A Preemptive Strike Against Breast Cancer
Why more women are proactively choosing to have a double mastectomy.
Many women who’ve chosen this path say the trade-offs are worth it. It’s not just about survival. It’s also about quality of life, insofar as it liberates high-risk women and their loved ones from the ever-present anxiety that breast cancer may one day kill them.
A study released in January found that preventive mastectomies did have a notable impact on the life expectancies of younger high-risk patients. For a 25-year-old woman with genetic mutations, the chances of being alive at age 80 rose from 42.7 percent to 51.3 percent after a mastectomy, according to the report in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
In early May, Fannin was preparing to return to work. She says the surgery has brought emotional relief, but not without a significant shift in her sense of self.
“I went from having my first mammogram to two surgeries, and I thought, okay, after all this I’ll just race to get back to normal. But my normal was different,” she says. “I thought I would just go back to the life I had before, but it became a much bigger part of my life than I expected. There were more appointments. There were drug side effects. Even though the type of radiation I had in 2014 was hyper-targeted to attack only the cancer, my ribs still hurt several years later. There are questions about bone density in the future.”
Her outlook has changed, too. “You power through all of this and then at some point you are confronted with your own mortality,” she says. “There’s a lot about life you can control, and then stuff you can’t. My original treatment plan was successful and did what it was intended to do—remove cancer from my body and significantly reduce my risk of recurrence for a long time. Having the mastectomy reduced my lifetime risk even more, and now I feel secure about my health. I wound up taking advantage of not only physical therapy, but mental health counseling at the hospital, which was a huge help. They do stress screenings. I wouldn’t have raised my hand for it, but I definitely needed it, and appreciate their comprehensive approach to my treatment and care.”
Ferrari says she’s happy to share her story if it helps to educate other women about their options: “I have no problem shouting from a rooftop. The more people know about this, the better.”
Tamara Lytle is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia who writes for magazines, newspapers and websites. She has written for Arlington Magazine about homelessness, children with ADHD and real estate.