How my mom lost 12 pounds in a day

It’s the end of October, and I can’t let this month go by without revisiting a bit of Wise health history.

It all started in the summer of 2006. Mom had been told she could skip her mammogram in 2005 because she’d had so many normal ones. So, she went in for her routine test, hating how much those things hurt and how the nurses made a big deal of her large breasts.

Mom got a call from her doctor to come back into the office. When she walked into the office, there were images of her breasts all over the walls. The doctor showed her what he saw and said he was concerned. Mom came out and told dad what the doctor said, and dad was adamant that she not ignore this. She was scheduled for a biopsy. Then another. Every time the doctors went in to biopsy a nodule, they found a different one. It got so crazy they had to start flagging the ones they’d already tested. All told, there were at least 16 nodes the size of pearls that needed to be addressed.

In the midst of the biopsies, the nurses wouldn’t tell us what they thought was wrong. They just looked at mom with sad eyes, tried to hand her pamphlets to ease her anxiety. Mind you, she was anxious already about having her breasts bored into — her doctor had prescribed her Xanax just to get through the procedures. (That was actually a lot of fun for me. She was hilarious!) After one of the biopsies, I’d had enough. I thrust a pamphlet back under the nurse’s nose. The pamphlet said “How to cope with breast cancer,” like a trifold handout could begin to scratch the surface of that topic. I asked her, quite forcefully I’m told, “Is THIS what we’re talking about here? Why won’t you just SAY IT?!” The answer: “Most likely. But we don’t like to scare the patients.”

In the coming weeks, “most likely” became “definitely.” Lucky for mom, the cancer was in situ, Latin for “in place.” So, while there were many cancerous spots, they weren’t likely to metathesize. There was a good deal of clearance between where they’d found the nodes and where they’d have to cut, so the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body was minimal. Still, not being the type to tell you what you have to do, the doctors offered her the option of many lumpectomies or a mastectomy. 

When you’re a J cup, you have limited options

For those of you who don’t know mom, or who didn’t know her way back when, she was what you’d consider a large-chested woman. She was, in fact, a J cup. Yep, they really make them that big. She had big grooves in her shoulders from years of bra straps cutting into her, and she had to special-order her undergarments from England.

Here’s the thing about being a large-breasted woman facing breast cancer: You have to consider the balance of what’s left. Sure, mom could’ve had several lumpectomies, but with the experience she’d had going in for so many biopsies and always finding more problems, she wasn’t about to risk her life on balanced breasts. So she said she wanted a mastectomy. That’s when the plastic surgeon took a look at mom’s chest, the rib cage her breasts had permanently reshaped and the amount of work ahead — and threw in the towel.

Mom’s remaining breast was so large that the plastic surgeon could not safely insert enough silicone to balance mom back out. And they couldn’t even give her less than what she’d had because her rib cage was sunken from the weight of D+ cups since the age of 12. So, she had to choose to keep them both or cut them off. She had a long talk with dad, and they agreed — cut them off. Thanks to the sheer size of her breasts, mom went from an in situ diagnosis to a double mastectomy procedure in a matter of weeks.

That’s how mom lost 12 pounds in a day back in November 2006 — her breasts alone weighed about that much. In the weeks that followed, she suffered intense pain as fluid from the surgery drained into grenades she (and dad and I) had to empty almost constantly. She powered through it and never once showed any mourning for her lost chest. As soon as she could, she got fitted for external falsies. I’ll never forget the sound of her laughing as she told me she got “Bs for every day, Cs for special occasions and a set of Ds just for dad.” She sounded free.

And get this: Doctors tend to run tests on everything they cut off of people, just to see what would’ve happened. The tissue of the breast that didn’t have any nodes in it? Turns out there was the very beginnings of the worst kind of breast cancer imaginable. Mom saved her own life with her choice to be free of cancer rather than large-breasted.

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