Angela Bybee - Dr. Marga's February 2012 Mermaid of the Month
Looking back, my journey began officially 7 years ago this month - February 8, 2005. I sat in the office of a surgeon who I had never met and was told I had breast cancer. Suddenly there was no sound, just a ringing in my ears. There were no thoughts in my mind, just a static, as if life stopped. As if it were actually that black and white, my journey actually started a little sooner without me knowing.
I had just turned 30 years old in December 2004, and with the beginning of 2005 came the news that I was pregnant with my first child. As a result of my first exam with my OB/GYN, a small pea-sized lump was found. This is fairly common in pregnant women, they told me, and as a precaution were sending me for an ultrasound. A week later, after having the ultrasound, the surgeon reading it "highly suggested" that I make an appointment with a general surgeon just to be sure, but it was probably nothing. The suggested surgeon couldn't see me for 8 weeks, but her associate could see me in a few days. Anxious to be told that all was ok, I met with this surgeon, and after another ultrasound, he decided that I needed a biopsy, and I would hear from the office in a few days. By close of business that day, I had received a call from the office that they had the results of my biopsy and the surgeon I couldn't see for 8 weeks wanted to see me the next morning. Talk about a bad feeling sitting in the pit of your pregnant stomach...
So as I sat in my chair across from the doctor who I will say saved my life, slowly I came back in tune to the situation I was faced with. I was slowly starting to hear words, and they were becoming more and more clear. I had breast cancer. I had breast cancer. I had breast cancer. But wait - I'm pregnant too. I'm a 30 year-old woman, pregnant for the first time, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now what do I do?
As harsh of a reality as it was, I had to decide the fate of my pregnancy. Treatment without the baby could be more aggressive and better in the long run for me, but could result in the possibility of no future babies. With the baby was a lot riskier because just about anything could cause me to miscarry, including the lumpectomy I had to have. As the decision weighed on me, all I could think about was the feeling of pure joy that washed over me when I found out I was pregnant; then came the other feeling of sheer terror to have to give that up with the chance I'd never get that back. So it was obvious to me...
I was scheduled for a lumpectomy the beginning of March, and a week after was back in the surgeon's office. I was officially diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma-In-Situ, and even better than that (insert sarcasm here), it was Her 2+, which made it an extremely aggressive nasty kind that plain chemo would not simply take care of. But there's more; even though the tumor was only 9mm, I was negative for lymph node involvement, and initial margins were cleared, pathology past those margins showed more bad stuff. This is where my surgeon saved my life because had she not gone above and beyond, I would have not known there was more cancerous cells waiting to regroup. So back to surgery I went...two weeks later I had a simple mastectomy. And now I had a simple problem- I only had one breast - that couldn't be dealt with any time soon.
A few months later, me and my pregnant self started chemotherapy - yep, "it " was still going strong with me. We made it through nausea, tiredness, baldness, and all those other fun side-effects, and after 4 rounds (12 weeks) were left alone to finish our time together in peace.
On August 11, 2005 Caeleigh Hope finally came to greet me. And it was very clear to me that becoming a mommy was the second hardest thing I'd have to do in a year - but worth every minute.
That break from the reality of my cancerous existence ended in October with another year of chemo- Taxol is a nasty drug that once again relieved me of my hair, but gave me the gift of no radiation necessary. A very good thing!
Fast forward to 2010...I had finally decided that it was time that I finally closed the book on Cancer. I was cancer-free for 5 years - that all-important mark to so many of us, and I had had made it with no recurrence in the other breast. But I still felt that I wasn't going to be done with this part of my life until I could have my reconstruction. I didn't get the option of mastectomy with reconstruction because only necessary procedures were to be done while I was pregnant. So it had to wait - I had managed to get through with a prosthetic, but had decided that I had enough of shopping difficulties and wanted to be happy with what I was seeing in the mirror again. So I started shopping, but for a plastic surgeon.
After a TON of researching on-line, and referrals by other brave women that had "been there", I had narrowed my options down and gone on some consultations. Implants, expanders, nipple-sparing, FLAP procedures - after a while they all started to sound like the same thing from a pre-recorded message - just press play, please. I felt like I had no idea where to go or who could help - or even what to have done. Enter Dr.Marga...
My husband Brian - I know I haven't mentioned him at all, but for the record, he is the best husband any woman could ask for. Throughout everything that I had to experience, he was there without question or hesitation and never once flinched. Supportive doesn't even scratch the surface of what he was and is to me, whether it was taking care of me during pregnancy chemo or giving me the chance to get back to being the woman he fell in love with 20 years ago. So for our 11th wedding anniversary, he took me to the little town of New Orleans to meet this plastic surgeon that I had heard so much about...
The idea of going to another state to meet a doctor was a little strange to me. Why couldn't I find what I needed closer to home? Was this unusual? Wait, nothing about the past 5 1/2 years has been normal, I remembered. So off we went. The feeling I had walking into the Breast Center in NOLA was odd - I felt that this was where I needed to be. And as soon as we met her, my instincts were confirmed. Most of the consults I had were over within a half hour, most shorter than that. Our time with Dr. Massey lasted over 3 hours, and within the first ten minutes I was convinced I needed her to help me finish the journey I started five years sooner. She laid all my choices out in front of me very clearly and made sure that I understood each one - with the ease of someone who you felt really and genuinely cared about the outcome of your surgery - and the outcome of your life.
Within a month - and I have no idea why I didn't do it sooner, we booked my bilateral breast reconstruction - I was going to take the chance of recurrence away from myself once and for all. I would remove the other one and reconstruct both. And I opted to use the gift that God gave me - my ample posterior end.
On February 15, 2011, a week and 7 years after being diagnosed, Dr. Marga Massey gave me back to me. And helped me officially slam the door on cancer. Her "craftsmanship" in this field may be unparalleled and I have to admit, the first time I saw my new breasts, I cried. It was the most wonderful thing I'd seen in 7 years! But the care and concern and time she put into my case and me as a person, well, I don't know if there is another doctor that would have been able to fulfill those needs for me as she did.
Not to go unnoticed is a wonderful woman by the name of Ashley Packer - who was just as important to me in the past year as Dr. Marga. Ashley was my long-distance nurse, as well as my sounding board on the days I absolutely could not bear another day with drains, but most importantly she kept me focused on the finish line of my recovery. She kept reminding me how worth every minute of discomfort it will all be when I look at myself in the mirror and smile because I'm me again. And it is...
Over the years, people who heard my story would always ask me, "how did you get though all of that? How did you stay so strong?" Having been pregnant was, oddly enough, a blessing, because I had to get through it for Caeleigh. I had to give that child a chance to experience her life and she couldn't do it without me; she gave me hope. And really, you don't know what you are capable of until you are faced with the adversity - you either sink or swim, and in my case I had to swim for both of us. I was a mermaid before I even knew it!
Thank you Dr. Marga for helping me realize the mermaid in me! To all the mermaids after me - keep swimming!