Thank you for sharing this story about your dear friend Dorothy. We all need people in our lives that inspire us. Also, thank you Dorothy for sharing your life story with us.
In the beginning............... In 1953, at the age of twelve, I was diagnosed with a severe endemetriosis and prescribed a medicine that the family doctor felt confident would correct the problems I was experiencing. Later, determined to be massive daily doses of estrogen administered orally. I remained on this medicine until I was 29 years of age. In 1966, when I was 25, I came to live in America from England. In 1970, two weeks after my 29th birthday, and in the midst of a very abusive marriage, I discovered a lump in my right breast very close to my armpit. It did not hurt at all. I decided I would ignore it, assuming it would go away, and I continued to enjoy my stage work as a dancer. I believed that if it did not hurt, it was not serious. After about two months, I was encouraged to consult with a doctor who almost immediately referred me to a surgeon. After a thorough examination, I was advised that without immediate surgical intervention, my life expectancy was 3-6 months at the most. This particularly aggressive cancerous growth had presented very close to my right lymph gland. So at 29 years, I received the surgery to hopefully save my life. I was offered two options for surgery, one less invasive, which would require chemotherapy and radiation. The other option was more invasive surgery without chemotherapy and radiation. I selected the second option, as I wanted to keep my ankle length hair, which was a very important feature for my stage work. I had recently been offered an opportunity to perform in a nightclub every Saturday night. Surgery was performed, and it was found that the cancer had spread. The removal of 24 lymph nodes was necessary (20 of which were found to be positive) together with the right lymph gland and pectoral muscle. I had eight hours of surgery, 78 stitches and three weeks in the hospital. My surgeon felt confident that they had “got it all” but that a ten year waiting period would now be in effect for any re-occurrence. Whilst recovering, I became curious and needed to look at my body. Indeed it was not a pretty sight and one I will never forget. However, the doctors were confident that the surgery was successful and that my young life had been spared. I was told whilst in the hospital that I (at the time) was one of the youngest women on record to have this dreadful disease. During the course of my recovery, I was introduced to the “reach to recovery” programme and a wonderful lady whom I shall call Claire. Claire represented the American Cancer Society, and it was her job to visit people like myself and guide them into the use of the breast prosthesis. Which she did so very well. A very important part of the psychological healing and adjustment required to “face the world” so to speak. She assisted me in finding the correct style for me, and then proceeded to teach me how to re-use my arm. Because of the guidance and support given to me by the American Cancer Society (Claire), I gradually gained confidence in the knowledge that an artificial breast can look and feel perfectly natural. I could once again face my world on stage and off. Learning to re-use my arm was a serious challenge because the surgery was so extensive. However, I was determined to do so, I redesigned my dance wear and some time later (three months), I resumed my stage work once again. It was not revealed to me, but to my husband, that because of the type of cancer I had (aggressive and feeding off of my ovaries) I must have a total hysterectomy as soon as I was strong enough, in addition, under no circumstances was I to become pregnant. Although 24 lymph nodes were removed, and the last four were negative, if there was one dormant cancer cell remaining, it could and would revive, multiply through my ovaries and the cancer would reappear. In consequence, an unborn child and I would perish. Sadly, some time later a pregnancy occurred as previously stated, not having been made aware of the facts, I consulted a gynaecologist as I was not feeling well. My remaining left breast was extremely enlarged and very painful. The gynaecologist/surgeon discovered the 11th week pregnancy and requested a thorough physical. Upon examining my upper body, he was profoundly disturbed by the recent radical/radical mastectomy. He immediately ordered copies of, any and all, reports. I was subsequently told that an immediate therapeutic abortion was necessary to be performed, followed six weeks later by a total hysterectomy. My life was once again in jeopardy. It was explained to me that this procedure would put my body into an immediate surgically induced menopause. I was reminded that without this surgery, I would once again face certain death. I was unable to accept the fact that at 30 years of age, not only would I lose the foetus in my womb, but I would never be able to bear a child of my own. Acceptance was an unbearable thought, and with that in mind, I consulted several other gynaecologists/surgeons who sadly gave me the same response, with the exception of one. This particular specialist had a very different “solution”. Because of his religious beliefs, he explained his alternative to me in the following manner: I would be monitored closely during the course of my pregnancy. In the eight month, I would enter the hospital, wherein, the unborn child would be removed from my body and I would eventually pass away from the effects of the cancer. In the interim, I would be encouraged to seek and select the adoptive parents within the realm of the surgeon’s religious community. I would be permitted to name the child and choose the adoptive parents. It was also explained to me that I would prepare for my funeral as I would not survive a full term pregnancy. That is why the unborn child would be removed from my womb at eight months. After many connecting moments with my conscience, I came to the very sad conclusion that I wanted to live. Carrying the knowledge of the threat attached to my pregnancy, I proceeded with a therapeutic abortion. Seven weeks later a total hysterectomy was performed. My consolation for this life saving procedure (mine) was in the thought that I could eventually adopt a child. I was supported by friends to think in this direction, which did indeed give me encouragement. The challenge of being unable to bear a child began to invade my mind. So I began extensive enquiries about a future adoption. Once again I am challenged with the same response from the various agencies through which I made enquiries. Because of the severity of the cancer, I was too high a risk to allow any adoption. After receiving this news I was in a state of despair and feeling myself fading away. I consequently and eventually consulted a psychologist. During the course of my visits with, her, the doctor guided me very gently and one day said “What would you like to do with the rest of your life?” I answered, work with animals. This ultimately led into buying my first Yorkshire Terrier from England. I did not know it then but this Yorkshire Terrier would be the beginning of the rest of my life.
In the year 2000, I became aware of an unusual feeling of discomfort in my remaining breast. This obvious change in my body compelled me to seek medical attention. The initial examination did not reveal anything, but my sense of urgency remained. I persisted in my pursuit to discover what was ailing me, and eventually, with the help of an enlarged ultrasound (mammogram did not reveal anything) two tumours were discovered in my breast. Both were of the aggressive type, one was attached to my rib and the other floating in the main breast area. Needless to say, another mastectomy was performed and once again my life had hopefully been spared. Six lymph nodes were removed, four of which were positive, and the last two were negative indicating that this time the cancer had been hopefully stemmed early.
I recovered to resume my journey through life. I had entered one of my Yorkshire Terriers in the Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show, and determined not to be deterred by being breastless, and encouraged by my dear friends and colleagues, in the breed, I did in fact show my girl. Holding her lead was painful and difficult, as I had not regained full use of my arm, but I persevered. I now did not have any breasts at all and was acutely aware of their absence. However as the saying goes, “Stiff Upper Lip” I eventually ordered two full breasted prosthesis, slightly larger than my natural breast size (WHY NOT)!!! I have been cancer free (in remission?) for almost ten years.
It should be well noted that, at no time did I receive any chemotherapy or radiation, treatments. I had planned to do so when I had my ankle length hair cut off in three stages and sent to Locks of Love in Florida. But I changed my mind. My life today at 68+ is full. Breeding, exhibiting, and more recently, provisionally approved to judge my beloved Yorkshire Terriers, AND, for the sheer joy of doing it, I am also an accomplished ballroom dancer presently at silver level, with aspirations for top level which is gold.