Lynette Burnett - Dr. Marga's December 2011 Mermaid of the Month
In July of 2007, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast at the age of 36. After an emotional journey of what challenges I would be facing; multiple surgeries, biopsies, chemo, radiation and reconstructive surgery, I found a spirit of strength within me that I never knew existed. My faith would be tested in such a way, in which God would reveal an even more amazing husband to me and an incredible strength of courage, faith, hope, love and determination in the strong warrior that I was about to become.
And so my story begins...
Every emotion you can imagine came across my mind, when I received the initial diagnosis. I cried for many days and nights, in disbelief. Believe it or not, I was more worried about my husband and children, then, 13 and 3. The very first question I remember asking my breast surgeon "how long do I have left to live?" She assured me that although my journey would be tough, with an aggressive treatment plan in place and a will to fight and take care of myself, that I could beat this. I associated breast cancer with death, as my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 15 and would eventually die from it 12 years later. Because of my mother's history, I had always been aggressive in doing self-exams and would eventually have routine mammograms in my early 20's.
I remember the day clearly when I discovered that my right breast just looked abnormal….I had just had a mammogram 6 months prior to my diagnosis. I went to my family doctor and was told I probably had an infection. ..really? I was given antibiotics and was told to come back in a few weeks if it didn't get better. I left the doctor's office feeling the same way I came in …frightened and with no answers other than it was an "infection". After about a week, no change, but my symptoms were worsening, so I went back and demanded for a referral to see a breast specialist. Within the week, I saw the breast specialist, Dr. Shirley Scott, who is my angel and literally a lifesaver! She was very aggressive in my physical exam and thorough with her research and testing. The appearance of my right breast was very alarming to her and the thought of it being simply an infection was far from that…I could tell by her facial expression that it was more than what I was told. After careful examination, the possibility of a breast cancer were her thoughts, but further testing would have to be done. She ordered a breast MRI and also performed a biopsy and needle biopsy to determine an actual diagnosis. The breast MRI revealed a softball size tumor that was located closest to my chest wall. She reviewed my last 3 years of mammograms and was not able to see any abnormalities in the scans. A needle biopsy by my radiologist would confirm what would be breast cancer. The breast MRI would confirm it was the size of a softball sitting closest to my chest wall, undetectable by mammogram. The next several weeks to follow, I would endure a series of tests and multiple visits with specialists to determine a treatment plan specific to my disease. Since my mother had breast cancer, it was recommended that I be tested for the BRCA gene, in which I would soon find out I was be a positive carrier. I endured 8 treatments of chemotherapy, I would lose my beautiful long hair, 6 months later I would lose both breasts, since I tested positive for the BRCA gene, having my left breast removed would decrease any chance of a cancer in that breast as well , followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation and the final would be a hysterectomy, to prevent ovarian cancer.
The following 6 months , I would face the most difficult challenge of all, accepting the loss of my breasts. After all, that is what makes me physically a woman right? The day of my bi-lateral surgery is one I would never forget. Calvin was strong through the chemo, but this day in particular, I would see an even more emotional side of him when we were told to say goodbye, as they wheeled me to the operating room. I remember he had a pink bandana on his head and pink arm bracelet and seemed to have it together to support me and when we said goodbye, he just cried! I wouldn't look at my chest area for a week, in fear of what the incisions would look like. I remember Calvin looking first and telling me that I was beautiful and the incision didn't look bad at all. Although physically looking at my mastectomy scars was extremely hard for me to face…I felt ashamed! Calvin always assured me that I was beautiful with or without my breasts and my breasts didn't define who I was as a person.."You are still the beautiful Lynette I married", he would always say. I felt comfortable in due time, but it was still in the back of my mind.
The daily radiation burned my skin pretty bad so I had to wait until my skin would completely heal before I would be fitted for prosthesis. The prosthesis helped build my confidence but they would soon prove to be frustrating, bothersome and heavy and I felt self-conscious every where I went. Some days, I just wanted to throw them out the window and I was known by my family to take them out on the way to church or when I worked out at the gym, they would sway from side to side and just lopsided by the time my Zumba class was over….LOL! I can laugh about this now.
