The Pandemic Pushed Back My Breast Cancer Surgery, a Small Delay With a Big Impact

After I found out I had breast cancer, my world was turned upside down. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, my second surgery was delayed, and parenting with health issues became even harder.

outdoor photo of Amber Tisi with her twin girls and son
Photo: J & J Photography

Since the day I became a mammogram technician, I knew that if I ever got breast cancer, I’d want to remove my breasts and have reconstructive surgery. So in September 2018, when my doctor told me that the lump I’d found in my breast was cancer, I was clear on what I wanted.

But life got complicated. My marriage broke up, and I was almost single-handedly responsible for my three children. One of my twins was diagnosed with cancer. And my doctors added radiation to my course of treatment. As a result, though I had a mastectomy right away, a series of four reconstructive surgeries that might have occurred within a year were delayed.

All I wanted was for my nightmare to be over by 2021. In late 2019, it looked like it would be. With Brooklynn in the clear, I had my first surgery. My doctor marked April 3 as the date for putting in spacers, saline sacks that stretch the skin and make room for implants. I couldn’t wait.

In late March, however, that second surgery was canceled because of COVID-19. It might not seem like a big deal, but this pandemic has been just one more hitch in what was already a long and grueling road back to normal life.

And not just for me, but for my kids as well, who were home from school because of the pandemic and have been more exposed to what I’m dealing with. Every time I go to the doctor or have a surgery, they get scared. It’s hard to comfort them when I’m also overwhelmed. Fortunately, my girls were able to spend a few hours each day at a facility that helped with online learning. So at least I didn’t have to worry about their homework too.

In May 2020, my dad drove me 10 hours to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for that second surgery. I was tested for COVID, and we spent two days in a hotel waiting for results and eating takeout on our beds. It was not a comforting way to prepare for surgery, but I got my spacers. Now I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope my 40th birthday was a turning point. I hope that all the hard stuff is finally out of the way.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's October 2020 issue as “Breast Cancer in the Pandemic - Amber Tisi, 40 Minot, ND.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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