First of all, what do we know about breast cancer?
1 in every 8 woman will get breast cancer. That is average. This considering your chances have not been increased by the cancer gene running in your family blood line.
We know that women who have had no children, or have not breastfed - have a slightly higher chance of getting breast cancer.
We know that women who take birth control have a higher chance of getting breast cancer.
Let's talk boobs, shall we?
The female body was created to 1) have children young and 2) have many children. 100 years ago, families were big and the mothers practically breastfed for 15-20 years straight. Sound overwhelming? I think so! What exactly do the breasts contribute to our bodies? Many of you are aware that you may be ovulating because your breast become tender. During this time (about 2 weeks prior to menstruating) your breasts start producing more breast cells/tissue. This is done to prior your body for becoming pregnant. Yours breasts are one of the only factors that sustain your pregnancy for first few weeks. Weird huh? When you do not become pregnant, that extra tissue is destroyed. This process of creating and destroying breast tissue, is considered the active stage of your breasts. After the first few weeks of pregnancy (in which your breasts prepared for milk production), the breasts become dormant. Even while they produce milk and feed your baby, they are not making new breast cells and therefore this time is also considered dormant or inactive.
Breast cancer forms when your breasts are in the active state. If a woman never gets pregnant and decides never to breastfeed, their breasts are never given a break. They are always producing and destroying cells... leaving them susceptible to possible cancers. (1 in every 8 woman).
What about birth control?
We know that if breast cancer runs in your family, as a woman you are advised to seize all birth control pill usage. My mother's cancer was estrogen receptor positive. This means that the natural estrogen that my mother's body produced, was feeding the cancer. More on mom's case later*. Because birth control pills have high amounts of estrogen, this can potentially higher your chances of cancer (at least the estrogen receptor positive cancers). I was told to stop taking all birth control pills when mom was diagnosed.
But what else does birth control pills do to the breasts? It causes the breasts to produce more breast tissue during ovulation. This makes the breasts work extra hard (over a course of many many years) to produce and destroy the cells.
When mom was diagnosed with Stage 1 ductile breast cancer, she was given an option between 1) Lumpectomy with the aid of radiation or 2) Mastectomy with no radiation necessary. Most often, the final decisions is a cosmetic one. Are you large breasted? Are you small breasted? Can you afford to lose a chunk of your boob without it looking funny? My mom could not ;) Love you Mom! So she opted for the mastectomy on Dec. 17th. During that operation, an expander was placed inside. Each week, she has gone in for saline injections to slowly fill up the expander (deflated implant) to help stretch the breast tissue. She gets 100 cc at each injection, which just makes me cringe... but she is handled it like a champ.
* More on Mom
The oncologist concluded that my mother's breast cancer was clearly textbook.
She had three children in her early-mid 20s
She never breastfed her children
She had a hysterectomy a few years ago and have been on hormonal replacements. These hormonal replacements had high levels of estrogen. Her ovaries were removed and so her body was naturally receiving very small amounts. Are you seeing the irony yet? Her cancer was estrogen receptor positive... she took straight estrogen hormonal replacements for the past 3 years. When you are on hormonal replacements, you are given the same amount of estrogen all the time through the pills. Where naturally, your body releases it in cycles.
What does this mean for Mom?
1) 0% chance of a recurrence in the same breast (it's gone)
2) 7-10% chance of a recurrence somewhere else in her body.
3) It does NOT run in the family.
If my mother were to be treated with chemotherapy, it would lower her chances of getting cancer by 20-25%. That's 20-25% of her original 10%. So, it would bring her chances of a recurrences down to approx. 8%. BUT it would raise her chances of contracting leukemia by 3%. So the oncologist concluded that by subjecting Mom's body to chemo to bring a 10% chance down to 8% was NOT worth increasing a leukemia possibility to 3%. Therefore, Mom does NOT need chemotherapy!
Needless to say, all three of us in that clinic office said "What?" Not receiving chemo was not even a thought to us. Mom's surgeons told her she would indeed need the treatment, because apparently - they like to prepare you for the worst.... well they accomplished that! We had prepared for the worst type of chemo treatment. We were overjoyed and so relieved when we were told otherwise.
4) 1 in 4 chance the cancer could return in her other breast. Mom will be put on TAMOXIFEN for 5 years. This anti hormonal drug (again, the irony!) will continue to block any estrogen that her body produces (which again is small due to her hysterectomy). This medicine will protect her other breast and reduce her chances of a recurrence by 30-45%, bringing the original 1 in 4 chance up to 1 in 7. And 1 in 7, comes pretty close to 1 in 8, the average for every woman.
Where do we go from here?
Once the expander is filled to a size of her liking, Mom will undergo a complete breast reconstruction and an augmentation on her other breast. she will go back to her yearly mammograms and continue to take the anti hormonal meds for 5 yrs.
What can I say? We have been given the best possible outcome for this journey, though we were preparing for the worst. Never losing sight of God's glory and grace.