Jane Phare: Whole again and grateful

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Breast cancer, the fear, emotional stress, the unpleasant side effects of the medication, is terrible enough without choices being taken away. Photo / Thinkstock
Breast cancer, the fear, emotional stress, the unpleasant side effects of the medication, is terrible enough without choices being taken away. Photo / Thinkstock

Each morning, I glimpse reminders of my breast cancer in the bathroom mirror. My skinny body, a legacy of chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin, which has left me feeling unwell, the intravenous portacath sticking out like a sink plug, and my hair.

After months of baldness, it's growing back like a thick mat of springy moss. Nothing like the fine, straight hair I used to have. Like regeneration after a fire, my eyelashes and eyebrows are growing back, too.

But what I stare at most is my right breast, the one I lost when a regular mammogram revealed what all women fear. Cancer. It had to come off. Stage three, widespread. No time to waste.

Not much time, in fact, to decide what type of breast reconstruction was right for me. But at least I had a choice. And what a marvel it is. In scoop-necked T-shirts, dresses and togs you can't tell the difference. Sure, it's got a scar horizontally through the middle, through the newly-grafted nipple, and another scar underneath. It doesn't feel like my "good" breast.

It's hard and slightly sore. Five weeks of radiation hasn't helped. The process shrinks the skin, squeezing the implant.

But it's pretty good. It took two operations: the first one, at the time of the mastectomy, to put in a temporary expander to slowly stretch the skin and muscle. I'd pop into plastic surgeon Janek Januszkiewicz's rooms and he'd inject a syringe of saline solution to pump me up a little more.

Then five months of gruelling chemotherapy, a second operation to insert the permanent silicone implant and create the nipple, then radiation.

My husband looked after the paperwork. I was too tired and sick to face the prior approvals and insurance claims. So he did it. Our insurance company didn't question a single bill. I think if they had told me reconstruction was cosmetic so not fully covered I would have lost the plot. Screamed, cried, ranted and raved. How dare they.

To my brave friends who have decided to live without one or both breasts, I salute you. But it's not for me. I didn't do this by choice. We're talking about a missing breast I would have preferred left alone in the first place.

Breast cancer, the fear, emotional stress, the unpleasant side effects of the medication, is terrible enough without choices being taken away.

- Herald on Sunday

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