Spotlight Series

#LOVEBeyondAwareness Ambassador

@reneeridgeley

I wasn’t surprised when I got breast cancer.  I knew I had the #1 risk: I owned boobs.  I also knew from the radiologist that those specks of salt on my mammogram were likely Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) which is Stage 0 and not invasive.  My gynecologist said DCIS is not cancer by definition since it cannot spread.  My internist said “DCIS is not going to kill you, but it’s not going to be fun either.”

What?? Cancer that isn’t cancer… won’t kill me but… This was a conundrum.

I took a month to research DCIS before I had the stereotactic biopsy. I learned that DCIS has several grades, just like invasive breast cancer has several stages. I decided if the biopsy results showed low grade DCIS, I would consider a watch & wait approach.  Unfortunately, I had the highest: DCIS grade 3 with comedo necrosis (this last word I still humorously mispronounce as comedy death since my standup comedy side gig stopped when my breast reconstruction began).

My DCIS was big (>7mm) so I need a mastectomy.  I also needed tamoxifen for 5-10 years if I kept the other breast. I barely take aspirin, so I didn’t want to take a decade of hormone disruptors and assume the risks (uterine cancer, blood clots, stroke, etc). I told my surgeon I wanted a bilateral mastectomy and was leaning towards no reconstruction.

Going flat seemed like the easiest choice since I had already used my boobs for their best purpose – breastfeeding. Plus, I thought I would look kinda cool without boobs and I didn’t like the idea of foreign objects in my body. Then one of my friends said “Why would you do that?? It’s so angry” and I started second-guessing myself. It didn’t help that all the surgeons I met with to remove my breasts gave me referrals to plastic surgeons as if rebuilding boobs was part of the treatment.

So I did what 100,000 breast cancer patients do every year. I got implants. The result was a 3-year complication-filled disaster that I am still recovering from. I wrote about some of my complications for the Washington Post in case you want the gory details. I don’t think my body will ever return to its pre-implant health (one too many severed muscles and autoimmune disorders triggered) but I have adjusted to my collateral damage. Breast reconstruction took away some of my carefree nature but it gave me a cause.

I created an advocacy campaign Less Than Two Breasts and Instagram gallery to normalize bodies after cancer and increase the media & medical visibility of women flat after mastectomy. I started a successful Change petition that was delivered to the FDA, sit on the Breast Implant Working Group of the National Center for Health Research, and on the board for Dr. Susan Love Foundation.  I am writing a guidebook that supports all options, and I have amazing friendships that would not have been made if I hadn’t gone through the ringer.  So FU cancer and implants. And thank you cancer and implants.

In case you would like to hear more, I’m on some podcasts:

The Breast Podcast Ever

Cure Magazine

Flat Is Where It’s At

 

 

 

 


(Disclaimer: This webpage may contain general information relating to various medical conditions and their treatment. Such information is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified health professional. Patients should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing a health or fitness problem or disease. Patients should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis or treatment.)

 

 

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