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I was called up two days before Christmas 2020 and a few weeks before my 37thth birthday.
“Miss Hughes, your biopsy came back positive and your diagnosis is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC).
The cancer has spread to surrounding breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 180,000 women in the United States find out they have invasive breast cancer each year.
I was blind. Breast cancer was not common in my family, and my doctor had always called for annual mammograms starting at age 40. If it had not been for the small, mosquito-sized bump on my outer left breast, I would have gone undetected and can do not imagine the result.
Fast forward to the start of the new year. I underwent several tests to find out if cancer cells had spread beyond my left breast and if I had the hereditary BRCA genes. My test results came back negative, but I still had some very difficult decisions to make about the next steps.
My breast surgeon presented me with two options: lumpectomy (removal of cancerous tissue in one part of the breast) or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). I quickly came to the realization that the choice would be my own based on various factors and treatment considerations.
The right decision is different for every woman and every situation is different. For example, in my case, it will require radiation after the surgery to continue with a lumpectomy. My doctor also made it clear to me before the surgery that the treatment could also include chemotherapy and / or hormone therapy depending on the results after the surgery.
In the few short weeks that this life-changing decision was being considered, things seemed to be going in slow motion. It was a surreal time met with a roller coaster of emotions, but my faith remained high. I dived through as much data and research as I could find, and sought out real-life stories from survivors and thrives. To my surprise, there were few examples of women resembling me, which was disappointing, especially after revealing the breast cancer differences for black women. According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of breast cancer is higher among blacks than whites for women under the age of 45 (black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women).
Feb. 23, I chose to have a skin-saving mastectomy of my left breast with reconstruction kit done at a later date. I was given an expander placed inside my breast at the same time as my mastectomy, and two drains that had to be monitored and controlled over a two-week period before being removed.
What I did not know at the time of surgery is that I would lose movement in my left arm due to having a group of lymph nodes removed under my arm. As a result, I underwent six weeks of physiotherapy to regain my range of motion. At the same time, I had two weekly appointments with my reconstruction surgeon to expand the expander to the size of my normal breast. In early May, I had the expander removed and an implant placed while my right breast was lifted for better reconstruction results. This was a two-month process with several surgeries on the horizon to achieve symmetry. During this period, I underwent fertility preservation as a result of being put on hormone therapy to prevent recurrence. In my case, I did not need to undergo radiation or chemotherapy when my tumor was tested after surgery.
My body needed a beak and mentally I was maxed out. I took the next four months to heal.
On October 7, at the beginning of Breast Cancer Month, I underwent a fat transplant procedure (ie fat transfer from one area of the body to another) and it went well.
The journey across this one-year time frame has been long, but when I look at my scars, I am reminded that I am strong and brave. For anyone reading this with a difficult decision that weighs on your heart, know that you are strong enough to do the difficult things.