How much breast cancer chews up your schedule

Whether you’re newly diagnosed with DCIS or a more advanced form of breast cancer, you’ll notice it has a big time impact. One of the things that surprised me was just how much breast cancer chews up your schedule. I had something like 38 appointments in 20 weeks, and this did not include radiation, which was not in my treatment plan.

In case you’re wondering what all those appointments were for, I had two attempts at breast-conserving surgery, followed by a mastectomy with immediate first-stage reconstruction (This was followed a couple of months later by second-stage reconstruction and augmentation/lift of the other breast, followed by nipple reconstruction. They are not included in my appointment tally.)

Each surgery required consultations and follow-ups with my surgeon and/or plastic surgeon, and my family doctor and oncologist both wanted to track my progress. I believe all these visits were necessary; I just want to give you a sense of how much time the process can take.

The bigger thing you should be aware of is the pressure you may feel to do something right now once you’ve been diagnosed. Do not give in to that pressure. DCIS is very early stage, technically stage 0, so you are not putting yourself at risk by giving yourself time to think.

You’ll need it, because like so many things you don’t realize until you get there, your choice in breast cancer treatment is not written in stone. I had to decide between mastectomy and radiation. I also had to decide whether I wanted immediate reconstruction, and whether I wanted reconstruction on the other breast. The reconstructive choices were no brainers. Deciding between mastectomy and radiation, not so much.

While I was trying to decide, my mind was spinning so much I felt like a hamster on a wheel. I had to give myself permission to take the day off from thinking about it a couple of times, and it wasn’t easy. Distractions like movies gave me something to focus on aside from the contents of my head.

I should add that my time pressure was self-induced. My doctors were very good about giving me time, although my oncologist said I should take some time but not too much. I think he wanted to make sure I didn’t stall myself into total paralysis. I realize this may not be the case for everyone. If anyone, whether a doctor or family member, tries to pressure you into making a decision before you’re ready, don’t do it.

It’s your body and ultimately, your decision. Give yourself time to make the one that’s best for you.

Jackie Fox is the author of From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned And You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer, and blogs at Dispatch From Second Base.

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