>”It’s hard to tell somebody they’re lucky when they lose their breast. But I do, I feel really, really lucky about that.”
Geology graduate student Rebecca Clotts doesn’t seem old enough to be able to make that statement, but she is.
In March, Clotts received a diagnosis that no woman wants to hear: breast cancer.
Despite her diagnosis, Clotts said she feels lucky.
Her cancer was ductile carcinoma in situ, which means she was diagnosed so early that the cancer cells hadn’t figured out yet how to invade the rest of her body.
A biopsy showed the tumors occupied about a third to half of Clotts’ breast.
“It was very big, so I had to have a full mastectomy,” she said.
The diagnosis was shocking because of Clotts’ young age and lack of family history with the illness – although most women with breast cancer do not have a family history, she said.
“I was pretty surprised, stunned,” she said. “You kind of fixate on it. I found I spent a lot of time reading on it, trying to learn all I could.”
When her surgeons dissected the tumors after the mastectomy, they confirmed what they had already believed: Clotts’ cancer cells had not learned to spread or invade.
“It’s the best case if you’re going to have breast cancer,” she said “But, you know, I lost my left side. My left breast was removed.”
Other young women who get breast cancer generally have the invasive kind, Clotts said.
“Their worry is the cancer somehow got out, even through the chemotherapy,” she said. “I don’t have those same fears.”
Because DCIS cancer cells don’t know how to invade, they were all removed with the mastectomy. She does not fear relapse or recurrence of the same cancer as other women do.
Clotts said she has felt guilt at times that her cancer wasn’t more severe.
“I hear other women’s stories about enduring the chemotherapy, and the radiation and scares from recurrence,” she said. “And mine wasn’t so bad. I was pretty lucky.”
“And then you turn around, and say, ‘Well, how lucky is it that I lost my breast?’ “
Clotts is still being monitored closely, because she is now in a higher risk group for developing an invasive cancer.
“The mammogram’s not fun, but it’s easy,” she said. “I always tell people Ö ‘You know what’s uncomfortable, is a mastectomy?’ “
These days, Clotts is back playing on her hockey team and still trying to finish her doctorate.
“I focused a lot on (the Ph.D.),” she said. “My adviser, she gave me a lot of room to deal with (the cancer).”
In eight months, Clotts has gone through diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
“It’s still really new for me,” she said. “I still kind of obsess about, ‘What’s the future hold?’ “
Clotts said her body shape – “thin and bony” – makes her implant fairly visible.
“Sometimes I get sad when I see myself in the mirror,” she said.
She knows there may be maintenance in the future for her breasts. Her plastic surgeon even offered to rebuild her nipple in a few months.
Clotts said she probably won’t get the surgery.
“(The nipple) is purely cosmetic. It doesn’t have feeling,” she said. “It’s not going to breast feed. It’s just for appearances, and I don’t think I need that.”