A Survivor Story by Linda Dallman-Repp
I received the devastating words on Friday, August 31, 2007. I never skipped my annual screening after my mom died of breast cancer at the age of 62. My first husband died of cancer in 2003. I had been remarried just 1 year when the news came. I was 57 years old. I’ll never forget his sad puppy dog eyes looking at me and saying “We’ll get through this together honey?” I was numb and scared. A thousand questions raced through my mind. Do I tell my children? They are just getting over the death of their father. Suddenly my life is flashing fast forward. I am overwhelmed with questions. I knew I couldn’t share my medical diagnosis with my children. My son had to drop his semester of studies for his undergrad program to deal with the loss of his father and my daughter was in the midst of her university studies. I wasn’t dying and did not want to burden either one of them with the news. Both were finally getting on with facing their fears and living their academic dreams. This is what their dad wanted them to do. These were his dying words to all of us. After much thought, I made a decision to keep the biggest secret from my children until the year of surgeries and treatment was over. I was blessed to have my new husband for support.
I had so many questions and so few answers. This is where my survival and being my own advocacy skills kicked in. I had learned how to do this from my late husband. I was his patient advocate. I would live or die but would not go down without all my questions being answered.
We met with the surgeon. He felt comfortable with a lumpectomy, but my husband asked his clients that were pathologists. They felt I should have an MRI to make sure nothing else was present. I met with the radiologist and plastic surgeon to see what my treatment options were based on lumpectomy or mastectomy. I now realize that being your own patient advocate is much more difficult that advocating for someone else. To advocate for yourself, you have to face those fears!
I initially opted for a unilateral mastectomy, hoping to avoid chemo. That was prior to the MRI. The MRI showed a mass that hadn’t shown up on the mammogram. The surgeon would not perform my scheduled mastectomy unless I had a second biopsy. The needle biopsy was performed the next day. You know you are in trouble when the doctor begins to cry because she can’t detect the area on the MRI and felt that my life was in her hands. She shared with my husband and I that I should move forward with a bilateral mastectomy. My surgeon called the next day to report that my biopsy results came back negative. I told him it didn’t matter, I was going to do the bilateral mastectomy. Listen to your instincts, they are real. They say adversity brings strength. This is true, I saw it with my late husband face his terminal illness, I saw it with my current husband being orphaned at the age of 8 and becoming successful on his own, and I felt it with my own cancer diagnosis. Face your fears!
I had my bilateral mastectomy and I got great news, no lymph node involvement. I did learn that the breast that was biopsied with negative results actually did have cancer. My decision had saved me from having to repeat the entire terrible experience. I kept my cancer diagnosis a secret until my children completed their academic year. My oncologist felt I did not need chemo. My genetic test came back and I learned that I do have the BRCA2 mutation. As a result of this news I had a complete hysterectomy at the same time that I received my breast implants. I shared my secret with the children when they finished their Spring semester. They made me promise to never hold out a medical diagnosis like that again.
I am thrilled to be a team member of Survivors In Sync dragon boat team. We are a group of strong women who have faced their fears and have all been bitten by the Dragon. Paddles Up!