In November 2017, Dr. Anne Peled of San Francisco was taking a shower and doing the monthly self-exam she encourages her patients to do when she felt a lump in her right breast. The now-38-year-old board-certified plastic and breast surgeon told herself it was probably nothing. After all, she’s a super-fit pescatarian, tri-athlete and distance runner, and she has no family history of breast cancer.
But that lump didn’t go away.
On Dec. 7, 2017, she had a biopsy. The next morning, Dr. Peled was preparing to perform a double mastectomy and implant reconstruction on a patient when her phone rang.
“I was getting ready to put on my gloves,” she tells PEOPLE. But she saw her pathologist was calling and answered the phone. “I was sure she was going to tell me it was a cyst and I was going to go on with my day.”
Instead, the pathologist told the breast cancer surgeon that she had breast cancer herself.
“I was so shocked,” says Dr. Peled. “There were no words. Literally, I tell women breast cancer diagnoses multiple times a week. What I tell all my patients is: ‘This is very treatable. Most breast cancer nowadays — not all — is very curable.’ I kept reminding myself, ‘Remember what you tell your patients.'”
It was a Friday when she received her diagnosis. She immediately began assembling her team. That afternoon she had a breast ultrasound. On Monday, she had a breast MRI.
Dr. Peled’s the type of mom who makes M&M pancakes and regularly piles her three kids and two yellow labs, Kahlua and Clementine, into the car and drives them to the beach or on a hike. “I make my kids go on adventures,” she says. In April, they stayed in a treehouse in Costa Rica.
But after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Peled decided not to tell her young children she had cancer. Her now-8-year-old son Simon, and now-5-year-old twin daughters, Charlotte and Eveline, have friends whose grandparents died of cancer, and she didn’t want them to worry.
Her parents stayed with the children. She scheduled her surgery in Vancouver, Washington, with a surgical team she trusted and would give her the type of hidden-scar surgery she performs herself.
A week later, she came home, told the kids mommy couldn’t lift them because she had “an ouchie,” went back to work and signed up for a 10K.
“By the time I came home, I felt great. And my kids didn’t have any idea that anything had happened,” she says. “In many ways, I look better than how I started, which is pretty amazing.”
The day she learned she didn’t need chemotherapy, she and her husband, fellow surgeon Ziv Peled, toasted with champagne.
“I got really lucky,” she says. “After that first scary phone call, every other piece of information I had after that was great news.”
Dr. Peled wore her running clothes to her radiation treatments and ran afterwards every day.
“It would clear the space in my head,” she says. “We have really good data that shows that exercise decreases recurrence. I take hormone-blocking pills and I exercise. I think of this as part of my treatment.”
She finished radiation in March and ran the 10K the following month.
Dr. Peled worked with Athleta to design their second Empower Bra, which is for women post-breast cancer.
“She is an incredibly strong and inspirational woman and we are honored to have been able to work with her,” says Casey Schumacher, Athleta’s senior director of design. “Dr. Anne Peled brought invaluable insight, given both her personal and professional experience with breast cancer and reconstruction surgery.”
RELATED VIDEO: Valerie Harper’s Husband Says Doctors Want His Wife in Hospice Care But He ‘Can’t’ & ‘Won’t’ Do It
Post-cancer bra shopping was something Dr. Peled hadn’t thought too deeply about until she had to do it for herself, she says. Some bras rub where incisions are. “And a lot of women have mobility restrictions, so options of zippers and clasps are important,” she says. “And the fabric — when you get radiation, your skin gets sunburned when you’re healing. So you don’t want the fabric to chafe or rub.”
Once a month, Dr. Peled travels the country to train other surgeons in the type of hidden-scar surgery technique she had herself, because she wants other women to have the “amazing care” that she had. She talks about the technique on social media and invites surgeons to come to her practice to watch and learn the technique.
So struck by these data every time I see them- such a strong reminder of why finding a breast surgeon who thinks about hiding scars and offers #oncoplasticsurgery is so important. #bcsm #cancersurvivor https://t.co/heTzopVvxx pic.twitter.com/dCVSCQKoXZ— Anne Peled, M.D. (@annepeledmd) July 18, 2019
“Many women don’t realize that not all lumpectomies are the same. A lot of times, there are big scars right over where the cancer was. And then they get closed without reshaping the breast,” she says. “Women get these holes in the breast where your tissue caves in — and that can be pretty disfiguring for women. You wake up in the morning and get out of the shower and you’re reminded every day.”
Wondering where your #lumpectomy scars will be? In nearly all cases (and for removal of benign lumps too!), scars can be hidden so that they can barely be seen once they’ve fully healed. #OncoplasticSurgery #bcsm #hiddenscar https://t.co/9OdL9tJ1e7 pic.twitter.com/OwFnVmDxdE— Anne Peled, M.D. (@annepeledmd) February 18, 2019
Dr. Peled wants women to know their options before they have breast cancer surgery.
“I feel lucky to have this job,” she tells PEOPLE. “In so many ways, it’s so scary. It’s so much more filled with hope than it used to be. Our treatments get better and better.”