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My Battle with Breast Cancer: Radiation and Reconstruction

Lucy shares the last installment in her story about her long journey battling breast cancer.

Chemo was finally over; it was time to prepare for 32 rounds of radiation. Before then, there was a break during which I got my port taken out. It would be a few weeks before I started, and those weeks were some of the worst of my life.

I’d been sick, and in so much pain, I was too busy to really look at myself. And when I did, my spirits crashed. I’d lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I had an indentation where a breast had been; the scar was over an inch wide due to the many surgeries. The other breast was smaller and misshapened. The long showers I used to enjoy had become a chore. I got in and out; never looking at my chest.

To make matters worse, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Morrissey, told me that after everything, reconstruction was going to be extremely difficult. He recommended that I see a micro surgeon.

I fell into a funk that was difficult to climb out of. For a few weeks, I mourned.

But I had to get on with life; to finish treatment. I met with Dr. Cardiges, my radiologist, and began the once a day trek to have radiation treatment.

The procedure doesn’t hurt, but it’s grueling; five days a week. They painstakingly position you on what’s basically a slab and tell you not to move; then they leave through steel double doors. The machine moves around, then you hear a loud buzzing as the radiation is being administered. Again, you have to be perfectly still while this is going on; which in my case was about 20 minutes.

Of course, when you’re told to be still, your nose begins to itch or you have to sneeze. The entire time the machine is rotating around you, it seems like all your body parts are screaming to move. Finally, with only two more weeks of radiation left to go, Dr. Cardiges told me that all my scans came back cancer- free! I was thrilled, anxious to finish and schedule reconstruction.

That came in the form of Dr. Neal Topham of Fox Chase. For several reasons, we didn’t think I was a candidate for a DIEP procedure, but Dr. Topham thrilled me when he said I was.

DIEP is a muscle sparing procedure, where they take a large section of your lower abdomen, skin, fat and blood vessels, and move it to fashion a new breast. The TRAM flap, its predecessor, took muscle as well. The big bonus is you get a tummy tuck out of the deal. However, you have two surgical sites, and it’s painful. Thank God for excellent drugs.

I came home with drain tubes coming out of my breast, and now my abdomen. The transition to becoming a cyborg was nearly complete; at least, that’s what it looked like. But boy, I had one awesome (and larger) new boob. We called it the “bionic baby Barbie boob.” Bionic, because they made it better, baby because it was new, and Barbie because it didn’t have a nipple.

They put a breast implant into ol’ lefty, the somewhat intact breast, to match righty. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Dr. Topham’s intern asked if I’d like them to make the new boob smaller. When I realized he wasn’t kidding, I explained that unless the new boob tried to kill me too, it was staying where it was. Let’s get on with getting ol’ lefty as big as the new one.

I’m almost out of the woods; I still have to have a nipple created on my Barbie boob. I also have to have CAT and bone scans once or twice a year, which is a pill.

It’s been the roughest three years of my life, but it’s also been wonderful. There have been people who’ve prayed for me, made dinners for me, sent gifts, offered to clean my house, and the list goes on. I’m so thankful to all of them, words can’t express it.

My family was amazing. I was never alone in the chemo ward, and I was chauffeured everywhere. And Matt? Even when I didn’t have a hair on my body or face, and drain tubes seemingly everywhere, he never let a day go by without telling me that I was the most beautiful woman in the world.

They say when God closes a door, he opens a window. In my case, he sent a wrecking ball and took out the entire wall.

You can “like” Lucy on her Facebook page here. To read a more in-depth accounting of her story, check out her award-winning blog. If you’d like, you can read it here.

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Tamara Kells October 22, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Thank you, Ralph. It's been hard to relive it. I appreciate the support you've given me as I've spoken about that dark period of time in my life. Thank you to all my friends, my family, my best friend Michele, and the many people who propped me up in my darkest hours.
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elle November 26, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Thank you for sharing your battle with breast cancer ! I am so glad to hear you made it through all of the surgeries and treatments. May god keep you healthy and happy always!

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