As the conversation with her doctor continued, the possibility of a minor surgery to remove a lump in her breast began to fade away.
The doctor drew diagrams, showed her scans and talked about two spots the testing had shown in her breast.
Then, Barbara Rosebrock heard the word: mastectomy.
Suddenly she began to realize what was ahead of her: a more intense surgery, weeks of recovery and decisions about reconstruction.
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“As I put it all together, I began seeing I won’t be getting over this in just a week,” she said.
Rosebrock, 69, had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, where abnormal cells are found in milk ducts, after a mammogram detected something in her breast. She has dense breast tissue, so she had been called back after a mammogram before.
But this time, she also had to have an ultrasound and biopsy.
Initially, her doctor told her she might be able to get a lumpectomy, where just the spot in her breast could be removed.
Then, testing showed she had two spots in her breast, about 10 cm apart. A lumpectomy wouldn’t be possible because too much of her tissue would need to be removed, Rosebrock said.
“I’d never really had any health issues up to this point,” she said. “That was my first real jolt, but I tried to stay positive for my family.”
She reminded herself that her mother had a mastectomy and that it would be no big deal, Rosebrock said.
The upside with a mastectomy: She wouldn’t have to go through chemotherapy and radiation. She has to take an oral medication for five years to try to prevent the cancer from coming back.
But now she had decisions to make about reconstruction and what she wanted to do.
Her mother told her she didn’t need to do more surgery. But Rosebrock wanted to feel normal again once she was finished with treatment.
“The feel of your body would be totally different. Your clothes would fit differently,” she said.
She chose reconstruction, but she didn’t want implants. Because she has larger breasts, one implant wouldn’t be enough. And Rosebrock didn’t want anything foreign in her body that could lead to complications, like if the implant were rejected by her body or leaked.
So she chose another option, DIEP flap reconstruction, which would use her own abdominal tissue to reconstruct her breast.
“I just thought nothing can go wrong if they use my own tissue,” she said.
The surgery was intense. She had a large incision, where the surgeon removed abdominal tissue. And she did end up with complications when a spot in the center of her abdomen wasn’t healing. She had to visit the wound clinic and have a wound vacuum, which helps keep open wounds clean. And she had a hematoma, or a clot in her tissue, on her breast that she also had to visit the wound clinic for.
She worried her recovery would never end. She had to wait an extra six months to finish her reconstruction.
But she knows the complications she had were due to her body, not the surgery she chose, she said.
“After it was all over and done with, I’d still do it again,” she said.
She did end up with some scarring, but it isn’t really noticeable, she said.
“If you didn’t know it, you would not know I had anything done,” Rosebrock said.
During her recovery, she never struggled with pain. But at times, she also didn’t have any feeling, and she was out of it, sleeping a lot, due to the medications she was taking.
Rosebrock has always been the type of person to be up at 5 a.m., in bed by 10 p.m. and up to do it again in the morning. She retired after 45 years as a teacher in 2012.
So when she was not feeling herself, she worried. But she didn’t want to let her family — her mother who is in her 90s, her kids and her grandkids — worry about her.
For a while, she kept quiet. Until she finally got sick of it and asked her doctor and found out her symptoms were all very normal.
“What I was concerned about, not really verbalizing because I didn’t want to upset my family, was all normal,” Rosebrock said.
Through cancer, Rosebrock learned she couldn’t always be the caregiver. As a mother to an adult daughter with special needs, Rosebrock had always carried that role.
But one day, her therapist asked her what she was doing for herself, and Rosebrock couldn’t answer.
“I always put everyone in front of me. I learned you have to take care of yourself. I never did that before,” Rosebrock said.
She began getting massages. At first she wrestled with the cost, but then she realized she needed that time to herself to relax.
“I thought I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Now I realize I can’t afford not to.”
Name: Barbara Rosebrock
Diagnosis: ductal carcinoma
When diagnosed: 2012
Treatment: Mastectomy, five years of drugs to prevent the cancer from returning
What cancer taught me: It taught me, basically, that every day matters. Because you never know. In the blink of an eye, your life can turn around.
How cancer changed me: She had always been a caretaker, and always put others before herself. She learned she had to take care of herself, too.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed: Take a deep breath and tell yourself it is going to be OK. If you don’t have a positive attitude going into it, it will be a horrible experience. You can’t live in dread from diagnosis to surgery. Every appointment is a step closer to being done.