Stories of Reconstruction: Meet Inessa
Here is Inessa’s story.
Five days after my son’s first birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare malignant phyllodes tumour in my left breast. I also happened to be six weeks pregnant with our second child. My response to the doctor was: “How can I have breast cancer?…I”m so young! And pregnant!”. Moreover, I had been feeling great – I had returned to work early while my husband took four months of parental leave, we had just taken our son on his first trip abroad, and I had just stopped breastfeeding – finally giving my breasts a break – or so I thought!
After an excruciating first week spent Googling survival rates while I waited to meet my surgeon, I prepared myself with questions to ask, not the least of which was “Am I going to die?”. Luckily the response was ‘probably not’. My pregnancy complicated things. I had to wait until I was at least 12 weeks along by which time the aggressive tumour had grown to 10.5cm. Immediate reconstruction was out of the question as it involves a much longer surgery, which poses more risk to the baby. Luckily my single mastectomy (which I had at 13 weeks) was quick and uncomplicated. As I write this at 22 weeks, the baby and I are both doing great. There is no chemotherapy that’s been proven effective for my tumour, but I will be having 25 rounds of radiation two weeks after I give birth. Don’t ask me how I’m going to pull that off because I have no idea!
I plan to have DIEP Flap (where fat, skin, and blood vessels are cut from the wall of the lower belly and used to rebuild your breast) reconstructive surgery about a year after I have the baby, once she’s in daycare and I can take time for myself to recover.
Reconstruction Pros and Cons
Reconstruction is an incredibly personal choice and there are a lot of pros and cons; I’m still debating it. The biggest challenge for me is the downtime. I’ll have to spend 3-4 nights in the hospital and I won’t be able to lift my babies for three months, which seems impossible. After my mastectomy I felt a lot of guilt about taking time off work, not being able to lift my son, and laying ‘useless’ on the couch so I struggle with having to go through this again. The other aspect I have to consider is the future me wanting kids. My surgeons recommended that I don’t have children after the surgery due to risk of hernia. Even though my husband and I only ever planned on having two kids, I don’t like having that choice (or future possibility) taken away from me.
The reconstruction pros for me is not being constantly reminded of the cancer every time I have to put in a prosthetic. I’m only 32 and I feel like I would be more comfortable and happier with myself after reconstruction. I have to admit that I’m also looking forward to the ‘tummy tuck’ aspect of DIEP Flap surgery – let’s just say after two kids I’ll have lots for the surgeons to work with! Most importantly, having reconstruction feels like I’d be closing this very difficult chapter of my life.
A cancer diagnosis can mean a lot of difficult decisions; here in Canada we are lucky to have choices available to us, but they are not always easy. I would recommend everyone considering reconstruction to weigh their own pros and cons and ultimately, be comfortable with whatever decision they make. There is no right decision, only a right decision for you. – Inessa