“My Voice” by Paula Shelton

Paula Shelton - 'Survivor'

First, I never ever thought I would be here or that I would be a “survivor”.  I always do the Susan Komen runs each year and send money in to support the Livestrong foundation and I even wear my yellow band…

But last February, February 26th to be exact was when my life changed.  That was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  There were 4 masses on my mammogram and confirmed with the repeat mammogram and ultrasound.  That was when I heard the words from my radiologist ” you have breast cancer”.  The first thought that flashed through my head wasn’t “was I going to die” or “am I going to lose my breast” but “what is Mark going to say”?  Mark is my boyfriend and we had been together just over a year.  He didn’t sign up for this I thought.  So after I cried and cried and just wanted to sink through the floor and disappear, I got myself together so my voice wouldn’t shake and I called my Mom.  I told her and talked to her and told her I’d have more information later on.  Then I called Mark, I told him.  To my surprise he didn’t hang up, he asked what did I need him to do?  I asked if he would come to my biopsy.  My radiologist, who was so wonderful and supportive, stayed over as well as her assistant so she could do my biopsy that day.  After, I walked out and Mark was there and hugged me and asked me what I needed him to do.  He’s still with me after a very stressful year.

So I will say and it will sound odd to most but my cancer was a blessing in a way.  It showed me how many friends I really have, real friends, the ones who will truly do anything and everything for me.  It brought Mark and I closer together.  Its made me realize what is important and what is truly not important.

Its not easy, 5 surgeries so far (bilateal mastectomy and then reconstructions) as well as 6 rounds of chemotherapy and losing my hair (which was much harder than losing my breasts) but its a day by day thing and when its done you’ll look back and say “well, I did make it through that and it wasn’t the nightmare I thought it would be”.

I had to have a mastectomy on my left because after I had an MRI it showed I had 6 masses total.  The mammogram only picked up 4 and none were palpable through self or breast exam.  I was young, 45, and had 5 primary sites, 1 secondary site and two invasive forms of cancer.  I opted for a prophylactic mastectomy on my right.

So, what does survivor mean to me?  Right now, being just over 1 year out from diagnosis, it means I’ve made it through treatment and surgery and made it.  I’ve been able to look in the mirror and see the changes in my body and I can handle them.  I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle losing all my hair but the next thing I knew I was running around bald head and all with just a ball cap and not thinking a thing about it.  I never thought I would be able to handle what I would look like without my breasts but when I looked in the mirror the next day after my bilateral mastectomy I thought, that doesn’t look as bad as I thought and I was ok.  I know each year “survivor” will have a different meaning for me but for now it means I can do this day by day.

Paula Shelton
Age 46
Diagnosed Feb 26, 2009 with Invasive ductal carcinoma, and Invasive cribriform carcinoma.  Final pathology, 5 primary sites, one secondary site, largest mass 2 x 1.5 x 1 cm
4-15 Bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders (my birthday)
5-22 DIEP
5-26 Emergent removal of left flap with tissue expander placement
7-2 Left lat flap
8-10 — 11- 23 Chemotherapy, 6 rounds Taxotere and Cytoxan
3 – 5 More reconstruction, abdominal incision revision, lift left and right “foob”, lipo hips and right side of back, left side of back incision revision.
Plan: Continued reconstruction, decrease size of left to C cup to match right, then nipple reconstruction