Round 1: Done!

It’s Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Two weeks after my surgery and it’s my first day going back to work! I’m excited and ready. I’m very fortunate because I love my job and many people would dread a day like this. But not me – I’ve been looking forward to it.

First, I know some of y’all are probably thinking “Back to work? Already?” But yes, already. The first operation that was done was the breast reduction. So this was the “easier” surgery of the treatment plan my surgeons recommended. This is why my insurance didn’t originally approve the claim because it was considered cosmetic. But because I’m so (eh hem) “blessed” they had to reduce and go small first in order to save my skin and nipples. In total, I’m having 3 surgeries and now 1 is done. I’ll tell you more about what’s ahead in another post.

Surgery Day, July 17: Here’s What Happened

I had to be at the hospital at 5am. My parents and sister were with me. This was the part I was dreading the most…the actual surgery. It was my first one ever and I wasn’t even thinking about recovery. But it was seriously the easiest part. As soon as I arrived, they took me to a room to prep me, started giving me drugs and I met with the anesthesiologist (Jim) who explained to me what he was going to do. Then my surgeon, Dr. Fisher, came in to check in on me, asked what size I decided on and started marking me up. The sweetest nurse, Kacey, came in to tell my family they were taking me away. That’s when I got scared and started to cry a little bit. My family kissed me and I was wheeled off to the OR. It was surreal having the POV of being in the bed and seeing the halls go past me. My only experience with surgeries has been on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Kacey was reassuring and said, “You’re going to be fine, Jessica. You’re in great hands.” Those two little sentences were so comforting and made me feel better (for about 30 seconds). Then I was in the OR and I remember looking around thinking, “Well this is a pretty room” because it had wood paneling and not steel like on TV. Then I saw Jim walking toward me and that’s the last thing I remember. Literally 2 seconds later someone was rousing me saying, “Wake up, Jessica. It’s over.”

Me after surgery: “It’s over? Is it really over?”

It honestly felt like I closed my eyes and the surgery was over but it was actually close to 2.5 hours. It felt like no time had lapsed – I didn’t even do the countdown from 10! Jim put on the mask and I woke up to Glenn, the recovery nurse. He fed me ice chips and called my sister to give her updates. I was in recovery for almost 2 hours but it was very hazy. My blood pressure was high and they wanted it to come down before they returned me to my room. I remember it being hard to breathe because I was so tired and Glenn saying, “Deep breaths, Jessica. Don’t you want to go home?” Thank God for all that yoga. Finally, my BP was down and they took me back at 12pm. I saw my dad first taking pictures and my mom waiting at my door. I could barely talk but I asked them if they ate breakfast because I still couldn’t believe almost 5 hours had passed. They could’ve had lunch at that point.

My mom talking to me and making sure I was okay

Dr. Fisher came in to see how I was doing and said I handled surgery “like a champ.” I didn’t even need drains because they said I didn’t have excess body fluids. And she said they removed *1 lb* from each breast – yikes! I was released from the hospital around 2pm. The ride home felt like forever (longer than surgery) and every little bump or dip was torture. My dad drove with the hazard lights on since we were going so slow. The second I got in my bed, every emotion suddenly hit me. I was happy, sad, scared, hurting, thankful, relieved – so I cried. My first real cry in months. Then I took a looooooong nap.

By the evening, I was walking around and feeling loads better. I had some friends come by and they were surprised to see me up and about. Walking is the only thing I can really do and my doctor encouraged it since lying around too much would cause other problems. I received so many calls, texts, messages, cards, food and well wishes from everyone. On Friday I felt well enough to go to the movies to see “The Lion King.” (By the way, a real-life looking Simba crying over Mufasa is a gazillion times worse than a cartoon Simba.)

Really, really blessed ❀ Thank you everyone!

I was bandaged and in a surgical bra and scared to touch or even look at my breasts. Mostly I didn’t want to mess up the stitches but partly because it was VERY obvious I was now on the small-side. I didn’t know how I was going to react. Would I be sad? Depressed? Scared? Angry? Hate my body and realize this was a huge mistake? I was told to take a shower on Friday and nervous it was going to hurt. They instructed me to stand backsides to the shower head and let the water fall over me. Okay, this was it. The big reveal. I stepped into the shower, looked down to see the gauze wash away and….

