Debra D’Souza

On the afternoon of Friday, December 5th, 1997, I chatted with my husband and father in the recovery ward; we were relieved my Lumpectomy was complete and the surgery was a success. I hungrily ate a muffin followed by orange juice. My surgeon entered the curtained cubicle and sat at the foot of my bed. He placed his chin in his hands and said “I don’t know how this could have happened– the report from pathology says the lump is malignant– you have breast cancer.” I don’t remember much after I heard his words; I do remember immediately losing the orange juice and muffin.

During the summer of ’97, my family doctor performed my annual physical and found a small lump of approximately 2 centimeters in the lower portion of my left breast. She manipulated it and squeezed it and assured me it was most likely a cyst as it was soft, round and had not adhered to the surrounding flesh. Also, she took into consideration I had performed regular breast self-examination, had no pain, no family history of breast cancer, was a non-smoker and a social drinker. She referred me to a surgeon for further investigation. The surgeon scheduled me for a mammogram, an Ultrasound and needle biopsy. All three tests indicated I had a fibro adenoma or fluid-filled cyst. The surgeon indicated he would prefer to remove the lump even though all the tests had not indicated any cause for concern as “these things could develop at a later date.”

And so, at age 38 and being the first diagnosed, pre-menopausal female in my family, my state of shock was the natural outcome of realizing my lumpectomy was much more than “routine day surgery.” I was told I would require more surgery to remove a band of flesh where the lump had resided as it’s margins were not clean. I would also need to have an auxiliary dissection (removal of lymph nodes) in order to ascertain whether the cancer had spread.

My husband arranged for me to be referred to the Marvelle Koffler Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital where the next two surgical procedures were performed. During the time between December 5th and the date of the next surgeries, January 19th, I began researching my disease. I also began mega-dosing on phytochemical nutritional supplements, grain oils, vitamins C and E and salmon oil.

I continued my supplement regimen in the hospital while recovering from the two surgeries and awaiting the biopsy results. Ten days later, I was advised there was no cancer found in the flesh or in the 23 removed lymph nodes. I’m unable to describe the feelings of relief and gratitude I felt at this moment– I only know that I carried this feeling with me from that day on. I am thrilled to be alive each and every day!

During my 6 week, at-home, post-op recovery, I continued my research, both into the physical ailment and the emotional challenge I faced when confronted with this life threatening disease. As many have done before me, I wondered why this had happened to me. What had I done to deserve this, etc.

During the commute back from one of my post surgery check-ups, I had the chance to speak with a business colleague. He told me he admired my decision to share my story via e-mail with family, friends and co-workers and congratulated me on a successful recovery. He asked me how I felt and I spontaneously expressed feelings of joy and peace and of knowing what really mattered in life– no more searching, no more complaints, no disappointment or despair, there are only good days now… the cancer had revealed all to me. My colleague was taken aback at first and then jokingly remarked “Deb, you make it sound like you won the lottery!” My reply? “I have!”