We all ask this question, even if only in our minds. The difficult truth, of course, is that no one can give you a guarantee -- not your surgeon, not your oncologist. But you have far better odds than you may think. Most women with breast cancer in the U.S. survive more than five years, the yardstick used by most doctors.
In April 2002, when the doctor told us my wife, Chris, had breast cancer, the first two words out of my mouth were "Oh" and a four-letter word. I felt shock and disbelief -- that this kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. I had no idea how I would handle this -- do all the caregiving, plus make a living. Right away, my attitude was, "It's her job to get better, and it's my job to do everything else." But it still seemed impossible.
As it turned out, Chris had stage 3 breast cancer and...
Do a lot of research! Go on the Internet or to the local library. Take notes! You'll feel more in control if you're informed. And it'll help you ask the right questions to get the answers you need from your doctors. Some doctors may not offer to show you your pathology report showing the type of cancer you have and possibly information on how far it has spread. Ask for it! Some doctors may not offer you all the treatment choices. Others may lay out every possible choice, then say the decision is up to you. Either way, you'll feel more confident if you've done your own research.
Also, talk to other survivors. Go on the Internet and visit message boards for breast cancer survivors. Just post the question: Anyone out there who was diagnosed 10 or even 20 years ago? You'll be amazed by all the women who answer you. They can offer you the hope and courage you need now.
How am I going to look after treatment?
The answer depends on what you do.
If you have a mastectomy that is covered by your health insurance, your insurance is required to cover full reconstructive surgery as well. You can even have the plastic surgeon waiting to walk into the operating room the moment your breast surgeon walks out. But you'll have to ask for this; don't expect your doctor or insurer to suggest it! Plastic surgeons can rebuild real looking breasts with implants or with tissue from your own body (like fat and muscle). They can even rebuild the nipple.
If you have a lumpectomy, you may have a small dimple in your breast -- or a large divot -- it all depends on how much tissue the surgeon removes.