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Wanda Sykes: My Breast Cancer Battle

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When she underwent breast-reduction surgery in February, the last thing Wanda Sykes expected was to hear that she had cancer. “I had just had a mammogram and a biopsy, and it all came back negative,” says the comedian, 47. “If I hadn’t had the reduction, who knows what would have happened.” Sykes, who has two kids (2-year-old twins Olivia and Lucas) with her wife, Alex, opted to have a double mastectomy in August and returned to her stand-up tour a month later. Now cancer-free, she sat down with PEOPLE’s Julie Jordan to discuss her radical decision:

I was a size triple-D. That’s a lot of boob, so I really wanted the reduction. After the surgery they sent the tissue samples in, which is standard procedure, and it tested positive for DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive type of breast cancer]. I was home when the doctor called. He said, “It’s stage zero. You’re going to be fine.” My first thought was, “Really? Me, breast cancer?” I just couldn’t believe it.

When my wife, Alex, got home, I waited until we got the kids down for bed, and then I told her. Of course as soon as she heard the word “cancer,” she just lost it. I really was okay because I knew this was doable.

There were options. I could have taken the drug Tamoxifen and gone back every three months to keep an eye on it, but that seemed stupid to me. Plus there was a chance it would send me into early menopause. Can’t you just see me onstage going through mood swings? “I’m so happy to be here! F— all of you! I have cancer, Jackass!” and then start crying and run off the stage. And I have 2-year-old twins; I didn’t want to be the “crazy, sweaty mommy.”

They also couldn’t pinpoint where the DCIS was because of the manner in which reductions are done, so a partial mastectomy wasn’t possible. I have a history of breast cancer in my family too, so I was going to do whatever it took to reduce my chances of getting an invasive cancer. When my doctor said the smart choice would be to remove both breasts, I was like, “Thank you!” I just needed to hear someone say it.

My mother and brother came to stay with us for the surgery. When they wheeled me into the O.R., I really was at peace. They did the bilateral mastectomy and put in skin expanders at the same time, so when I woke up, my chest was just on fire. After being in the recovery room for several hours, I had a panic attack. I’m anemic, so they were having trouble drawing my blood. They were about to stick me again, and all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. Everything that had happened just hit me at that moment. It was too much. I just sobbed.

Back at home I was miserable. Every day I had to change the bandages and look at it, and it was not pretty at all. I was getting mad, depressed; I went through this range of emotions. I kept asking, “When am I going to feel like myself again?” I wanted my life back.

Then I had to have another smaller surgery to remove dead tissue, but a few days later, when the doctor took the bandages off, it looked pretty good. That seemed to kick-start everything, and then I started to feel better too. When I have my last surgery, he’ll take out the expanders and put in the implants. I’m debating if I want to stay this size or go a little bigger. Maybe get huge stripper boobs, just to make a statement. Naw, a nice C works for me.

I made my decision because I love life and I know I’m blessed. The kids are also a huge part because you want to be around for them. My scars? I barely see them. I feel whole; I really do. Because every day, I get to say, “There’s no cancer.” I’m healthy, and that’s beautiful.