In 2009, the treatments I underwent would prove I had no recurrence and my breast surgeon would give me the green light to proceed with seeing a breast reconstruction specialist. …This was always an option for me and I was more than ready! I had seen several breast surgeons in my home town and didn't feel comfortable with what my options were. They seem to be pushing the implants, which was never an option for me. It was recommended by my breast surgeon that I have DIEP flap procedure, using my own tissue and skin to create my new breasts. Talk about GO GREEN! :) I had done a lot of research on implants and the popular TRAM flap procedure and it was determined that I would not be an ideal candidate for either one of these. I spent 2 months researching multiple sites on the internet and was overwhelmed with graphic pictures and websites that focused more on cosmetic procedures. I was looking for someone who would be compassionate during my reconstruction stage and a doctor that would prove to be awesome at their craft of art.
In my research on the internet, I had come across Dr. Massey's website, mind you, it was a complete blessing that her site had been up and running for about 6 or so months….It was only God that led me to her. Had her website not been up, I would have never found her. I was convinced and excited after reading her website, that she would be the one to perform my breast reconstruction …mind you, I hadn't even met her. I knew that God led me to her and I had no doubt that she could help me. Dr. Massey's website was informative, compassionate about her patients and had the top notch credentials to prove she was a master at her craft. The mermaid stories tell it all! The following day, I called and left a message and I received a call from her patient coordinator, Jenny and she would explain the process and felt that I would be a great candidate and would make the initial appointment to meet with Dr. Massey. Two months later, we traveled 2 ½ hours to Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Massey spent a little over 2 hours with me and my husband and assured us that she could help me. Dr. Massey was informative and compassionate with me and my husband. We left her office feeling overjoyed and knew she was the one! At this point in my life, I was pretty self-conscious about my body and had low self-esteem. Dr. Massey could see that I was broken and promised me that during my journey, although challenging, I would go through multiple stages of reconstruction, but it would be life changing once she started what I like to call the "butterfly transformation" or as Dr. Massey calls her patients, "Mermaids". My first initial surgery was April 2010, which was 12 hours, I have never been so scared and my husband just as overwhelmed with emotion as I was. 1 ½ years later with multiple procedures to endure, I am in still in "construction zone" with a few more procedures to go before the butterfly is out of the cocoon. I can assure you that Dr. Massey's craft has more than exceeded my expectations of my butterfly transformation!
Next year, I will celebrate my 5 year "CANCERVERSARY" in which there will be a bonfire in my honor to rid the prosthesis, mastectomy bras and to celebrate the end of my transformation journey and the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
The decision to have Dr. Massey perform my reconstruction has impacted my life forever! I am a new found butterfly and I am ready to soar in my 2nd chance at what life has to offer and the incredible strength the Lord has given me to endure it all. I recently celebrated my 40th birthday, lost 50+ pounds, I'm jogging, eating healthier, enjoy nature, laughing, my family and just embracing my life and taking care of me. I have a new found confidence within myself and my friends and family can tell you that I love to laugh and crazy about the color hot pink. I am so blessed and thankful for everything in my life and all of my family and friends who supported me! Through it all, I can still be in my happy place.
A special thank you to my husband, Calvin who deserves a gold medal for being my rock! You stood by me 100% and never complained and handled every aspect of this emotional journey with grace and dignity. I am forever indebted to you! I love you more than ever! Thank you to my daughter, Kayla, who was always so generous in helping around the house and with her little brother. It was a lot to endure while in high school. Kayla is now a freshman in college and studying to be a nurse.
Thank you Dr. Massey for making me feel whole again and for not only being my surgeon, but also a friend. Your unique approach to taking care of your Mermaids is one like no other and I am forever grateful to you! God has blessed you with an incredible craft!
I love you always!
Lynette Burnett – Rock Hill, South Carolina