My sister snapped this photo of my reaction when I saw my new boobies for the first time. I was laughing hysterically. I went from a 36DDD to a D cup size.

Day by day I was getting stronger. We left for San Antonio on Saturday and I was so happy to be going home. Over the next 10 days, I watched a lot of Netflix, HBO and Hulu. Finished “Orange is the New Black,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Queer Eye, “When They See Us,” and “Big Little Lies” – you know typical viewing that’s part of the liberal agenda. I ate a lot of Mexican food. Was visited by family and friends. Cuddled with Finn, who was simply amazing and the sweetest thing ever. I saw a completely different side of him as he was so aware of what I was going through. He was less hyper and more cooperative than I’ve ever seen him.

And of course, my amazing parents and sister Melissa. I couldn’t have gotten through those 2 weeks without them. They spoiled me, catered to my every need, helped me shower, fed me, dressed me, made sure I took my medicine, etc. And, of course, they took care of Finn since I couldn’t. I love them so much and I’m so thankful for them. And thank you to the Soliz family for your wonderful gift. We all benefited from it!

I still have loads to talk about but I’ll save that for another post. Right now, just wanted to let everyone know I’m doing great and in a really great place. I’m so incredibly blessed to have you in my life. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Love, Jessica

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It’s Happening!

Yes, it happened! I have a letter in my hands from my insurance that gives me all the approvals I need to move forward so I can have my surgery.

So now, I can finally address the question that everyone has been asking me: “What the hell happened?”

Back to April 10, my planned surgery day. I thought that everything was in order and only had to worry having a successful operation. Little did I know that behind the scenes, there was a struggle between the insurance company and my surgeons. It’s so complicated and so many events unfolded following the cancellation but here is the short version: The insurance company didn’t believe that it was “medically necessary” to save my skin and nipples. In order to have an optimal outcome and allow me to retain some version of myself, my surgeons needed to perform a breast reduction before they performed a mastectomy. My surgeon and her staff worked as hard as they could to convince insurance that this was the best procedure for me. They fought and pushed back as much as possible on my behalf and I’m so thankful for that. We were all confident the claim would be approved.

But the insurance rep….a MAN…yes, a MAN!!!….said the reduction would not be covered. It also stated that reconstruction would only be approved if I had a total mastectomy. As in both breasts had to be ENTIRELY removed.

You just want to chop off my boobs?

There is no reason to cut off an entire breast for no reason. If I absolutely needed to, if I had cancer and it was so far progressed that saving my skin was no longer an option, then yes, I would absolutely remove my breasts. It’s difficult enough to make the decision to have this surgery in order to save my life. To know that I will have a hard, long recovery. Know that my body will never look the same. But to cut off a body part and part of my identity like it’s nothing? To take my womanhood as if I have no emotional or physical connection? That’s just cruel and pointless. There is NO benefit to doing something like this. It won’t even save money. If insurance is willing to pay for reconstruction, they should be willing to pay for a breast reduction in order to save my skin/nipples. Maybe it’s not medically necessary for my physical health, but it’s absolutely 100% necessary for my mental health.

I know it’s not the same thing but with everything happening in regard to women’s reproductive rights and the government limiting what women can do with their bodies, I can identify. It really pisses me off that a man that has never consulted me, never examined me and never even met me thinks HE knows what is better for me than ME. A man who read my insurance claim, and didn’t even read it correctly, thinks HE knows better than the two female surgeons who I’ve been working with for months.

Actress Busy Phillips opened up about an abortion she had and gave a quote that really resonated me with and my situation: “Women and their doctors are in the best position to make informed decisions about what is best for them. Nobody else, nobody,”

I’m incredibly lucky to work for a company that values mental health and well-being. I can’t imagine the trauma of looking down at my chest and seeing nothing there. I’ve heard of women suffering from PTSD after having mastectomies and seeing flat chests. Why would you do that to a woman for no reason? Being back in that cloud of uncertainty, of not having peace of mind, I started suffering from anxiety again. I was taking Xanax. I had several panic attacks, including one the day after my surgery was cancelled. I hadn’t had one in months. I can’t live my life waiting for cancer to happen.

