Jeanette Perez, then 39, was cutting slices of cake for her four children on her daughter's sixth birthday when the call came. It was her doctor. "When I got the news that I had breast cancer, it went dark for me, but I immediately brushed it off and asked my doctor what was next. When I looked into the eyes of my children, especially my young children, I thought, I have to keep going. They can't see mommy broken."
The diagnosis: stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ of the right breast, the earliest stage of breast cancer confi ned to the milk duct. Doctors recommended removing the tumor and radiation treatments, but the homemaker chose a double mastectomy instead, since she had been plagued by noncancerous cysts in both breasts that required close monitoring.
Jeanette decided to undergo breast reconstruction. Instead of saline or silicone implants; however, she chose to have her breasts made using her stomach fat. "The plastic surgeon reconstructed breasts using my skin, fat and blood vessels from my abdomen," she explained. It was a grueling process that required seven surgeries over nearly two years.
Nevertheless, after a cancer diagnosis, whether early-stage or advanced, "you don't go back to normal," she said. "It's a new normal when you return to work after your medical leave, resume workouts at the gym, or are intimate with your partner. Cancer will give you a new perspective on life."