, Salem, MA

October 16, 2012

'I knew what I had to do and that was that'

Cheryl Lecesse
The Salem News

PEABODY — Sherri Temkin considers herself one of the lucky ones.

Temkin, 53, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in August 2007. Ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, is considered to be one of two stage 0, or noninvasive, breast cancers.

Her mammogram that year actually came back negative. But Temkin has a history of breast cancer in her family — her mother had battled breast cancer when Temkin was young, and another family member had recently been diagnosed with a form of the disease. Her doctor sent her in for an ultrasound. The test picked up shadows in both of her breasts. MRIs and biopsies followed, and her right breast tested positive for cancer.

“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ shock sets in immediately. You don’t know how to react,” said Temkin, who lives in Peabody. “I got over the initial shock and then went into ‘gotta do this’ mode. I knew what I had to do and that was that.”

Doctors gave Temkin a range of options. In many cases, DCIS can be treated without removing the entire breast. But Temkin opted for a bilateral, or double, mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

“Because of the family history, I didn’t think I had much of a choice,” she said.

For Temkin, it helped to have seen her mother’s experience first hand, although treatment options have evolved exponentially since then. Her mother was diagnosed with a stage 2 form of the disease, underwent a mastectomy and radiation, and wore a breast prosthesis. After 17 years, cancer reappeared in her esophagus, in the form of a tumor believed to have been at least partially caused by the radiation.

“I think, after knowing what my mother went through, I think at that point I decided that, if I was ever diagnosed, I would get a mastectomy,” she said.

She made the right decision — after the mastectomy, tests showed Temkin had the beginning stages of cancer in her left breast, too.

But reconstruction didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped. Her surgeon used the TRAM flap method, in which a piece of the abdomen is cut and used the reconstruct the breast. But Temkin says her surgeon didn’t explain the surgery’s side effects, including abdominal weakness, or that she should refrain from lifting anything overhead. To make matters worse, Temkin said, the surgeon also told her the cosmetic effects couldn’t be fixed.

“It looked like I had a tire around my stomach,” she said. “So on top of the breast cancer and the surgery, it’s very depressing.”

At the urging of a friend, she scheduled a consultation with Dr. Beverly Shafer, a plastic surgeon in Beverly.

“She’s very, very compassionate,” said Temkin of Shafer. “She guaranteed me she could fix it.”

Temkin said Shafer fixed the stomach surgery, and everything fell into place from there.

Her father, daughter and close friends were extremely supportive throughout her recovery. Having people to talk to made a big difference for Temkin.

“I think the best thing, after a diagnosis, the best thing anybody can do is talk to people,” she said. “You can go online and there’s women online discussing it all the time.”

Today, Temkin is cancer free but still goes for blood work every six months. And the emotional reminders of the experience remain.

“It’s a tough process,” she said, especially since she was single at the time of her diagnosis. “I think it’s really hard for single women. You don’t want to get to that point where you get intimate. You’re self-conscious about things. It’s a tough choice.”

But those pieces have since fallen into place, too.

“I have a boyfriend who doesn’t care about what happened,” she said.