“I could not live with the worry that my stage-0 cancer would recur”

As told to Shelley Levitt

Jessica Barlow, 45, Scarsdale, New York

Some people may find it surprising that I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is sometimes categorized as a stage-0 cancer. DCIS isn’t an invasive cancer; it involves abnormal cells that have not spread beyond the milk ducts. 

Last year, after my mammogram showed suspicious findings in my right breast, I went through tests that revealed I had DCIS. After a biopsy, I developed a painful hematoma, a pocket of blood that collected in my breast. But that pain was nothing compared with the psychological anguish I was going through while thinking about my future.

If I chose a lumpectomy and radiation, I might need to have mammograms every six months, but I couldn’t imagine going through this worry twice a year. My other choices were a single or double mastectomy followed by reconstruction. My survival odds were 99 percent with whatever treatment I chose.

The rest of my life factored into my decision. I have three kids and a big job, as the executive director of communications for LVMH fragrance brands. The game changer came when I realized that if I chose lumpectomy and radiation and later on the breast cancer recurred and I needed a mastectomy, the cosmetic results of reconstruction wouldn’t be nearly as good. Radiated skin is much more difficult to work with, so doctors often have to take tissue from other parts of the body. 

Once I decided on a mastectomy, choosing to have both breasts removed was easy; I wasn’t going to go through major surgery and still worry at the end of the day.

Six weeks after my surgery, I looked and felt fantastic and was hiking with my husband in Telluride, Colorado.  

Return to "Double Mastectomies: What Price Peace of Mind?"

First published in the February 2014 issue

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