Rochelle Brown didn’t think twice when it came to the decision to have both of her breasts removed.
While the 55-year-old mother of two and proud grandmother may not fill out a sweater as she once had, or have an easy time finding a swim suit, a little trouble in the dressing room trumps the alternative — cancer.
“Because I went through with the operations, I can live,” said the Cloverdale, B.C. resident, who decided to go for a double mastectomy and hysterectomy after testing positive for the BRCA (breast cancer susceptibility) gene back in 2010.
She also had a lengthy history with cancer, which made its mark throughout her body, including her breast. Having the inheritable factor — a genetic trait she shares with her 52-year-old sister — means an increased lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
“It’s not about if you get cancer, it’s about when you get cancer. Now I don’t have to worry, I get to hug my grandchildren, I get to enjoy my life… the alternative, well, it’s not worth breasts.”
For the IHOP waitress, the dreaded c-word first reared its ugly head in 1998 in the form of colon cancer. While it was successfully removed, a spot showed up a year later in her lung. Just when she thought she was in the clear, it was back again — this time in her left breast.
Despite the endless bouts of radiation, chemotherapy and having lost every last strand of her hair, Brown kept a positive attitude and her sense of humour. She also decided to forgo wearing a wig.
“I just figured, this is it, this is me, take it or leave it,” said Brown, matter-of-factly.
Although she’s a petite woman, standing at about five feet, what she lacks in height, she certainly makes up for in her fiery personality. Some would even call her a woman to be reckoned with.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing a wig, but for me, I knew I’d just feel odd.”
While Brown has always felt comfortable in her own skin, the notion of new breasts — a ‘bonus’ of having a double mastectomy in B.C. — was appealing at first.
“I thought, oh wonderful, I’m gonna have the boobs I never had,” she laughed. “You have this fantasy that you are going to have these gorgeous young-looking breasts and you don’t have to pay for them.”
However, Brown would soon discover the toll the operations would take on her physically was a price she wasn’t willing to pay.
“It was very painful in my case,” said Brown, who received regular injections of a saline solution to stretch the skin where her breasts had been. The stretching process is necessary to accommodate implants.
As a result of the radiation, her left breast wouldn’t take to the procedure.
“It wouldn’t stretch so that implant would push back into my chest cavity,” said Brown, who notes the process isn’t as painful for everyone. “I know there are women, my sister included, who go on to have the reconstructive surgery and it isn’t all that bad. But for me, it was so painful that I could barely breathe.”
Her oncologist presented her with three options: taking a muscle from her back and bringing it to her breast, removing one implant and leaving the other in place, or, she could also wait 10 years and try the procedure again.
None of the above appealed to Brown, who bid farewell to her fantasy of having perfect breasts, or any breasts at all for that matter.
“I told him to just take them both. Yes, it would have been fun to have cleavage for once, but not for how far I’d have to go to get it.”
Brown’s hair has since grown back, but unlike her silky red strands, her breasts will never return. While she admits, it took a little getting used to when the bandages first came off and some gentle encouragement from her husband, Mo, she doesn’t feel any less of a woman.
“It was hard at the beginning having Mo look at me, but we have overcome that together. That’s how you do it, together.”
Looking back, Brown doesn’t regret her decision, nor would she ever discourage other women from going ahead with reconstructive surgery.
“I was in a place in my life where I didn’t really need them anymore. I’m older, I’ve had my babies and I am lucky to have a really good marriage,” she said. “It would be a much harder decision if I was younger or single. Every situation is different, every woman is unique.”
However, she does encourage women to go for their regular mammograms.
“Don’t wait until it’s too late, because you just don’t know. I don’t know if I’d be here today if I had waited… it could have been way worse. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Sex and the Suburb is proud to partner with Cascades Casino Resort as an official media sponsors of the 8th annual Women’s Poker Classic — the largest women’s only poker tournament in Canada supporting the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Over the past seven years, the event has raised more than $250, 000 for the non profit organization.
We encourage you, our beautiful, fabulous readers, to do your part in the fight against Breast Cancer by joining us in supporting this great event, returning to Cascades Casino Feb. 14-17.
Cascades Casino Resort is currently looking for sponsorship, donations to the Breast Cancer Foundation, and items for the silent auction. Anyone interested is asked to contact Lisa-Marie Passarelli at 604-539-4424.
For more information, visit www.cascadescasino.ca