An Agonizing Choice
Now it is. On Feb. 2 Hill underwent a six-hour procedure that removed all of her breast tissue in order to minimize the possibility of ever getting breast cancer. She's already begun a three-month reconstruction process. "I'm happily married. I am not going to any nudist beaches," says Hill, 48, curling into a couch in her Greenwich, Conn., home. Preserving her health for the sake of her children—Laurel, 18, Matt, 16, J.D., 13, Sumner, 7, and Wolf, 5, and stepkids Jordan, 20, Collin, 17, and Wyatt, 13—"outweighed any fear about getting the operation."
The Texas-raised journalist hopes to help others by documenting her decision. Through a series of appearances on ABC's The View, Hill, 48, is raising awareness that prophylactic, or elective, mastectomies "are really not a crazy option," she says. Agrees her surgeon Dr. Barbara Ward: "More often, women with an early diagnosis of cancer seem to be opting for up-front mastectomies instead of the minimal surgeries and radiation." (Ward adds there is a 1 percent risk of getting cancer after mastectomies.)
Hill had dealt with crippling anxiety since 2007, when a suspicious grey spot appeared on a mammogram. Further testing was inconclusive, but her family history indicated she was at serious risk: "You think, 'Should I take the odds? Am I overreacting?'"
Hill was haunted by memories of the trauma her mother, Joan, experienced 10 years earlier, when she battled cancer but declined to get reconstructive surgery. She survived, "but it was hard for her, and it freaked me out. You hug her and there is nothing there." She pushed the fears from her mind, but they came flooding back as she was wheeled in for surgery. "I grabbed my breasts and was like, 'This is it,'" Hill says. "This is the last time my husband is going to see me as me."
Yet the procedure was less painful than she expected. "It's sore but bearable," she says. "If I realized how easy it was going to be, I'd have made the decision earlier." Adjusting to her changed figure has also been less jarring than she thought. "I look at myself and can't believe I had a double mastectomy," says Hill, who has small, inflatable implants called expanders in place, and will gradually get back to her regular size—34B-C—after a series of procedures stretch her muscles and skin enough to insert full implants. (The mastectomies and reconstructive procedures are covered by insurance.) Says husband Joe, 53, a hedge-fund manager: "I couldn't care less what she looks like. I just want her as healthy as she can be."
That's one goal Hill is confident she has already achieved. When doctors biopsied the mass in her breast, they found it was indeed precancerous. "I feel like I beat the clock," says Hill, who has no regrets. "I can't say I feel happy, but I feel so relieved."