For most of her life, Heather Lee didn’t dwell on the appearance of her breasts. They were simply an occasionally functional part of her anatomy; they fed her four children as newborns and required occasional shopping for sartorial support. But after being diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015 and undergoing a double mastectomy, the 40-year-old recently divorced mother feared she’d be left with breasts that resembled “overripe avocados.”
“The way I explained it to my friends is when I looked in the mirror I didn’t want to think, OK, those look almost like boobs,” says Lee, a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama. “I wanted to look in the mirror and think, I’m a badass.”
Lee elected to have both breasts surgically removed—one prophylactically—in order to lower her risk for cancer recurrence, as well as to avoid taking Tamoxifen for 10 years, a drug infamous for menopausal-like side effects that can greatly diminish a woman’s quality of life after cancer. The surgeon also told her a double mastectomy would mean “better symmetry,” she says. But nipple-sparing surgery wasn’t an option for Lee. The margins of her breast biopsy showed malignant cells were near the edge, so preserving some of the tissue might make it more likely that the cancer could return. That meant saving the nipples and areolas for reconstruction—a now relatively common practice—would be too risky.