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Choosing the Right Breast Surgery for Me

 In October 2020, Joni Petter was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast. She talked with her breast surgeon about whether to have a bilateral mastectomy or a single mastectomy. This is her story in her own words.

When I learned I had breast cancer, I was in shock. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was alone when I was told. I remember looking at the doctor in surprise. She said we needed to do a biopsy to confirm. After that, I felt like I was in a bubble. I could see her talking but did not hear anything she said.

When I left the doctor’s office, I sat in my car trying to remember what had just happened, what she said. I just kept thinking I wasn’t ready to leave my husband, kids and four grandkids. I kept thinking this just wasn’t fair.

After the biopsy, I learned I had pleomorphic lobular carcinoma in my right breast. But the breast cancer was caught early. My ONCO score was 15, so I did not have to have radiation therapy or chemotherapy but I started taking hormone therapy, which I will be on for 5-10 years, and I would need surgery.

During my first visit with my surgeon, I was told a lumpectomy wasn’t recommended and it was suggested I have a single mastectomy on my right side due to my cancer being aggressive. I asked the surgeon about having a double mastectomy because I did not want to worry about possible cancer in my left breast later in my life. I felt like I would worry about every little twinge or pain in my left breast.

The surgeon said that was an option, but he wanted me to discuss this with the plastic surgeon. When I went to the plastic surgeon, he asked me why I wanted a double mastectomy. He said he could do a lift on the left side and I would look normal. There was nothing wrong with my breast tissue on the left side. The plastic surgeon said to think about it, adding that the pain and recovery would be twice as long if I did move ahead with a double mastectomy. I came out of this visit questioning my decision to have a double mastectomy.

During the seven weeks leading up to my surgery date, I gave this decision a lot of thought. Most of my anxiety was late at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night crying. During the day I was fine because I was able to keep busy. After many late-night discussions with my husband, my final decision was to have a double mastectomy.

Because of Covid, my husband had to drop me off at the hospital door on surgery day. He was not allowed inside the hospital at all. When he dropped me off, I could not turn around and look at him. I know I would have lost it. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life, having to go into surgery by myself and not having anyone there.

It turned out my decision was the right one for me. During my first post-op surgeon visit, the final pathology reports showed there had been DCIS in my left breast that my original mammogram had not picked up. I was so grateful I had decided to have the double mastectomy. If I had not, I would have had to have a second surgery.

Through talking with my breast surgeon, the plastic surgeon and my family, I was able to decide which surgery was best for me. Always take your questions to your team of doctors. Ask what will happen before, during and after surgery. If you are the patient, having everything written down is crucial. You’ll go back to your notes often. Finally, don’t miss your regular mammogram. Early detection can save lives.

Statements and opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.