My story is one of those ironic situations where when you hear the whole story, you kind of scratch your head and go WOW.
I was 36 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had spent many years studying at medical school, doing a seven-year general surgery residency and a one-year fellowship in breast surgical oncology. I had just started at my first practice.
I had been there just a little over a year when I decided to get my baseline mammogram on what was a slow Thursday afternoon on Oct. 29, 2009. I said to one of the mammogram technologists, “Hey, why don't we go back and let me get my baseline mammogram done? But, don't find anything, because I don't have time to deal with it right now.”
Little did I know my words would ring true.
As they were doing my mammogram I could see the monitor in the room. And as soon as they took the picture of my right breast, I saw an irregular nodule and said “S***, that's not supposed to be there.”
I was whisked off to ultrasound where I had a biopsy, and 24 hours later I got confirmation of an invasive ductal carcinoma diagnosis. I went immediately into doctor mode and scheduled an MRI of my breasts for the next day as well as a talk with my breast and plastic surgeons. Most importantly, I talked with my family at great length and ultimately decided that the best surgical option for me was to have a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction. My tumor was a stage I lymph node negative malignancy, however it was estrogen and progesterone receptor positive and Her 2 neu equivocal. My oncotype score was 31, so I had chemotherapy and Herceptin followed by five years of Tamoxifen. I am currently on Femara.
It has really been interesting to reflect on my treatment and my journey within the context of being a breast surgeon. I got the disease I take care of. But, my cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now my survivorship, has made my life so much more meaningful and enjoyable.
I often do public speaking educating women on the importance of early diagnosis and knowing our family history. One of the things always talk about is the fact that being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age allowed me to look back on my life and how I was living, and to move forward and live the life I wanted to and not the one that was expected of me.
Before my cancer diagnosis, my life was about work. I was so focused on building a practice to the detriment of my own social life and my health, that it is scary to think about that life now . After cancer, my new focus became taking care of myself physically and emotionally.
I began going to the gym and eating a healthy, balanced diet. I spent more time traveling with my family and making time for my friends. I adopted the two most precious, adorable, loving dogs to help me in my recovery and provide me with unconditional love. I started to do the things that I had put off while I was too busy training and working. It took cancer for me to finally find balance in my life, and I feel that has been the greatest gift that this diagnosis has given me.
One of the other amazing gifts being diagnosed with breast cancer has given me is that I connect with my patients on a whole different level. They're not only my patients, they are my fellow thrivers and survivors. I have learned so much more from my them than I think they learn from me.
My community of fellow survivors and thrivers has become much more than just the people I take care of personally. With social media I have been able to find a far-reaching community of women living with or touched by breast cancer. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have run across AnaOno's website link on Facebook and to have had the opportunity to communicate with Dana. Her line of postmastectomy and post-reconstruction lingerie made me cry tears of joy at first sight.
As a 36-year-old single woman I looked at my post-surgical breasts, which I thought were beautifully reconstructed but a work in progress, and thought do I look less like a woman now? Am I less of a woman now? I pondered how I was ever going to find a bra that doesn't irritate or hurt my healing incisions under my breast. Is there such a bra that doesn't ride up and rub against the incisions? Plus, having seen what most women were wearing after mastectomy, I thought to myself, “Oy vey, I'm going to have to wear my mom's bras with the matching granny panties.”
But God bless Dana. She understood that one of the most important parts of survivorship is reclaiming your sexual identity as a woman. A HUGE part of feminine identity is feeling beautiful naked or in sexy lingerie that is comfortable and specifically-made for women who have had mastectomies and reconstruction. I looked at those bras and panties and I thought “You are an angel from heaven.”
I quickly ordered way more than I would care to share in an online post.
I also emailed my story to Dana and to AnaOno because I felt it was important for them to know what an amazing opportunity they were creating for the thousands upon thousands of women of all ages who have had mastectomies and have lost that sense of femininity and beauty. The moment I received my bras and my panties, I put them on and they fit like a glove. I looked in the mirror, and I no longer saw myself as a breast cancer patient or survivor, I saw myself as a young woman like any other young woman who would be getting ready to go to work, go out with friends, or even go out on a date. My confidence instantly grew as I looked in that mirror, and I had a sense of peace. It was the last part of the puzzle for me to feel whole as a woman.
I have communicated several times with Dana about all the ways in which her lingerie does everything right for women who have had mastectomies from the lack of an underwire to the support on the sides of the bra and to the carefully constructed cups that don't show scars. I've also communicated with her just to say thank you for making these beautiful bras and panties, and thank you for allowing me to share them with my patients and with my friends. Thank you mostly for being so thoughtful as to share your journey and your fears and your issues after treatment and then become part of the amazing solution.
If you were to ask me what the hardest part of survivorship has been for me, I could tell you it’s the nagging fear of recurrence, residual chemo brain and menopause, but truly the hardest part of survivorship for me has been helping guide my patients through their survivorship so they can get to the place I’ve arrived at six years later; a place of acceptance, joy and hope for a beautiful and whole future.
AnaOno is a community that is all about celebration of life and joy and beauty. And for me to be able to share that with my patients and my friends who are struggling with life after not only breast cancer, but any kind of cancer that makes you feel less whole, has been the greatest gift. Thank You does not seem like enough, but if you could see my heart and the love, admiration and joy inside, you would know the impact your company has had on me and thousands of women around the globe.
Dr. Dana Holwitt is a Breast Surgeon in Montclair, NJ. You can read more about her story here.