How I said ta-ta to my tatas.
I always disliked my large double-D size breasts. I’d carried a daily disdain for them, minimizing them with special bras and hiding them behind good blazers. But never in my wildest dreams did I think they were trying to kill me.
In January 2013, I was in the shower washing when I noticed a dime-sized dimple in my left breast. My heart sank — I knew that couldn’t be something good.
Since my breasts were so dense and cystic, my general practitioner recommended that I get baseline mammograms, ultrasounds, and yearly checkups with breast specialist Kristi Funk, MD. After I noticed the dimple, I made an appointment with Dr. Funk’s office immediately. It wasn’t yet time for my yearly exam, but I wasn’t going to wait around and see what happened next. And since I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family, I was hoping for the best.
My wife Jill was out of town spending time with her parents: Her father was losing his own 17-year-long battle with prostate cancer. To add to this equation, we had a three-month-old baby boy. While we should’ve been celebrating his every milestone as new moms, the universe decided otherwise.
When Jill got back, I showed her what I’d noticed, a look of panic on my face that I could barely hide. “Don’t worry, babe. That looks like nothing to me,” she lovingly said. I wasn’t certain if she was trying to reassure me or both of us.
My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the dark spot on the ultrasound. The radiologist asked if I’d ever had a lumpectomy, thinking the dimple was from a previous surgery. No such luck. He biopsied my breast in the office and sent me home to wait for the results. My phone rang two days later, with “Dr. Kristi Funk” prominently displayed on my home screen. Jill and I were sitting in the kitchen with my mother. I could see my mom mouthing the words, “Pick up the phone,” but all I heard was my pounding heartbeat, as I was frozen in terror.
“Hello Nicole,” said the radiologist when I managed to answer, “Your results came back, and I’m sorry to tell you that you have invasive carcinoma. You have an appointment to see Dr. Funk…” He continued talking but at that point, all I heard was the “wah wah” sound of the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Not knowing enough about breast cancer, I thought “invasive” meant that the cancer was already everywhere in my body. I was only 40 years old — how could this be happening? On the way to Dr. Funk’s office, we received a call that Jill’s father passed away. We went numb. It felt surreal. We sat at my doctor’s appointment in shock and disbelief that this was our new reality. We were now grieving the greatest loss in our family while also navigating my diagnosis. I honestly don’t know how Jill was able to put one foot in front of the other. Our baby was definitely our bright light during this very dark time. He had his Pop-Pop’s blue eyes, so we felt certain he was an extension of Jill’s dad, living on in the next generation.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, there are so many follow-up screenings and tests: Tests to determine how advanced your cancer is, tests to see if it’s made its way to any other part of your body or lymphatic system, tests to determine the exact genetic makeup of your tumor. Dr. Funk scheduled all of the tests and I’m so grateful that she did — especially since my other breast lit up suspiciously in the MRI exam. So I headed back to her office for another biopsy. That biopsy ended up coming back clean and Jill and I celebrated, until Dr. Funk said, “Nikki, I don’t trust the results.”
I knew I wanted these breasts off my body as soon as possible. We never had a good relationship anyway, so I was thrilled to break up with both of them: Ta-ta, tatas! I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly at night knowing there was the possibility that cancer would return to my body. So I asked Dr. Funk if we could do lumpectomies while I consulted with breast-reconstruction doctors. I was on her operating table days later where she removed both the cancerous tumor in my left breast, and the suspicious lesion in my right, and then performed sentinel node biopsies to see if any cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. It was a good thing that Dr. Funk trusted her gut and not the biopsy results — the right breast was indeed cancer and very aggressive Her2 ER PR +. My body scans were all clear. I was very lucky.
I decided I’d only tell a handful of close friends and family members. I didn’t want anyone in my business finding out. As the founder of my company, I have a big responsibility representing some of the biggest film directors in Hollywood and I didn’t want anyone to think that I couldn’t do my job. Work was the only space in which I felt normal, the only place where I could retreat and not think about my diagnosis. So I dove into my career while facing the biggest battle of my life. It was a beautiful distraction, although it was a long year: Four breast surgeries, one major infection, a tumor board that consisted of many doctors at various hospitals reviewing and discussing my rare case while making suggestions for treatment, and a year’s worth of targeted chemo infusions. I was put on Tamoxifen, a breast cancer medication that halts the production of estrogen that was feeding my tumors. I also decided to have a hysterectomy. I wasn’t BRCA positive, the genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer, but Tamoxifen can cause uterine cancer and I had a fibroid already that was growing bigger from the medication. I was thrilled with my new breasts and even loved them. My surgeon, Jay Orringer, MD, made me beautiful. I finally had a perky size C that I always wanted, which was my silver lining.
This past January, I celebrated 10 years with no evidence of disease: I appreciate every single healthy day. Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will hear the words, “You have breast cancer,” despite having no familial history of the disease. Now I use my small platform to educate and raise awareness, helping young women navigate their own diagnoses.
I always say that being diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t a club that any of us want to belong to, but it has taught me about what’s really important in life: love, family, service to others, good music, dark chocolate, supportive friends, and of course, a supportive bra.
Nikki Weiss-Goldstein is an agent and strategic liaison for feature film, episodic and commercial directors. She marries brands and advertising agencies with her top-tier creative roster of filmmaking talent. She resides in Los Angeles with her wife Jill, sons Adler and Grey, and puppy Remington.