Michelle Uncovered: A Breast Recognition Project
Name: Michelle Audoin
Age When Diagnosed: 40
Breast Cancer Type: Metastatic ER+ breast cancer and thyroid cancer
I Am An: MBC Advocate, Rethinker, Changemaker
My breast cancer journey has been a long one. In fact, I had my first benign breast tumour removed from my right breast when I was only 14. As a result, I had a raised scar on my right nipple, which was a constant reminder that something was wrong with my breasts. Sadly, I never felt that I had a place to speak up. And there were always other lumps. I had learned to do self-exams from magazines, and I felt comfortable asking my family doctor to make referrals. One breast specialist had told me that I just had lumpy breasts and that there was nothing to worry about. When I started breastfeeding, I thought somehow that would give me immunity.
I was diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer in the left breast in April 2017. By this time, I already had a history of breast biopsies, ultrasounds and exams. Following my diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy followed by a mastectomy with a sentinel node biopsy on the cancerous left side and a prophylactic mastectomy on the right side. Nipple preservation on the left side was not possible, however, both my nipples were removed. Tissue expanders were put in. Eventually, the expanders were replaced with implants. I also had a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to reduce the amount of estrogen in my body that was feeding my tumours.
Growing up, I feared and loathed my breasts. They were small. I was told they were lumpy. And they were scarred. That all changed when I became a mother. I had made the choice to breastfeed my babies and my breasts were no longer scary to me. They were a source of nourishment and comfort to my two children during the first two years of their lives. I was still nursing my son to sleep when I lost my breasts to cancer.
I miss the shape of my old breasts. Though they were small, they had a natural sag from having nursed two children. I took pride in this. I miss my nipples, too.
I have yet to accept my implants. Their shape is different from my natural breasts. Three years later, I am still having a hard time accepting my body with its scars because I wasn’t prepared for them. I wish I had images of women of colour so that I could feel more confident about moving forward. Three years is a long time of living with indecision and despair.
The medical community could be doing a lot more to serve the Black breast cancer community. From the start of my breast cancer journey to this very day, I have felt alone. No one has been able to share images of women who look like me and who have had surgeries like mine. No one has really taken the time to hear my pain and sadness of having to abruptly wean a child and lose their breasts. I felt pressure to be optimistic about my implants because somehow they looked bigger and better than what I previously had. I often felt like I didn’t matter because I didn’t fit the bill of what they already had on file, which was often images of older white women. I think that the medical community could do a better job at letting Black women know more about their risks and outcomes. We need more race-based data and equal representation in the images and stories of women with breast cancer.
My message to other Black women going through breast cancer is to look for support and to tell your story.