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
Every year? Every other year? Not until you're 50? Once you turn 40? Will the real mammography screening recommendation please stand up?
If you're a woman approaching the age of 40, you've likely been told to prepare for your first screening mammogram around the time of your big birthday and then to have one every year (in some cases, every other year) thereafter. (Of course, that's just for routine mammograms; breast lumps always require a mammogram and/or other tests to start diagnosing whether...
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.
Many women choose no reconstruction. Yes, you'll have a flat chest, but for
some women that's no big deal.
There's no right choice here. The important thing is that you do what feels
right for you. You can have some good-looking breasts reconstructed. Or you can
fit a pad into your bra whenever you feel like it.
Losing your hair may bother you nearly as much as losing your breast!
There's just something about seeing clumps of hair falling onto your shoulder
that makes it seem like you're really sick. You can also expect to lose
eyelashes and brows, nose hair, and pubic hair. Most women cut their hair very
short before beginning chemo, so the hair loss isn't so dramatic. Several women
on WebMD even shaved our heads, and it felt great. You'll have enough to cry
over during these early months of diagnosis without crying about your hair.
Once again, there's no right choice -- except to be true to yourself. If your
hair is important to you, splurge and buy a terrific wig. If it's not, have fun
trying out some stylish turban wraps. And even if you haven't worn much makeup
since high school, play around a little! Call the American Cancer Society and
sign up for their "Look Good Feel Better" program. They'll hook you up
with a volunteer cosmetologist who can teach you how to draw on eyebrows, apply
makeup, and wrap turbans.