An Open Letter to Someone with Breast Cancer

This is a letter to someone out there.

I don’t know your name, but I’m sure you are there: a woman who has recently received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

You don’t know me, but I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 ½ years ago.  I’m going to tell you about one aspect of my breast cancer journey, the issue of reconstruction and why I did not have it.

After I received my breast cancer diagnosis and as I prepared myself emotionally and physically for a bilateral mastectomy, there were many tough decisions to make, one being reconstruction.  Reconstructive surgery on the surface might seem like an easy and natural decision, but let’s face it, our culture and the role that a woman’s breasts play in her sense of identity are powerful and the very word “reconstruction” is one that has positive healing qualities. However, it wasn’t quite that easy for me.

A choice that seems easy on the surface can actually be quite complicated and to make those choices at such a critical time can be difficult. So, as my journey began to unfold the idea of one more tough decision was, at the very least, daunting. I wasn’t sure what I would be facing when I was finished with my surgery, but one thing I was sure of was this: I wanted to get back to my old life as soon as possible, with or without breasts.

At the initial surgical consultation I was told that that the process of reconstruction would begin right at the time of my surgery, when the breast surgeon had finished with the mastectomy the reconstructive surgeon would begin their work.  I was also told there would be subsequent reconstructive surgeries needed to complete the process and as a consequence there would be some down time and perhaps some discomfort during this period.

This was not consistent with my desire to quickly get back to an active life and indeed possibly more than I had initially bargained for, but perhaps in the long run the best decision. This was worth a lot of consideration, and so I set myself to the task of understanding implications of reconstruction versus no reconstruction.

My research told me pretty much the same thing as my intuition had: This decision was going to be a 50/50 proposition. At best, there were going to be implications regardless of the decision.  I was at a difficult crossroad but had to choose.  After consultation with my family I made the choice of many women and choose to have reconstruction.  With this decision, I cast my fate to the stars. As it turned out the stars had other plans for me.  During surgery there were some issues that prevented the reconstructive surgeon from beginning their work.  I was told that it would be a few weeks before I could return to the Operating Room for reconstruction.

During the next couple of weeks, waiting for reconstruction, the healing process was fast and I felt strong and well again in short order. As the days went on, the idea of returning to the OR seemed less important to me and as time went on, I decided not to have the reconstruction.

Two and a half years out from surgery and living with a decision, perhaps made partially by me and partially by the stars, I feel strong and healthy.

I learned a lot about myself during that time. I learned that my breasts do not define me and even though my breast cancer journey was frightening and uncertain at times, I never want to forget what myself and millions of women and men around the world have gone through. I wear my scars as a badge of honor: I have survived and because I have, these scars will continue to remind me to live not only well, but in honor of the many people who fought harder than anyone could know and still they did not survive.

The decision to have reconstruction is yours and yours alone. What has worked for me may not be the best option for you. But, thank you, for listening to my story. Being a member of the Breast Cancer Club means, when we are ready, we share our stories with one another. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and whether you choose reconstruction or not, you’ll be ok in the end, with or without breast.  And that’s probably the best advice I can give you.


gerry and robinRobin Sulier Charney is the oncology outreach coordinator for ProMedica Cancer Institute and a breast cancer survivor.