelling to go down and everything to heal, and then about five months later I had the next surgery.
What happens is because they removed everything I needed to come back and do a little filler, so they took some fat from other parts of my body and went in and injected it into my breasts to sort of plump them out and kind of get them to match a little bit, and then you have to wait before you can go back in and have the nipple reconstruction and all that because you have to wait until your breasts to really form out what they were going to be, and so that one in December was just to sort of fill them out a little bit, match them up, and make them look even, and then the next surgery would be the tattoo and the nipple.
They'd be lying to you if they said to you right away they wanted to jump back in and be intimate. I didn't. Didn't want to because I think there is a bit of a self-confidence of not having a nipple. I mean in my case you had to wait so how is that? Do you want to stand naked in front of your partner and be like, hey, how do I look?
There's two ways you can go. You can let it define you and then you won't ever want to be intimate, or you can say, hey, it is what it is, right? Because when I'm 80, they're not going to look the same as they look now, anyway, so what am I going to do not be intimate at 80? I hope not.
So after I got through getting used to them being touched and getting used to how that's going to work, it was okay, and I was fine, and so women shouldn't let these two breasts define who they are from a sense of sexuality or empowerment or any of those things.
I think I'm just as great today as I was two years ago if not better, but here again I just think it's having a positive attitude about it and not being afraid because if you're so self-conscious about it, well, then your partner would be, too, and there is no intimacy.
So we waited about 2-1/2 weeks before we told my children. I wanted them to go to camp. I wanted them to have all of that out of the way. I didn't want to put them on a plane and have them worry, so we didn't tell anyone. So we spent some time up at the beach and we told them the second day we were up there. We sort of gathered them in the living room and we said we have something to tell you and it was me. I said I want you to know that mommy has breast cancer and mommy is going to have to have a surgery and I can't even quite remember everything that I said but I do remember saying that mommy has cancer. And my 9-year-old, who is very astute, said, I don't believe you, mom; this is not true; I'm going to go back and finish watching Sponge Bob. No lie, he said that, cause to him this was a joke. This is like, okay, mommy, stop being funny; I don't want to hear this. And no lie he said that. And my husband goes, no, Nathan, you can't leave the room, this is serious. And then my daughter said, you have cancer? Are you going to die? And then I immediately said, no, no, mommy isn't going to die, no no no, but let me tell you what it means.
So we broke it down. I was pretty calm. My husband was pretty calm. But then you could hear that shaky voice. My husband, I could hear his voice sort of shaking as we were talking.
But I wanted to be as positive as I could. I didn't want my children to worry.
I had my friends together and I did it by myself. I said to my husband you don't need to be there; let me just tell these girlfriends cause these were the ones that were going to step up and help; and I said let me do it. So I had them over and basically I told them that I had cancer. I went through when the surgery was going to be scheduled. And I said, I need help with pick-up. I need some help with meals. I need you to step up and we all sort of cried and then I said, but listen, the reason I wanted you here was I want you to know the truth so that way you can say, when people ask you, did you hear that Kelly had cancer? You could say, yes, she does and she's okay, and this is what we're doing, and I wanted it to be the good word. I didn't want it to be this sort of email train or Facebook of, oh, did you hear what's happening and having it be this downer. I just wanted it to be positive because I wanted my kids at school not to hear (whispering) we're worried about Kelly, she might this, she might that, so I tried to keep it as upbeat and even made a couple jokes. I said to them, can you believe they're taking my nipple away? I'm going to have to get a new nipple, and how the heck do you get a new nipple? So I kind of tried to make it a little bit humorous just to kind of make them feel better cause I had already had plenty of weeks to prepare for it.
We reached out to them to say I need you. I need your help. I need you to be there for my children because our kids went to school together. I need you to be aware that when I can't be there at pick-up, you need to check in on my kids; make sure they're okay. I want you to check in on my husband; make sure he's okay.
And they were amazing. They stepped up right away and immediately started meal train, car pool, didn't even hesitate. It was like don't worry, we've got it covered; when do you need it to start, and I said, okay, this is when my surgery is scheduled; this is what I need; and they're like we've got you covered for a month. And I'm like, oh, no no no, I'll only need it a week. And I'm like cause the way that I am is I'll be fine, just jump right back, and I'll be good to go. They're like, no, Kelly, let's get it prepared for a month. And so thank goodness they were smarter than I was at that time to get it scheduled for a month cause it definitely came in handy.
I think cancer is personal for everyone, and my course of treatment and the way that I handled it is not the way everybody else is going to handle it. Being together and celebrating life and looking at the positive things, that to me was the way I was going to handle my treatment. I wasn't going to let cancer define me. I wasn't going to let cancer dictate to me. I was going to dictate to cancer.