One Woman’s journey of health and recovery
As I sit here getting ready to write this I wonder to myself, where on earth do I begin. My health story, or my health journey, like many other women is complicated, long winded and a little scary at times.
As I write this I do not have nipples, I lost them, how careless of me I hear you say… and my thoughts exactly. In actual fact I have lost both my boobs too… super careless I know.
Back in 2014 I had a double mastectomy due to a diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. I will explain all this further in my story, but for now, all I need to say is I am a Nipple-less woman due to my medical insurance telling me that an operation to put my nippples back was not covered.
You see, I had planned on having a full breast reconstruction, and of course, that includes nipples. Most people are born with nipples, they are an integral part of the breasts. My son tells me however that I don’t need nipples any more, given my children are all in there 20’s! Not needed anymore Mum they say we have truly finished with them … very funny. This journey has been a long one.
It started when I was just 34 years of age, my three children were very small and I was super fit, a stay at home mum, with a zest of life and fun. Then came the challenges:
Completely out of the blue, I woke one morning and I felt a lump on my right breast. It was so big my husband could see it. We panicked, so I rang my trusted health specialist, who suggested I go see a breast surgeon that afternoon and have it looked at.
To make a long story short the end result from this was a cyst and that I would have to have regular checkups, mammograms and many biopsies during my life to date.
In November of 2013 my lumps moved to another level, it was so sore I was unable to lie on it or sleep on it and yet again it was another cyst. This one was the biggest though by far. But as usual more ultrasounds, mammograms and biopsies.
The thing that makes this lump stand out, was I thought to myself, I am totally over these breasts. They are totally annoying and I was finished with them. I remember telling my sister-in-law at a family function after this last episode, I was sick of these things, and wished they weren’t there – Oh dear, one thing is for sure, be careful what you wish for.
Tuesday May 2014, it was 4 am in the morning, I woke with a dragging feeling in my left breast. Oh no, not another one, I thought to myself. But this just did not feel the same, I woke my husband and said hey feel this. He thought his Christmases had arrived, but no, I wanted him to feel this lump. It was really nagly. He said oh no, that doesn’t feel good, you’d better go get it looked at in the morning.
I tried to return to sleep however there was this little voice in my head telling me no matter what you do, make sure you get this looked at tomorrow. No waiting, you need it seen to in the morning. As I tried to rest some more, a memory came flooding in from a very long time ago.
When I was 36, my husband and eldest child went to Hong Kong to visit friends and whilst there we went to Hong Kong Disney. It was a wonderful day riding on all the rides and having fun. Towards to end of the day, we met a Chinese fortune teller, and we decided to have our hands read. I will never forget my reading. He said, “In your 54th year you will suffer a major health crisis, but don’t worry you will be fine and live a long life to late 80s or early 90s … no worries, you will be fine”.
This memory was more than a memory, I could hear this Chinese man in my head really loudly. He was telling me that all would be ok, but I needed to go tomorrow to have things seen to. I was meant to go to work that day, but rang and cancelled. I then rang the breast cancer clinic and told them I had a lump and needed to be seen straight away. They had a cancellation, and said come in straight away. So I hurried to get dressed and went in.
I did not go in thinking it was anything dramatic. I was quite calm, and was convinced it was another cyst of some description. It was in the vicinity of the fibro-adenoma and for all I knew it may have just been this doing something silly.
I told the 1st Dr that I saw that I did not want to have a mammogram I just wanted an ultrasound. The test result was it was another cyst sitting under the fibro-adenoma pushing that up so that is why it felt so bad. I also had quite a few other cysts that needed to be drained as well. So in came the big guns. The specialist to drain the cysts. Oh boy was that an experience. He was livered I didn’t have a mammogram. He started telling me how stupid I was and that really I was being irresponsible and many other things. I felt so traumatized by his berating.
It was at that time I heard the little Chinese voice again, you have it checked, so I agreed. I think my words were, ok then, I’ll have your bloody mammogram.
So with the cysts drained, it was not as painful. So mammogram done, I then expected the Specialist to call me in and say, ok off you go. All good, next time though have it first. But that was not to be the case, I waited, and waited, and waited. I was the last person there, and it was getting very late. About 4 or 5 by that time. The Dr called me in and said, not good news.
What …….. What was not good news, what did she mean. She then showed me my scan, and the results were that I needed another biopsy as the little ring of calcifications were a prime indicator of cancer.
I was not allowed to drive home, so my husband who was in the city, came and got me. We were both shell shocked and I needed to wait till the Friday to get the results. The next day I went to work, and one of my Dr’s asked me how it went. I told her what happened, the whole story and how the Specialist had been so mean. Bless her, she then took control and decided I would not go back to him for the results on Friday. She would get the results and she would tell me.
I felt so much better about that, so Friday morning came and I went to the clinic. My Dr was in her room waiting for me. I went up, closed the door and watched. She looked terrible, her words were, I’m sorry but it’s cancer. You have early stage breast cancer.
We both had a little cry, and she then said, right, you are now off to see a friend of mine. A breast surgeon to see what she has to say about it all. I’ve got you an appointment this afternoon and her name is Katrina.
We sat in the waiting room feeling numb. What were we doing here.
It was at that moment, that my Chinese voice came back in my head, it will be OK you just be OK live to 90……
So I trusted. We went in and the first thing Katrina said to us was, gosh you two have had a rough morning……. come sit and let me explain everything to you, cancer is such a big word…… we felt calm straight away.
She draw me picture and explained that this was very caught very early. The cancer was contained within the cells of the breasts and it would mean that if it was not wide spread she would be able to go in and cut it out and all would be good.
