Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breast Cancer Surgical Flow Chart

Click to see larger picture of chart

All the press I’ve read about breast cancer for the past 40 odd years has said, “lumpectomy is the way to go.”  It turns out – often, it’s not.  First of all, if you get a lumpectomy, radiation is part of the package.  That’s weeks and weeks of it – depending on the type you choose, it can be twice a day for 5 weeks or once a day (not counting weekends) for 8 weeks. There are other variations. Radiation damages the lungs. If the lump was on the left, it  can also damage the heart.  I’d never read about radiation – just about breast conservation.

The articles didn’t mention pain levels, but I imagined that the less the surgeon removes, the less pain I’d feel.

Since my lump was on the right, I tried a lumpectomy.  That didn’t get it all. The surgeon offered to try again.  By this point, I was freaking out. I wanted that cancer out of my body. NOW!  So I told her – I want this over with!  We scheduled the mastectomy.

Yes, taking off more of my body does hurt more.

Now that it’s over and I’m healing, and the freak-outs are diminished, I’ve been thinking about what would have made this easier for me.

First, I think every woman should know the standard surgical procedure that will be followed if she has cancer in her breast.  There’s no reason to wait until after a woman is diagnosed with cancer.  One out of eight women will get breast cancer.  If a woman doesn’t get cancer herself, she’s likely to know someone who will.

I made a diagram.  I showed it to my surgeon.  She didn’t have access to women who don’t have cancer.  I showed it to the woman who runs the mammogram center at my local hospital.  She said, “This is a surgical decision.”  I told her women should know the surgical decisions before they face surgery.  She agreed to show it to the head of the surgery department. 

If I’d known the standard surgical flow chart, I could have had only one surgery instead of two. And I wouldn’t have been making quick decisions based on new information.  I’d also like to see a brochure describing radiation options sitting in the mammogram waiting room.  There’s no reason to wait to learn about any of this.  

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