My name is Traci Mulder, and I am 40 years old. I have been a breast cancer survivor for six years, since 9/11/2000, and this is my breast cancer story.
Read part one of my breast cancer story: Pregnant, With Breast Cancer: From Discovering a Lump to Breast Biopsy
Awaiting the Results of My Mammogram
Seven days after my mammogram, I went to pick up my mammogram films and report. I needed to take them with me to the surgeon the next day so she could better assess my situation and need for breast biopsy. I promised myself that I wouldn’t look at the mammograms or report, since I don’t know how to read or interpret films, and I headed out the clinic door.
I had the mammography report out before I got to my car.
What is that? Is that the best or worst?
“Highly suggestive of malignancy.”
What? This was supposed to be nothing! I drove directly to my husband’s office in tears. I still don’t know how I got there without getting in an accident. Luckily, he saw me pull up and came out to meet me. I handed him the mammography report and continued to sit there and sob. He immediately grabbed his phone and had me page my friend, Brenda, who worked at the hospital.
When Brenda heard my voice and realized that I had read the report, she told me to meet her in ten minutes. Brenda spent at least an hour with me, talking with me, explaining things to me, crying with me, and praying with me. For Brenda to take so much of her time meant so much to me; to this day I am grateful for her support.
The next day, I had an appointment with the surgeon, who took a needle biopsy of my swollen lymph node. Before leaving her office, we scheduled surgery for two days later. The doctor already knew the results of the needle biopsy but did not tell me until after she had all the information from the incisional biopsy. She had them do a frozen cross section, so she would get the results immediately.
Me? This can’t be!
The Shock of Breast Cancer Diagnosis: What About My Baby?
My very first question after being diagnosed with breast cancer was what about my baby? What could we do to protect my baby? The surgeon said she recommended an immediate mastectomy because the edges of the biopsy were not “clean.” We couldn’t do reconstruction at the same time because of the pregnancy, but that was fine with me. I didn’t care about breast reconstruction – I just wanted to get this traitorous breast off my chest!
The next morning I got the call that we were scheduled for surgery the following Monday. Wait. I haven’t even had 24 hours to digest the fact that I have cancer, and you want me to have surgery in three days? Okay, I guess I don’t have a choice, but I did. A quick call to Brenda got me in for an emergency ultrasound to confirm the dates of my pregnancy.
Oh my God, no!!! No baby, what do you mean no baby?
“We are sorry. You have a sac, but the baby is gone.”
Gone? Gone where? To the corner for some milk? WHERE?
As I watched my husband break down in tears, I heard the words I had just uttered earlier echo in my ears: “It would have been better if I hadn’t been pregnant at this time because we wouldn’t have to worry about what the treatment will do to our child.”
Oh God, can I take those words back? Can I have my baby back? Please! I promise to never ever, ever speak those words again! I promise to do whatever you want, but please, can I have my baby back?
What more could I handle, I thought. I was about to find out…
Losing My Baby, Planning for Breast Reconstruction
The breast surgery was cancelled for the following Monday because I could now have reconstruction… Whoopee – new breast in exchange for a baby!
I think I got gypped.
Next stop, plastic surgeon. Here I stood, naked from the waist up, on a step as the doctor sat with his face at my chest level. He first lifted one breast, then the other. Then he grabbed my stomach to assess whether he could re-create a breast out of my tummy flesh, saying, “Hmmm, let’s see…” My husband was standing right next to him the whole time. Awkward.
After a round of squeezing and grabbing my tummy area, the surgeon announced, “I don’t think we have enough in your stomach to do a flap [to construct a breast] from there.” He has got to be kidding! Whose stomach was he grabbing, because I am here to tell you that there was plenty down there to get rid of! He decided the best bet would be to do a latissimus dorsi flap, taking flesh from my upper back instead of my stomach area. He vowed, with a smile on his face, to “make them better than they had ever been before.”
Our plans were to go into surgery about two weeks later. My surgeon would do my mastectomy, my plastic surgeon would do my reconstruction, and my OB-GYN would do an operation called a D&C or “dilation and curettage.” The D&C was because I was physically still pregnant; my body had not miscarried the pregnancy yet and even though the baby was gone I still had everything else in there. Twelve hours before I was scheduled to go into surgery, however, my body decided to have a miscarriage, so the D&C turned out to be unnecessary.
Treatment: After the Mastectomy
Surgery was followed by a very painful recovery and coming to recognize and accept the extent of my breast cancer. I was considered stage 2. I had two separate areas in the breast that had tumors and I had 2 out of 23 lymph nodes positive. This meant that I needed to go through six months of chemotherapy…whoopee…and probably radiation too. My plastic surgeon wasn’t thrilled about this part but agreed to do the reconstruction anyways.
Less than a month after my mastectomy, I underwent surgery to have a port placed so I could start chemotherapy. Chemotherapy started a few hours after the port was placed. My life had now become a living hell where everything appeared in grayscale and the only glimpse of living color was when my little boy smiled that oh so sweet smile of his. Will I be here to see that smile grow from that cute little baby smile to a handsome grown man smile? That question echoed in my head daily, hourly, sometimes every waking moment was filled with that question…