Elizabeth Edds, 42, of Calgary, is a part-time human-resources consultant with the federal government. She is married and has a 10year-old son.
My mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother all got breast cancer in their 40s. My mother died of it when I was eight: she was diagnosed in May and she died in October. It was a tough thing for a child to deal with. So I grew up fearing that this would be my fate, as well. I had my first mammogram in my early 20s, to get a baseline reading. For quite a while I was apprehensive about becoming a parent myself because I didn’t want to leave a child the way I had been left. And sure enough, when I was 33 and my son was a year old, my doctor found a large lump in my breast, but luckily it was not cancerous. My breasts were lumpy and
it was hard even for the doctor to tell what all this stuff was in there.
Then, every year after that, there was a scare. Either the doctor or I would find a lump. Because my breasts were fibrocystic, they were heavy and uncomfortable, and there were little jabs of pain all the time. So it was an issue I could never get away from. I was becoming more fearful and depressed. Eventually, I began to feel I was losing control. I didn’t know what to do and felt there was nothing I could do.
In 1988, a new doctor referred me to a local cancer centre, where a surgeon told me about preventive mastectomies. I started to think that this might be the lifeline I was looking for—I felt like I was being swept down a river and this one branch was being extended to me. Yes, it’s drastic, but I thought, ‘I’d give a lot to be able to get rid of this issue and have a worryfree chest’—it seemed like a dream come true. They can never guarantee 100 per cent that you won’t get breast cancer, because it’s possible to miss one breast cell and maybe that is the one that turns can-
cerous. But obviously, if you don’t have breasts, your chances of getting breast cancer are much less.
It was a hard decision to make emotionally, and I wrestled with it for about four months. Around the same time, a relative by marriage who was the same age as me then, 36, was dying of breast cancer, and she deteriorated very rapidly. That prompted me to set a date for surgery. I had it in April, 1989, and I felt like this huge rock had been taken off my head. It gave me a whole new lease on life.
I didn’t have reconstruction—that decision caused me a lot of distress at the time. But I just didn’t want to go through more surgery, especially since they didn’t seem to have all the problems worked out of implants. The last thing I wanted was to change one set of chest problems for another. Now, I feel 100 per cent comfortable with the way I am. My husband has been totally supportive. He wanted me to do whatever would keep me alive and healthy. The bottom line is, my life is much better now than it was before.
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