Stopping a Time Bomb

Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Copyright © 1998 Tricia Marrapodi

"I found a lump in my breast," my 27-year-old twin sister, Kelly, stated the last week ofJune 1996, as we were having lunch and preparing to return to our teaching positions.

As soon as I heard those words, fear and terror, striking simultaneously broke my heart. Icould actually feel it. My emotions were on a roller coaster as memories of our mothercame to mind. She lost her life to breast cancer at the age of 44 in 1986.

"When did you find the lump?" I asked. "About a week ago," she replied. With herhusband Burr, Kelly sought immediate medical attention. One doctor said, "It?s a gland"while another stated, "It?s nothing." After reading her mammography, the radiologistsaid, "It?s just fibrous tissue." After a biopsy, her surgeon said, "It?s malignant."

After receiving the results by phone, Kelly called me. I knew instantly and my worst fearswere confirmed. When I put down the receiver of the phone, I exploded. After losing mymother to breast cancer and nearly losing Kelly to a different form of cancer, Hodgkin's Disease, ten years earlier, I raged, "If God wants her, why doesn?t He just take herinstead of playing these games?" Enraged, I felt as though I was eulogizing her at age27. I rationalized, "She?s such a good person who loves life, loves teaching...why is thishappening?"

Kelly had a single mastectomy at in July and had to undergo chemotherapy treatments for a duration of four months. When I asked her how she has the strength to do this, she replied, "You will do anything you have to in order to save your life." She has completed treatments successfully and been given a clean bill of health, resuming her teaching career in January 1997.

In 1986, I learned about a procedure called, "Preventative Mastectomy." Because my mother had breast cancer, my surgeon said I could proceed with this option when I was 30, so that I would be mentally and physically ready.

A preventative mastectomy is when the breast tissue is removed and replaced with saline implants, reducing the possibility of getting breast cancer for high-risk women. I decided to have this procedure done at 28 instead of 30. And I decided to have this procedure done during Christmas vacation 1997. That would give me a two-week recovery period and then I would resume teaching 7th grade.

I was not nervous at all and I had never had surgery before. Only the breast tissue was removed.Then after the surgery, the breast tissue was removed and tissue expanders, filled withsaline, were inserted. During a two-month period, they would be expanded with salineinjections, a painless procedure, to stretch the skin and tissue. This is done in preparation for the next and final step, the permanent implants.

I went home after a day and a half. The most difficult part of the surgery for me wasgetting out of bed. And the most inspiring part for me is remembering when Kelly said,"You will do anything you have to in order to save your life." As far as I was concerned, alittle bit of change and scarring was not going to alter my life in the slightest way. Timeheals all wounds.

I would return to my teaching position two weeks later and managed very well. I had thesupport of wonderful colleagues at work and my family at home. I could resume my dailyactivities, except for heavy lifting because of the delicate procedure. I knew I wanted tohave a preventative mastectomy at 17 and now that I did it at 28, I felt as though a heavyburden had been lifted from my shoulders.

From February until May, I saw my plastic surgeon twice and two rounds of saline wereinjected to stretch the tissue to my normal breast size. It was a little uncomfortable for aday and if I needed a painkiller, I took Ibuprofen, which also helped bring down theswelling. My plastic surgeon said, "I could make you a Dolly Parton-noid" but I opted to stay with my normal size.

At the end of May 1997, during summer vacation, I had the tissue expanders removedand permanent saline implants inserted on an outpatient basis. I am pleased not onlywith the results, but as an active participant in saving my own life.

Kelly and I look to the future with great optimism. I was reminded of Kelly when I saw"Evita" for the first time and Madonna sang the lyrics, "What good is the strongest ofhearts in a body that?s falling apart, a serious thought, I hope you know that." That wasthe first time I ever cried during a movie, and when Madonna sings, "You Must Love Me"also from "Evita."

I am truly optimistic that Kelly will live a normal, healthy life. I am also thankful that Iproceeded with and had the option I did, to increase, my chances of never getting breast cancer.

I truly hope that more women will become aware of this procedure by discussingpreventative, also known as prophylactic mastectomy, with their physicians. And, mostimportantly, get second opinions, and a third opinion, if you feel the need. Participate inyour own well being and trust your instincts.

Editor's Note: Prophylactic mastectomy(a.k.a. preventive mastectomy)is controversial and not appropriate for the vast majority of women.Please be certain to seek the advice of a physician with appropriateexpertise before making decisions about your own health care.

From the National Cancer Institute