I can’t even begin to tell you how distraught I was. I had spent so much time mentally and physically preparing for that surgery. I had a plan and to have that ripped away from me just about broke me. I don’t think I’ve cried so hard in my entire life. I’ve never felt so scared and uncertain. I hated being back in the dark cloud and as though my body was my worst enemy coming to get me.

When word got around my office of what happened to me, people, especially the women, were livid. They were concerned about what other women’s healthcare treatments wouldn’t be covered or subjected to all this justification. The leadership went above and beyond to make sure the surgery was approved in the manner that my doctors ensured me was the best way forward. It took some time to happen, but I got approval on Friday. I was ecstatic. I felt like I could breathe again. I know how lucky I am and I’m so grateful to the people at my company for making this happen. And the silver lining of this is my experience has helped to ensure that no other woman at my company will have to go through such an ordeal. It makes the suffering worth it to help pave the way for others.

If there’s anything I learned from this situation, it’s this – We are in DESPERATE need of healthcare reform.

  1. Health shouldn’t be a profit. It’s sad that it’s a business. My life shouldn’t be something you see in only dollar signs. I had the best time trying to explain to my UK friends why this happened.
  2. It shouldn’t matter where we work and we should all have the same type of access to healthcare. I’m lucky I have such a supportive company. But I spoke to so many friends who said, “Wow, if that were my job, they wouldn’t give a shit.”
  3. Let women and their doctors decide what’s best for them. Trust them.
  4. And finally, I have a lot of bad-ass friends who all had my back and were ready to start fundraising if I had to pay out of pocket so I could have the surgery. Thank you all so much! I’m glad it didn’t come to that because coverage can’t wait. And there are sadly a lot of women out there who lack good insurance and resources so they need that help more than I do.

And to answer the question I also get asked a lot – yes, there will be another Booby Shower! πŸ™‚

To Be Continued…

I had a setback on April 10. I don’t know entirely what happened and, even if I did, I’m reluctant to share those details as I work to get this matter resolved. But my surgery yesterday did not happen. Bottom line, it had to do with insurance.

Since I decided I was ready for this operation, I’ve taken necessary steps to deal with the emotional and physical effects. I’ve been seeing a therapist as I care deeply about my mental well-being. I hired a nutritionist to help me have a healthy diet and worked out regularly to care for my physical side. My loved ones all played a big part, too. My parents carved time out of their lives to be here with me. My sister took time off work. I had countless gifts and cards sent to me by friends. I purchased prescriptions, comfy clothes, a special bra and other important items to help during my recovery. My niece and nephews sent cards and a gift with their mom the day I was supposed to have my surgery.

My niece and I are so close. I know how much she wanted to be there with me.

I was at the hospital hooked up to an IV getting drugs and had an Oxycodone to help me calm down. I was getting prepped and chatting with my friendly nurse Erica. Then my doctor walked in and let me know surgery was canceled. I know how hard she and her staff worked to advocate for me and I’m so grateful for that. I trust her completely and know she has my back. I cannot tell you how devastated I was. The nurse came back in to take out my IV and I was crying and talking to a friend on the phone to tell them what happened. The nurse actually started tearing up listening to my conversation.

A pretty close depiction of my reaction to the cancellation

Here’s something to know about my genetic mutation: I have an 80% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime. I have to lose my breasts to save my life while trying to maintain some of my identity as a woman. Since I had BRCA, I’ve suffered from severe anxiety, depression and panic attacks. To say that I am too young or that anyone knows what’s best for me is bullshit. My aunt had breast cancer at 39. I am 38. I’ve had at least three girlfriends from college diagnosed with breast cancer and one pass from leukemia in the last 5 years. Yesterday, I thought that dark cloud that has been looming over my head would finally go away. Now, it’s back and bigger than ever.

Time is precious. I want to be proactive and stay ahead of this. I don’t know how long an appeal will take but I’m working on it. I have 100% faith and confidence in both of my surgeons. I trust that what they recommend for my procedure is the best method according to standard of care and my long-term outcome. I’m very lucky to work for a company that values the mental health and well-being of its employees. I have no doubt that I have their support as I work towards an appeal.

