Diane Check: Learning to Love a New Normal after Breast Cancer

"Dr. Boraas had a calming presence, and her attitude was that we would get through all of this together."
‐Diane Check

I was 53 years old when I felt a large lesion under my arm. Just four months before, a mammogram and follow-up ultrasound had given me a clean bill of health. Because of that, I didn’t pay much attention to the lump, and of course I went on my merry way thinking I had dodged a bullet. A lot was happening to my body at that stage of my life, and I figured that I had just had a mammogram and ultrasound and had nothing to worry about.

The lump got larger by the summer, but I really didn’t have much time to worry about it. My son was going off to college, and I had all kinds of things going on. I decided I would get it checked out at some point when I had the time. By August, I could feel several lumps in my breast and decided I should see my gynecologist. After examining me, the doctor ordered a biopsy, which revealed three fast growing tumors and a lymph node the size of a golf ball under my arm. The diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer.

Receiving a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer

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My husband and I met with several doctors to determine what the next step should be for me. For convenience, I wanted to stay at our local hospital in Doylestown and be treated by a doctor who had completed her fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center. There, I started chemotherapy to reduce the size of my tumors so that I could undergo surgery at Fox Chase. During the chemotherapy, I changed my eating habits, lost weight, and started exercising. Fortunately, the tumors responded dramatically to the chemotherapy and nearly disappeared. I was ready for surgery.

In conversations I’d had with other women, I heard about Dr. Marcia Boraas, a breast surgeon at Fox Chase. Eight different people recommended that I make an appointment with her. When I met Dr. Boraas I knew she was the surgeon for me. She had a calming presence, and her attitude was that we would get through all of this together. She was caring and compassionate, and she looked me straight in the eye. I felt understood and reassured.

Choosing the right breast surgeon

After much thought, I made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction. Dr. Boraas and I talked at great length about my options, and she made clear it was my decision and that she would support me. I preferred no breasts at all if the option was fake breasts, and I knew I would feel more natural without breast reconstruction.

Dr. Boraas performed my mastectomy in January 2014 and gave me surgical smiles. My scars are beautiful, and from day one I never felt uncomfortable with or unsure about the decision I had made. My husband supported me 100%, and I continue to feel completely secure as a woman. Nothing has changed.

Staying closer to home for radiation treatment at Fox Chase Buckingham

A breast cancer survivor, Diane is enjoying life now more than ever with her family.
A breast cancer survivor, Diane is enjoying life now more than ever with her family.

For my follow-up radiation therapy, I went to Fox Chase Cancer Center Buckingham, only minutes from our home, where I was treated by Dr. Shelly Hayes, director of radiation oncology. Dr. Hayes and her entire staff were amazing.

The healing took weeks rather than months, and one year later my scars were just a faint reminder of the breasts I once had and a reassuring reminder that the cancer was gone. I am so happy with my decision not to have breast reconstruction. Instead, I have microbead breast inserts that are lightweight and feel natural. I go without them at times and am thankful for the body I see in the mirror. It was all a little strange at first, but for me completely natural.

My feeling has been that cancer didn’t win. I never gave it a capital ‘C’. I was able to heal, and Fox Chase was a big part of the healing process. I was ready to live a different life with a different body, one that I love. I thank God that I continue to share my breast cancer journey with many others, encouraging them to be strong, to be courageous, and to take the important step toward making the right decision for their own cancer journey.

Now, almost a decade after my diagnosis, I am enjoying life more than ever. I'm constantly finding new things to do and hobbies to explore. My newest endeavor: the drums! I also adore all of the time I get to spend with my family - game nights, family dinners, you name it. We soak up every minute with each other! 

Learn more about breast cancer care at Fox Chase.