Finding My Gift Through My Breast Cancer Journey

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February 28, 2012 breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind; but at the age of 39 it became my reality. I had no family history, I couldn’t feel any lumps but a mammogram said different. That is the moment my life started on what I call “the breast cancer crazy train.”

A mammogram and ultrasound showed a 5 cm with trendlens in my right armpit area. I am a nurse so of course I am going to open the report and read it on the way to the breast surgeon’s office. I was in total disbelief, I didn’t feel this huge lump and I knew what these words could mean.

Seven hours with the breast surgeon and radiologist doing mammograms and ultrasounds, over and over they said “we couldn’t find any tumor.” I was relieved but only for a second because the next words from them were “we did find calcification.” They asked if I wanted to do a biopsy or wait six months and monitor it, as 95% of calcifications are benign. I am so thankful I chose to do a biopsy immediately because I feel that choice saved my life.

A few days went by.  I tried to stay positive for my children, but I had a gut feeling the results I was hoping for was not to be. I was out shopping for a car with my oldest daughter and the phone rang.  It was her.  My breast surgeon.   I immediately had the feeling of dread take over my body.   She was talking and all I could feel was this hot, spinning sensation I can only describe as a “hot tornado” spinning and spinning out of control.   I was in complete shock and her words made no sense.   She kept saying “Tara, it’s positive you have cancer.”  My heart was beating out of my chest and the only thing I could think is “so what does that mean?”  over and over. I didn’t want to alarm my daughter, but she looked at me and no words were needed.   She knew the news wasn’t good.   We rushed home and my fight-or-flight took over. I grabbed every nursing book I had, reading chapter after chapter.  I researched online and spent every second praying talking with my family and soul searching for the right choice for my treatment. As I looked into my children’s eyes the choice was clear, bilateral mastectomy, and if possible, immediate reconstruction. I wanted these toxic breasts off me and I wanted to live.  I wanted to be aggressive and feel like I had some control of my body.

The date was tentatively set for March 15, 2012 – a trip to the plastic surgeon’s office and then surgery.  Well that’s what I thought, but again God’s timing wasn’t going along with mine. The morning of March 13, 2012 my phone rang and it was my breast surgeon telling me she moved the surgery date until March 29 because of the insurance company giving a difficult time with removing the non-cancerous breast. I was so upset.   Here I am again completely out of control of my own life.   It wasn’t fair! Who are they to tell me what is right for me and my peace of mind? I hung up and cried for hours to only have that phone ring again with more horrific news.  My dad was dying and on the way to the hospital 500 miles away in Ohio. Unbelievable, how much more could I take? I dropped everything to be by his side. As desperate as I was to have my surgery, I am so thankful I was able to spend the last 48 hours with my father in ICU. He passed away on March 16, 2012, his 62 birthday.

A few days later I was driving back to North Carolina to start planning his funeral arrangements and got a call from my breast surgeon.   She kept saying ‘let’s do a lumpectomy, get it out of you, and then reschedule the bilateral mastectomy in a month to let you plan and get ready.” I was heartbroken, my soul was broken, and I felt helpless and powerless over my body and my life.  So I agreed and  on March 29, 2012 I woke up to find out she had implanted rods for radiation in my breast. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was so frustrated. I went for my post op a few days later.  The surgeon walked in the room and told me the cancer had changed and was invasive ductal carcinoma a 3cm tumor high grade. I looked her in the eye and said “If you can’t support my decision about my body, I will find a doctor who will.  This is my life and my choice. She agreed and we moved forward with genetic testing and a consultation with the plastic surgeon.

This is the “meeting” that would forever change my life physically and professionally. I sat on the examining feeling full of anxiety when the door opened and in walked in was this young, warm smiling doctor. He said, “Hi Tara, I’m Dr. Jeremy Pyle everything is going to be alright.” We discussed the reconstruction process and on May 29, 2012 and I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction involving expanders. Over the following months Dr. Pyle became not just my plastic surgeon, but someone i cried to or laughed with – someone who had made this process less stressful and always had a true caring, positive attitude.

After months of fill up and two surgery, one for the boob exchange and one for nipple reconstruction Dr. Pyle talked to me about areola tattooing. We searched for months looking for an Expert artist sadly there was no one in my area or in my state. I agreed to allow the office nurse to do the areola tattooing. She gave me three options: chocolate brown, bubble gum pink or nude.  I almost fell out of the chair!  Are you kidding me, this is my last hooray? With only the option to have no areola tattooing, I went ahead and did the procedure.  Afterwards I walked out of the room to find my doctor standing there.  He asked me how I felt and I told him that this was unacceptable to have such limited options post-surgery.  I decided I was going to go train with the best areola tattoo artist in the world come back and offer this service to other survivors and I told him just that. We deserve more!  He said “DO IT!” I knew at that moment my life was about to change forever.

I knew from the moment that tattoo pin touched my hand that this was my purpose, my gift, my answer to “why me”. God had a higher meaning for my life and I was ready to live it. April 2013, I founded Pink Ink Tattoo and went straight to Dr. Pyle’s office to share my news.  I opened a photo book and showed pictures of areola tattoos I had already done and told him that I was a certified areola complex, 3 dimensional and Scar Camouflage tattoo artist. He said to me “my office is yours, come here and help women.” I began seeing women from all over the state at his office and continue to so. I am also now working with many wonderful plastic surgeons in Raleigh and Durham NC area as well as a Women’s rehab center in Wilmington, NC. I hope to continue connecting with surgeons so that I can offer my services across the country. I am honored to be able to help my fellow survivors with areola tattooing helping them feel whole again giving them back their self-esteem self-confidence.

Without the love and support from my beautiful three children and my soulmate I would not be the person I am today. I am so grateful to my family, friends and my plastic surgeon for believing in me.

Much Love, Tara

If you would like to learn more about me and Pink Ink Tattoo please visit, pinkinktattoo.com

 

 

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Tara Dunsmore