This is a minor setback. As devastated and disappointed as I am, I believe that everything happens for a reason. There’s some higher being looking over me that intervened and protected me from something. What? I don’t know. But yesterday was not the time for my surgery. My journey is to be continued. My surgery is going to happen and I’ll do whatever it takes.

A Letter to My Breasts

Well, this is it. My surgery has arrived. I’ve been anxious for weeks. I sit here writing this knowing my breasts will be emptied out tomorrow and my hands are shaking. But first I wanted to address the elephant in the room. Something no one really says that’s obvious so let’s just get it out there. Alright. Here it is…I have big boobs.

Some backstory: I developed at an early age. Some people said I was “blessed” but I thought it was a curse. I was a C cup by 12-years-old. In 6th grade, a boy grabbed my boobs on a dare because my classmates thought I stuffed my bra. I screamed in pain and saw the shock on his face turn to pure awe. A friend would get mad at me for wearing tank tops around her boyfriend because he’d stare. A male classmate gave me a mean nickname that made his buddies laugh. Teachers would reprimand me for wearing tight tops because it “distracted” the boys but really it was just hard finding clothes that fit me properly. And any time a guy asked me out, I didn’t know if he was actually interested in me or just wanted to see how far he could get so he could brag in the locker room.

My entire life I’ve been programmed to feel hate, shame or embarrassment about my body by the people around me. Clearly I couldn’t help it; they kept growing. My freshman year of high school I was a D cup then by senior year a DD. For over 10 years, I was a 38DDD and my weight would fluctuate but I never lost anything up top. Then last summer I lost over 20 lbs (not really healthy as I was severely depressed) and for the first time ever I went down a bra size. I’ve been a 36DDD since July.

Now, I’m older and wiser and I think that’s why I’m so outspoken and loud – it’s compensating for my teen years when I was so passive and meek. Looking back I should’ve slapped Brian for grabbing my chest. I would’ve told my friend to get after her shitty boyfriend. I’d tell the teachers to inform the boys they should respect their female classmates. Those things weren’t my fault and my only power was how I dealt with it.

A month ago I was at Top Golf with friends when I first heard the word “previvor.” My friend Brittany said “that’s what you are” so I looked it up. The word is defined as “individuals who are survivors of a predisposition to cancer but who haven’t had the disease. This group includes people who carry a hereditary mutation, a family history of cancer, or some other predisposing factor.

I’ve hated my body for over 20 years of my life. But that day when I learned of the word previvor, something switched. I looked down at my chest and really appreciated what I had. I’m giving up my breasts for a chance that something will happen. I felt a genuine sadness and loss for what’s being taken away because there’s also a chance it won’t happen. Having a large chest is part of my identity and I feel like I’m losing who I am. Whenever I meet a person and someone is asked to describe me, they’re like, “Oh that girl with the big boobs.” What I am going to be now when they’re different? Will people even recognize me?

It wasn’t until two years ago I truly started to embrace my body. As I learned how to enjoy my assets, I began wearing low-cut tops and fitted dresses. I have my friend Stephanie Colorado to thank for helping me feel more confident in my skin. Now, I appreciate my breasts giving me an identity and allowing me to stand out. I’m not ashamed anymore and love my body. I’m only sorry it’s taken so long and such drastic measures to get to this point but I’m here now and that’s what matters.

So, the day before my surgery, I wrote a letter to my breasts and wanted to share it with you:

To my family and friends, I love you so much. And thank you to you for always being there.

All my Love, Jess

My Booby Shower

When I was going through the process of deciding to have surgery, I always tried to think ahead. One of the things I noticed was I’d have to give up a lot of things I love before and after surgery: red wine, green tea, garlic, high impact activity like SoulCycle and hot yoga. Oh, and alcohol! Me? Giving up alcohol? That’s like asking a dolphin to not swim.

