Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts where I feature women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most have also had breast reconstruction, but some have not. Some entered this world through cancer, others due to testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation which highly increases their chances of a future cancer diagnosis. I hope their words bring insight and encouragement.
Tamara is my mom’s cousin. I grew up playing Cabbage Patch Dolls with her younger sister, Heather, out at their farmhouse. She is the first person I ever knew to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She is also one of the first people I called for wisdom after my diagnosis.
Name: Tamara Becker
Family: Collin – Age 22, Mallory – Age 20, Gavin – Age 17
Occupation: Legal Secretary/Legal Assistant
Hobbies/Interests: Boating and water-skiing, reading, sports – playing and watching, exercise/fitness
Diagnosis: Stage II Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement – Bilateral Masectomy
Age at Time of Diagnosis: 30
Type of Reconstruction: Latissimus dorsi-fla
What was your initial response to your diagnosis?
How can I have breast cancer? – the only risk factor I had was being a woman and I need to live as I have a toddler and 3 month old baby to raise.
How much time passed from your mastectomy/bilateral mastectomy through completion of reconstruction?
I had a bilateral mastectomy in October of 1997. I started the Reconstruction process in August of 1998 and finished it in February of 1999. A total of 1 year and 4 months.
What was something you found surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?
My reconstruction surgery was worse than the mastectomy surgery as far as pain and recovery. My reconstruction surgery required taking
skin, muscle and tissue from my back to create my new breasts so I had 4 drains instead of 2. I remember feeling surprised that the first surgery, which saved my life, was easier than the 2nd which was simply cosmetic. However, for me, it was important to look and feel “normal” again.
The other thing that surprised me about reconstruction was that I no longer felt much modesty about my breasts or that part of my body.
Lastly, my plastic surgeon was a gem, he was very kind and good at what he does, and he really made the whole process a success.
What was the hardest part of the process?
The hardest thing for me was being sick and having a newborn. I feel like I missed a lot of Mallory’s first year of life because the focus was on me and my illness and surgery and treatment, rather than on her first year of life and her milestones. Also, just being sick and admitting that I needed help doing things like preparing meals or taking care of my kids. It’s easier to be the one helping someone else in need, than being the one in need.
What is something you learned about yourself through your mastectomy/reconstruction experience?
I learned so many things so here are a few: I learned that God is the only one in control of my life, any thoughts that I had control were just an illusion. I learned to prioritize what was really important and to not sweat all the small stuff. I learned that with God’s help, I was stronger than I knew and that my body could look different but could still be strong and beautiful in a new way. I even had a 3rd child after my diagnosis. It wasn’t planned, but again God is in control and what a blessing. I learned that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence and that life can still be beautiful.
Do you have a piece of advice for women who are just beginning this journey?
You can do this!! I am a 20 year cancer survivor which I hope gives you hope. Take it one day at a time and know that there is a whole community of women who have walked this same journey so you are not alone. Find doctors/healthcare providers that you trust and are comfortable with. Ask for help if you need it or accept help if it is offered. Lastly, pray and walk this journey with God by your side, there might be unexpected blessings along the way.