“I had my breasts removed because my risk factors were high”

As told to Shelley Levitt

Elizabeth Thompson, MD, 46, Mount Kisco, New York

I was in medical school when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After my internship, I decided to become a radiation oncologist. I wanted to help women like my mother and also like my grandmother and great-grandmother, who had both survived breast cancer.

In 2004, after my fourth child was born, I saw a genetic counselor. It turned out I don’t have the BRCA mutation that puts people at high risk for cancer. Still, when my risks were factored into a computer model, the genetic counselor thought my odds of getting breast cancer were 40 to 50 percent.

That was too high for me. I’m not a gambler. And I’m a little bit of a coward. I felt as if I had a time bomb ticking inside me. I didn’t want to undergo chemotherapy if breast cancer was found years later. What’s more, I was losing too much of my life to screenings, follow-ups and worry. I had small breasts to begin with, and so much tissue was depleted by biopsies, there wasn’t much left.

On May 4, 2006, I had prophylactic mastectomies with direct-to-implant, one-step reconstruction, which means new breasts are constructed during the same surgical session. The first week of recovery wasn’t fun; the drains in my breasts were incredibly painful. This experience prompted me to design a line of postmastectomy bras and recovery kits to make the postsurgical period easier for women (bfflco.com). Yet 12 days after the mastectomy, I did my normal five-mile run.

My breasts look great. My only cosmetic gripe is that they’re a C cup, which is bigger than I would have liked—I’m not used to having my breasts enter a room before I do. My husband would probably say they look nice, but I have no sensation, and from a sexual perspective that takes getting used to. 

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

First published in the February 2014 issue

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