José's Experience with Breast Cancer
“At the beginning of 2017 I felt a kind of ball in my right breast. It seemed like a cyst, and I've had problems with that before, but I've never had to do anything about it. It wasn't a bump, it was just a hard ball. That came and that went, and happened again through the years sometimes. And now it was there again, but in a slightly different place. I didn't do anything about it then.”
“In June we were on summer vacation for a week, when Sandra Remer (a Dutch singer) died of breast cancer. That got me thinking. During that week, the spot also became more painful; I got pains every now and then. When I got home I immediately informed my doctor. I expected him to say it felt like a cyst again and nothing was wrong, but I was referred anyway because he wasn't sure this time.”
“I was able to go to the hospital the same week. There they did a mammography and also an ultrasound. When it was not yet clear what exactly it was, a biopsy was taken. This all happened at once. Coincidentally, a friend of mine worked in the department where I was checked. It was nice and cozy. We planned to see each other later, after which she could report the outcome to me.”
"Later, she opened the door, and I could see it on her face; it was not good news. Then she told me that there was a tumor. Rosan, one of my daughters, was there. I was very sorry and found it confronting that she had to hear the story immediately.”
“I actually immediately thought of my daughters. So my first question was what all this meant for them. Fortunately, the tumor was not genetic, so we didn't have to worry about that. Then the second question: ‘Is there anything we can do about it?’”
“Within two weeks I had surgery and I was on a rollercoaster. The hardest part was telling family and friends. You don't want to have to say that to your mother. Despite that, I was ready to tackle it and give it my all.”
“Then comes the dreadful wait. You have to wait when a scan can be made, and then you have to wait for the result.”
“First there was an estimate of how large the tumor was and what kind of tumor it was. Breast-conserving surgery was not an option in my case because it was a relatively large tumor and it was also very close to the nipple. I actually immediately opted for amputation and then to look again after. You will also receive a lymph node test in advance to see if it is also in the lymph node. That turned out not to be the case for me. Then the tumor was removed and they examined it. Depending on the type of tumor I had, I was or was not allowed to participate in mammaprint. The risk of spreading is determined here. In the end I could participate in that. These are all elements that are important. Then the result came very quickly that there was a low risk of spreading and I did not need any further surgery.
“July 7 was diagnosed, two weeks later I had surgery and August 22 I was told that I did not need chemo and would therefore stop here. You still have to walk out of that room, but you prefer to hug everyone you meet. I have rarely felt such an adrenaline rush as at that moment. We came out of that hospital outside and I said: ‘I want to run 10 laps around the hospital, and jump in that fountain here’. You get a bit of the feeling that life can go on as it was. Sure I have no breast on one side, but I don't need chemo, I don't need radiation. That was such a relief. Our children had hung out the flag and the champagne was ready. So that was great fun.”
“They just say casually that you have to take hormone therapy for five years. I thought that was a bit of a downer. Some can tolerate that well, but it may also be that you can't handle it very well at all. There are a lot of side effects. I eventually did get on it and took it for a year and a half. After that I stopped. In the beginning I had the idea that I could tolerate it, but at a certain point I noticed that I no longer reacted to certain things like myself. Due to the low risk of spreading, I was allowed to stop taking the pills.”
“From day one I have been able to handle the situation very well. It didn't wake me up. One way or another you get such primal power. I could not have imagined that beforehand, but I went through it very well. Despite everything we went through afterwards, the glass is always more than half full with us.”
“After the operation, I initially received a prosthetic. For me that was quite doable because my chest was not that big, and those fillings are quite heavy. So the larger the breast, the heavier the filling. It looked very natural on me. I'm not a big fan of the plunging necklines either, so I could deal with that.
I've spoken to quite a few people who couldn't look at themselves in the mirror anymore, but I didn't have that either. I was able to quickly accept that that was my body. And my husband Mark too. You often hear that partners have a hard time with it, but not Mark. That has never been between us. I just wanted to get on with it and have no more business over my body for a while.”
“Six months later I was chatting at a party with a lady I didn't know at the time. She turned out to have experienced the same as me, but she said that she had something done about it. She told me she had a reconstruction done and she advised me to do the same. We talked about it for a long time and finally she showed me the result. I was very impressed at the time. That really planted a seed, but I wasn't ready for it then. Later I approached her anyway for her doctor's number and he gave me a lot of confidence. After a consultation, I actually immediately decided to do it. Six months later I was called up and I had a new breast.”
Life after the illness
“After everything that has happened, my family and I have come to realize that it is not going to get any better than this. If we want anything else, we just have to do it now. Because it doesn't pass your door. We're just getting there too. The uninhibited is gone.”
“I would like to advise someone in the same situation to always try to see the possibilities. Pay attention to what you do have, because life with one breast goes on, it's still fun, and it's still worth living.
I sometimes get asked if I still feel like a woman. I have never felt unfeminine, even with one breast.”