Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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Single or double? (Not talkin’ lattes)

As the end of chemo nears, my thoughts have turned to surgery. Three weeks after my last round of chemo I’ll have a mastectomy that will include taking lymph nodes in my right arm, too.

The question is, whether to take the other – for now healthy – breast, too.

It’s not an easy decision. When I first was diagnosed, I wanted to have the mastectomy first. I was frightened and wanted the disease and tumors gone from my body as quickly as possible. In my view my right breast was trying to kill me. “Get it off of me. Now,” I said.

Doctors thought the prudent path was to first shrink the tumors, which is being done. So now here we are with all of these months to think about the Big Picture: the removal of a part of my body.

Despite the extra time to think, the deadline for me to decide whether I should have a single or double mastectomy seems like it’s coming at a rapid pace.

There is no question one breast has to go, but what are the odds the cancer will return on the left side later? Am I genetically predisposed to this despite the absence of breast cancer in my immediate family?

No one seems to have the answers I seek. And no one wants to tell me which decision is right for me.

So I’ve been reading, and reading and reading. The Internet is a wonderfully scary place. Generally speaking, it seems that the odds my cancer will metastasize elsewhere are greater than it will occur in my other breast. However, it also seems that with each passing year the chance of my having cancer in my left breast will increase by 1 percent. Assuming I have a 15 percent chance of recurrence (and I have no idea what that number really is) that means 25 percent in 10 years and 35 percent by the time I’m 70. I don’t really like those odds.

The problem is I have to decide pretty soon. If I opted for a single mastectomy now, but a year from now decided that the fear of a recurrence was too great for me to bear, it’s too late for insurance to pay.

I found a few surveys that said women who have doubles generally do not regret the decision – and they live with less fear than those who have singles. But those who have singles also generally are happy with that decision. But the survey did not address issues related to body image and intimacy. Will I feel incomplete? Unattractive? Undesirable?

How will I react intellectually and emotionally when I look to see a scar where my breast once was, or both once were? I wish I had the answers to these questions.

One thing I do know for sure is that I would never want to go through this again. But with chemo starting to appear in my rear view mirror, is that reason enough to cut off a supposedly healthy body part, and one so associated with my being?

Life was easier when our parents simply told us what to do.

3 Responses to “Single or double? (Not talkin’ lattes)”

  • Maria:

    Hey Tracie,

    I can only tell you what I would do and what a friend of mine did. I would opt for the double because there is always the option of Reconstruction :) I don’t think you have to pay for that either!(although, that would depend on your insurance I suppose). My friend who was about 35 at the time she was diagnosed with cancer, right away decided to get a double masectomy. She also, had no history of breast cancer in her family. She was (and is still) young with two young girls. However, that did not stop her from wanting to get rid of her breasts to ensure that the cancer would not attack her again. So, she had both breasts removed. She did get reconstruction after a couple of months after her surgery and she now has two normal looking breasts and she looks great! She opted not to get her areola redone. I think she has great support from her husband and family that she just felt comofortable without the added extras.

    You have so much support from everyone, it does not matter whether you have one or both removed,you are still the same lovable person. In the end, it is your decision and I’m sure that no matter what, everyone is behind you 100%!

    You are a tough cookie and you are beating this! I’m so releived that your chemo is nearing it’s end :)

  • Lee Q:

    Each breast is a part of Tracie but neither IS Tracie.

    One of the (few) pleasures of being 70 is that none of us codgers give a damn how we appear — not only to others, but even to ourselves! That’s obvious, of course, to anyone who looks at an old man. But it’s difficult, I know, for some of my “elderly” friends to come to grips with the growing suspicion that we are not at all who we used to think we were: we are not tall people or short people or fat people or healthy people or ill people or liberal people or insane right-wing nuts. Who we are, in fact, is a question that lies at the heart of that fabled “sweet mystery of life.”

    Whatever your decision, it will be the correct one. And the Tracie I love and all of us love won’t be diminished by one bit, no matter what stays and what goes.

    Pardon me for being wooey-wooey but sometimes one just can’t help it.

  • Hi Tracie: I have read all your writings since you began. Now I must throw in my opinion…DOUBLE. I am 71 and it has been at least 30 years since boobs made a bit of difference to me or my husband. RECONSTRUCTION is out there and works fine if you wish. You have been thru so much, come a long way,good doctors and you are almost there. Please don’t stop now. If one breast is left for whatever reason you will be haunted needlessly for the rest oF your life. You do not need one breast for any reason in my opinion. Please do yourself, your family, your so many friends that love you a favor…….DOUBLE. TRACIE WE ALL LOVE YOU..only you needs to come thru all of this well and happy…you deserve the best forever. Love from Bobby,Gayle,Debbie

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