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October 25, 2012

Cancer survivor chooses to stay breast-free

SALEM — “Insubordinate Boobs Must Go.”

It’s the title of Theresa DeFrancis’ talk during a dinner event to raise breast cancer awareness held at Salem State University on Tuesday. In it, the English professor explained her decision to be breast-free.

After having a bilateral, or double, mastectomy last year, DeFrancis, 51, opted not to undergo breast reconstruction.

“What’s the point? My real ones tried to kill me,” she said of forgoing both reconstruction and prostheses. “For me, there’s no reason to go through more painful surgery.”

DeFrancis’ mastectomy was the culmination of four long years of mammograms, MRIs and painful biopsies since she was first diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ, or LCIS, a disease doctors detected after discovering a calcification in her right breast. At the time, LCIS didn’t mean cancer, but its discovery required she undergo six-month checkups and take medication in an effort to deter breast cancer.

In 2008, she learned she also had LCIS in her left breast.

“At that point, I’m thinking this is not going to turn out good for me,” said DeFrancis, who began contemplating a mastectomy even then.

A year went by with no new diagnoses. Consequently, doctors were shocked when DeFrancis tested positive for invasive ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer, in 2010. She underwent a lumpectomy followed by five weeks of radiation. At the end of the year, doctors removed her uterus, both ovaries and both Fallopian tubes — pushing her body into menopause so she could start taking a different cancer drug in six months.

The following May, doctors found another mass. DeFrancis had had enough. No more procedures, poking and prodding — and no more breasts, she decided.

“It was liberating, because every six months was torture,” she said of her decision. “The month before I had to have the mammogram or the MRI, the tension was so high it was palpable.”

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