Stories of Reconstruction: Meet Jackie
Here is Jackie’s story.
Reconstruction is not for everyone. If you are contemplating it, don’t be afraid to connect with others and ask questions. Knowledge is power and gives strength to us all.
In February of 2017, I was living in the South of England. I spent my days drinking tea, knitting and running along the beautiful rolling hills. One day, while on my morning run, I took a terrible fall, landing on my left breast. I knew the pain I felt wasn’t just from falling and that there was something else going on so I returned to Canada and spent the next eight months going through testing. After continuously being told I was too young to have breast cancer at 28, after so many tests, I was finally diagnosed with stage two invasive ductal carcinoma in my left breast in August of last year. To be honest, I was just relieved to finally have a diagnosis. Because of my age I was eligible for genetic testing, where I discovered I have a rare mutated gene called PTEN (Cowden’s Syndrome), which means I have an increased risk of breast, thyroid, kidney, uterus, colon and skin cancer. With all of this in mind, I was confident in telling my surgical team to “Just take ’em!” After deciding to let go of my breasts (no matter how much they are a part of us, they do not define us), I moved forward with surgery and had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, expanders followed by an exchange surgery six months later to replace them with implants (reason being was because I am small framed and my surgical team suggested it.
How I made my decision
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted reconstruction. I really had no idea what my body would look like with or without doing it. Then, last October I went to BRA day where I met extremely strong and amazing survivors who were so open about everything they went through and even allowed us to see their reconstructed chest and feel them! Being able to see what these women had gone through, not only emotionally but also physically, helped me figure out I wanted and that was reconstruction.
I was super happy with my decision in the end and if I had to do it over again I wouldn’t change a thing. But this doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges along the way. The drains were the worst. Emptying them will make your stomach roll the first few times and you pretty much feel like a sore octopus for a couple of weeks but once they are out, it is such an amazing feeling. My partner, parents and I actually went out and celebrated when the first one was removed! But even with these challenges there were still many laughs along the way. With expanders, you are able to choose your “desired size” and with each expansion I would show off my new breast size by going shopping, making jokes and just staying positive along the way.
Don’t be afraid to express your fears, concerns and goals. Don’t keep things in. I created a network who helped me throughout my reconstruction. No matter what you decide to do, reconstruction is another possible path in the journey we go through.
It has been over a year since my diagnosis and eleven months since my surgery. I have always been optimistic, passionate and dedicated to the things I do. This journey has made me see that drive and strength is not something that can be easily defeated and that the things you love will never go away. Not only am I a survivor, I am someone who cannot be defeated. – Jackie Carter