Things got serious on Married To Medicine when Dr. Contessa went under the knife. The mother and physician elected to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer, the disease that claimed the life of her mother.
In an exclusive interview with TheGrio, she reveals what led her to the decision and how she’s recovering since her surgery in May.
Although Dr. Contessa did not test positive for BRCA, she knew that her risk of developing breast cancer was high.
“Less than ten percent of women with breast cancer are BRCA positive. They are doing testing to find out if there are other genetic markers for Black women because most people who actually get breast cancer rarely have that gene,” she explained.
“My mother got breast cancer the first time in her twenties. I had a BRCA mutation of undetermined significance and that just means they don’t know what it means. I felt like, ‘What do I do with this information?’ That took me down this crazy spiral of wondering what that meant. Genetics are not the whole story and as a doctor, I understand that.”
Contessa’s father is currently fighting colon cancer and since her mother had such an aggressive form of breast cancer, she wasn’t willing to take any chances.
“My mom got diagnosed in her mid-twenties and then she had another breast cancer years later. Her recurrence was after such a long period that it was a new cancer. She had one recurrence after ten years and then another one ten years after that,” she said.
“It was for my peace of mind. I was just sick of worrying about it. I have been getting mammograms since I was in my twenties. I continued to have irregular mammograms, irregular MRIs, and I have fibrocystic breasts so there are a lot of abnormalities. I had cysts that needed to be biopsied and it was a cycle of constant testing. It was a long road of uncertainty and I was just over all of it.”
While some may think the decision was a drastic move, Contessa reveals she had been planning to have her breasts removed for years.
“I’m 42 years old. I meant to do it when I turned 40 but I was still nursing my baby so I decided to wait until after that. My doctors were completely supportive,” she said. “The surgery is called risk reduction surgery. When you have the surgery, the risk is still not zero, but my risk has drastically decreased. The issue with cancer is that no one knows what causes it and no one knows when it’s coming.”
Contessa chose to have reconstruction surgery at the same time as her mastectomies, so she’s rockin’ a new set of boobs and she couldn’t be happier with the end result.
“One thing that was important for me was that I still wanted to look like me. i have always been small-chested. I wanted them to look nice but I didn’t want to look like Betty Boop. I just wanted the space that was left after the mastectomy to be filled back up. I wanted to fit my same clothes. I’m probably a B cup now and I used to be an A. I’m very comfortable with my decision,” she said.
“The recovery is ongoing. It was unexpectedly tough. I think the hardest thing for me was I thought I would just jump right back into life. You really can’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. You kind of lose your function for a while. I’m still not ready to do push-ups and stuff like that. I’m five months out now. I feel great.”
Since Contessa was not BRCA positive, her health insurance did not cover the $20,000 procedure.
“There are always risks to surgery. You could die from anesthesia. I felt like this decision was something I had been contemplating for several years and I knew I wanted it done. I did my research and I made sure I was totally comfortable with my doctors,” she said.
“I’m done thinking about my breasts. I feel so relieved and I’m so happy nothing went wrong. Everything happened exactly as it should have.”
Now that the surgery is behind her, Contessa reveals she has no regrets and she’s glad her story is inspiring others to take action.
“People are coming out of the woodwork and sharing their stories with me. I have already lost friends from breast cancer and I’m 42. One of my friends got it right after college and she can’t have babies and her hair never grew back after chemotherapy. I have watched so many people battle this disease. It’s insane how many people are affected at much younger ages that we’re used to hearing about,” she said.
“The risk was too small in comparison to the relief and peace of mind I have now. It was all worth it.”