Guest blog: Counting the days until surgery

Guest blogger: Paula Ethier


I am counting down the days to my surgery.  Only a few more nights and when the rest of the country will be going to the polls I will be getting new breasts. 


I can’t say I dreamed of this day, and, as a matter of fact the decision to do this was only finalized after meeting my surgeon a couple months ago.  His confidence and optimism allowed me to think that I could really have this done.


In December 2002 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Although it was a shock to hear “it is cancer” and “you have a hell of a fight ahead of you”, a part of me expected cancer would come knocking at my door.   My mother died at the age of 39 from a recurrence of breast cancer.  Her journey started a decade earlier.  Her sister, my two cousins and my own sister, all diagnosed with breast cancer.  So why would I think that it would escape me?


When the surgeon told me I would need a mastectomy I knew that I wanted both breasts removed.  That decision was an easy one for me and I always knew that if I had breast cancer I would opt for bilateral mastectomy.  I had hoped that decision was years away and not just a couple months after my wedding. 


So I have been living breast-less these past 5 years.  Oh, I have prosthesis, quite the assortment really.  Swim prostheses in two sizes, off the shelf prosthesis in two sizes, and I even had custom made prostheses done with a mold from my girlfriend’s gorgeous breasts.  But I was just never satisfied and could not wait until I took them off.  It would be a running joke that when I got home from work I would say, “Just let me change and take my boobs off”. 


I started having similar feelings pre-surgery as I did over 5 years ago.  I am just terrified about going under anesthesia.  They are doing a procedure called DIEP Free Flap (deep inferior epigastric perforator).   Basically, removing the abdominal skin and fat to create breasts.  I am worried about my radiated side as it will be a challenge due to my skin being really tight and thin.   I think I am more terrified though about getting an IV put in.  After months and months of chemo and many needles being pierced into my veins…the nurses are left with a search and rescue mission. 


I find myself these past couple of weeks feeling protective of my flat chest just as I was protective of my breast before my mastectomies.   Change is difficult and I have had so much of it in a very short time.  Sometimes I wonder, why do this at all?  Why go through the extensive surgery, the lengthy recovery period and the emotional highs and lows? 


If I have to be really honest with myself then, I am having surgery so I can move forward with my life.  My husband decided to leave our marriage once I was through my two and half year ordeal, and after he found out he had testicular cancer.  I think I have been numb ever since.  Oh yes, very brave in front of everyone but really a coward to move forward in love, in career, in motherhood, in self.  I am hoping and very optimistic that my new breasts will give me something back that I lost that was so precious to me as a woman.  It will give me a sense of power and control of my life back. 


I may not be the vivacious carefree woman I was before cancer but I have a more profound understanding of life, the human spirit and I am amazed at the strength that comes through me when life throws me a curve ball.


But look, who is kidding who?  At the end of all of this I will have two new “girls” and a tummy tuck to boot.  When I get scared I just think of the end result and know it will be worth it.


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Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

0 responses to “Guest blog: Counting the days until surgery

  1. Pat

    I commend you for your bravery in having this surgery but I’m sure it will be so worth it in the end. I am also a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in April of 2003, had a lumpectomy, followed by 6 chemo sessions and 25 radiation sessions. I had found a lump in my breast and had seen a specialist about 2 years prior to being diagnosed. A needle biopsy was done and I was told that it wasn’t cancer and was nothing to worry about. I saw the doctor again about a year and a half later and again he just measured it and said not to worry. After about a year, I was getting a lot of pain and the shape of my breast was changing. I just knew it was cancer. A mammogram and ultrasound was done and I was told that they wanted to do a surgical biopsy as they suspected malignancy. I was terrified because it was right when SARS had just been found and nothing was being done in the hospitals. My doctor assured me that they would do whatever was needed. Well it turned out to be stage 2 with 3 lymph nodes affected as well. My mother had died of cancer in 1999 (not breast cancer) so of course my family was terrified. I have 3 amazing sisters and my Dad and many wonderful friends and colleagues. They all rallied around me to support me. Breast cancer does not run in my family at all so it came as a surprise but I have come to know now that most cases it is not genetic. It was quite a journey but I am here now a much wiser, stronger woman who realizes that she has much more strength than she thought. I also realize how fortunate I am to have my circle of friends and family and I am so very blessed. Yesterday I sent an e-mail to each and everyone of them to tell them how thankful I am to have them in my life. I have recently gone through a couple of hardships which have been very difficult but I know that I’ll get through it because what could be worse than knowing your health is on the line. I was very positive throughout that ordeal so I know I will go on and be stronger because of it. I have learned to appreciate everything in life and to express what I feel to those I love and care about.

    I commend Paula for taking this stance and wanting to feel better about herself. Of course we all know it’s what’s inside that really counts but no harm in making yourself feel better outwardly as well. It all goes hand in hand.

    Paula – Hold your head high – you’ve been through worse. This is a positive step in the right direction and girl, you will look so good in the end. All the best.


  2. Karla

    Paula, your brave front is stellar, your honesty tears my heart. You are by far a continue inspiration to myself in times of life’s curve balls. There isn’t another woman in my life who has not only caught the ball, but ran with it with dignity and grace. I am blessed to have been and continue to be a part of your life journey. I look forward to having the girls come out and play like they did in days gone by. Once again, you begin another chapter. I look forward to writing the adventure with you.

    I love you,


  3. Shari

    ♥ You are in my thoughts, of course; but more importantly, you are in my heart!

    ♥ Sending you thoughts of love, health and happiness; today and always.

    Shari (Shawn and Kira too)

  4. leannetheblogger

    Thanks for being so candid — reading the line “Oh yes very brave in front of everyone, but really a coward to move forward…” really struck a chord with me. I am wondering just how many women have put on their brave faces for family, for friends, or just to get through another day. I hope the surgery is a great success and your new “girls” bring you liberation from the things that have been holding you back. I’m full of admiration for you and so glad you shared your story — no coward would have been able to do that!

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