DCIS – ductal carcinoma in stitu.
I needed to have an MRI to see the extent of it and then we would discuss treatment from there. This was arranged for the following week.
So MRI results not so good. The right breast was riddled. I did not have big breasts but every duct was filled with DCIS. She recommended that I have a mastectomy with a reconstruction. She also recommended that I go see her husband who just so happened to be a plastic surgeon. She said I could see him that night and we could discuss doing everything at the same time. I loved the thought of this, a husband and wife team of surgeons, I thought is was like Dr McDreamy and Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy, it tickled my fancy.
We went to see her husband and as we talked about reconstruction and the surgery etc., he throw a curly one our way. As I was telling him a little about my history and about how I actually thought there was a problem in the left breast, he said, if I were you I would consider having a double mastectomy. He said there was a 40% chance of this same thing happening in my left breast later on. He gave us till the Wednesday night of that week to work out should they take one or take two.
So after much discussion on Friday 16th May, 2014, just 12 days after my little Chinese man woke to tell me go and get things checked, I had a double mastectomy.
The operation went relatively well and I woke I woke to no boobs, but I woke to part of the right side skin just above the scar had turned black and was dying. I was told this was pretty normal and I was told not to worry, in a couple of weeks, I would go back in and they would do a skin graft and fix it that way. I asked how long I could have to mend it myself from the inside out, and was told that it was very unlikely that this would happen.
All the time I was in hospital I ate as a no oil vegan. No saturated fat. The hospital was not sure what to feed me, but I told them I only wanted boiled rice and steamed vegetables, salad and a little soup and that is what I got.
And when I went back for my first check up, the black piece of skin had turned pinked again and my Dr had to take me off his operating list for the next day. I told him yee of little faith, and he told me, must be the crazy way I eat. I was just thrilled. My recovery was really remarkable, and I was thrilled.
One silly thing I did was took myself off the painkillers long before I should have. That was pretty silly as one week after the operation I felt like I was being stung by 1000 bees all at once. It was incredible so back on the drugs I went, they were great and I coped a lot better weaning myself off them more slowly.
Four weeks after my operation, I had a small fall in the street. I tripped over and because I was so worried about my new boobs breaking, I held those, and took the fall flat on my face. I broke a tooth grazed the entire front of my face. I looked a mess.
The next day my daughter and I were off on a girl’s trip to Greece. We had been planning it for two years and were so excited. The funniest thing was the way kids looked at me because of my face at the airport I was a mess to look at. But that didn’t bother me, I was happy, I had these funny blow up boobs and was cancer free.
After Greece in 2014 I got my replacement implants and things felt much softer. So I was much happier. Now just one more operation to go, and that was to have the nipples reconstructed.
The last operation was due to happen in July, however this was not the case. I was so excited, but the day before the operation, my health insurance company decided that I was not covered for this particular item number surgery. I was covered the previous Easter to do it, because it was a secondary part of the operation that was fixing a fat pad, but since it was now the primary reason for the operation it was no longer covered … sorry.
I mentioned to the very nice man on the phone who worked for our insurance company that it was part of breast reconstruction after breast cancer, and we were told it didn’t matter. I told him I thought breasts came with nipples and that it should all be part of the same thing. He said, it didn’t matter they were not covered. The number as a primary operation was considered cosmetic.
I cried heaps that day, I was so upset. But after speaking with some lovely friends and family I got over that pretty quickly. I am now nippleless. My son bless his socks, has taken this predicament up with the insurance ombudsman and now I can have the surgery done for $88.
But I am not sure if I want to do that anymore. I have had nipples tattooed onto them and maybe for now it is enough, actually I have only cried three times during the whole experience. I don’t like to be blind sided. It is the only time I have cried when I have not seen compassion coming my way.
Many people have called me brave, and have told me that I have handled this so incredibly well, but I just think it is what everyone would have done. It was no different to fixing a broken leg. I knew it would be fine, my Chinese Man had told me that. “You will suffer a significant health crisis in your 54th year, but you will be fine and live a long life to late 80’s early 90s.” remember!
That has been what has kept me going. I am one of the lucky ones no chemo or radiation therapy for me, it was not needed as the cancer had not invaded any of my lymph nodes, it will never return so I feel blessed.
I feel certain that my guardian angles have been looking after me this whole time. I am not too sure what the lesson is in all this. Maybe it is one of trust. Trust in the universe, trust that my Chinese man knew more than me. Trust that I will live a long and happy life till well into my 90’s. Trust that food is medicine. Trust in the power of the placebo. Trust in love.
As a footnote to the story I did get the operation for nipples so I am now the “complete” women again, thanks to my son and his never ending efforts.
About the Author
International award winning business person and author, Kathy Ashton understands that the health of your business is reflected and influenced by your own health. Kathy teaches which foods benefit the mind and body.
As a nutritional medicine practitioner she believes that the gut is nothing short of a miracle, and when it is healthy, your brain and mindset are also healthy. Kathy’s motto: the miracle gut = a miracle ‘me’ (m = mind, and e = emotions).
Using whole food, plant based, oil free foods she sees her patients produce amazing results, transforming their energy levels, sleep patterns, they lose weight and become pain free.
Through her programs, My Healing Kitchen events and clinic work, Kathy believes that change in your health, is a journey from fork to mouth and is only one small decision away.
Kathy Ashton (BHSc Nut Med)(Cert PBN Cornell) Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, LifeCoach, Remedial Therapist, Flourish Nutritional Medicine