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Three Weeks From Diagnosis to Surgery

A busy mom of two gets a scary diagnosis.

Healthy, fit, and feeling a bit invincible, this year 34-year-old Linda Craven felt a lump in her breast. Just three weeks later, Scott Hamling, M.D., a Breast Surgeon with The Iowa Clinic, performed a bilateral mastectomy. Like most young women, Linda Craven of Johnston leads a busy life. She's a wife, mother to two, full-time employee, and part-time logistics officer with the Iowa National Guard. On top of that, she's an avid runner. “Because I knew I might be at risk for breast cancer, I had been pretty diligent about getting a mammogram every couple of years and doing my breast checks, but I was so busy with life that I started feeling that wasn't important. I became lax,” Craven says.

On January 6 of this year, “By the grace of God, I brushed against my breast and felt a small little round ball,” she says. Craven immediately went to see Family Medicine doctor Melissa Thompson, M.D., at The Iowa Clinic. “Everything happened so quickly,” she says of the whirlwind that followed — a mammogram, ultrasound, fine-needle biopsy, MRI, and a bilateral mastectomy and initial stage of breast reconstruction surgery on January 31. Although Craven's cancer was caught in its earliest stage, Dr. Hamling says, “Linda's biopsy showed that her cancer was quite aggressive and could spread rapidly. Additionally, because she is young, she was at higher risk of developing a second breast cancer in her lifetime.”

Depending on the tumor, treatment options include lumpectomy (removal of the lump), single mastectomy (removal of the affected breast), and bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts). Some women, including Craven, are not candidates for lumpectomy because of tumor size, breast volume, or inability to safely undergo radiation therapy. For early stage breast cancer, mastectomy does not typically require radiation therapy. Of Craven's decision to have both breasts removed, she says, “Most important, I wanted to reduce the chances of (the cancer) ever coming back.

I also consider myself very fortunate that we have the technology to create breasts again.” Over the past decade, Hamling says an increasing number of women have chosen to reduce future risk by having a mastectomy. “Advances in plastic surgery technologies have also made mastectomy a more viable option for many women. For example, today's silicone implants are extremely safe,” he says. Craven stresses that being physically fit and maintaining her sense of humor aided her healing: “I was able to run a half-marathon in May. Plus — and please don't take this wrong — but I also joke that I have better boobs now than I did after breastfeeding two girls. They look great.”

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