A lot of people think I’m going crazy and eating whatever I want since it’s going to be taken out later but I’ve made a point of being healthy, cutting out alcohol and having lots of protein. I even hired a nutritionist to help with my diet and in 3 weeks I’ve lost 3 lbs. I feel great! Heather has been simply awesome and is so motivating. She has the most incredible energy and very inspirational. During one of our first coaching calls, she said a quote that really struck a chord, “To gain anything in life, we have to be willing to lose things. To create a new life requires losing your old.” It didn’t just resonate with things like eliminating greasy food and sugar but also with giving up my breasts so I can gain a new life with peace of mind.

So, the party. How’d that happen? If you ever watched “Sex & the City,” there’s an episode where Carrie is shamed by a married friend for her single-girl lifestyle choices. Carrie points out she celebrates and invests in the relationships, weddings, baby showers, etc. of her married friends while the single girls and non-mothers (like me) don’t get our moments to receive the same. And then I realized something (haha…see what I did there?), my decision to have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction is a milestone to celebrate. When I asked two of my dear and supportive friends if they’d throw a party for me, they didn’t hesitate to say “Yaaaaas!

On March 30, 2019, I had a booby shower! (Austin, TX)

Maybe this sounds crass or dirty but it wasn’t. I blame society for over-sexualizing something that is beautiful, natural and meant for nourishment. This is my journey and I decide the experiences regarding my decision. My shower was about celebrating taking control of my body and living your best life now. There are so many unknowns and I wanted a big hurrah before everything changes. I don’t know how I’ll be able to tolerate the pain and recovery. I don’t know how I’ll react when I see my new breasts. I don’t know what my body will look like in a few months. I don’t know how long it will take me to feel normal again. For me, a person who likes routine, staying active and planning, all this is unsettling. I always try to approach things that scare me with an open mind and a sense of humor so a themed-party made sense. I know how lucky I am I get to have fun with my decision because I’m not sick and other women may not be as fortunate. While I’m scared, I don’t want to be sad.

For the party, I wanted fun. I wanted to dance. To not worry. To let loose in the comfort and safety of people I love. And to drink just one more time! It will be a while before I can have alcohol again.

No names on cups at my party. Bra sizes only! Boob cupcakes, brassiere cookies and a special cocktail. #tatatitties

On a normal day, I dress casual and fairly covered up. For the party I wore a dress my friends call my “Kim Kardashian” outfit because it’s form-fitting and shows off my curves. I told the girls to dress up and play up their chests! We were celebrating ALL boobs! I invited people but didn’t know who would come. Austin had an unexpected cold-front so it was freezing and the forecast called for rain. But the door kept opening and in kept popping in faces of people that are so special to me. My former roommate came in from Dallas. Friends from undergrad and grad school showed up. Work friends. Former work friends. Friends from my social circle in Austin. Friends I see weekly and friends I haven’t seen in years.

I’m blessed to have many so wonderful friends. They came out to support me and celebrate my journey.

You probably see the bathroom selfie. I know it’s cliche but it was a special moment. I had a breakdown during the party as I was going through my camera roll and noticed one photo in particular. I looked so damn happy in it because I realized I am; I’m the happiest I’ve been in a really long time. To see that glow on my face and smile got me. Then I looked up and I saw everyone in room. I pride myself on having many circles of friends from different areas of my life. To see these circles intertwine and everyone laughing, talking and having fun…it was overwhelming and I was overcome with so much emotion. It happened so fast that I couldn’t have stopped it even if I tried – I started sobbing. One of the girls grabbed me and took me to the bathroom. Then several friends rushed in when they saw me crying. “What’s wrong? Is she okay? What happened? Is she having a panic attack?” Me, blubbering: “I’m s-so h-happy! Look at this p-picture! Look how ha-happy I look!” They were relieved and starting wiping my tears. “Okay, it’s a happy cry but you’re ruining your make-up.” They listened to me say I was scared, said they loved me and it would all be okay. Once I calmed down, they fixed my face up so I could return to the party. But first we took the picture. Because that’s what friends do – they’re strong for you and carry you when you have your weak moments.

It was a wonderful celebration and my friends even asked to have another party when I get my new boobs. It was two days ago and I’m still smiling – and I’m positive I’ll smile any time I think about it for the rest of my life. I let my friends motorboat me. I had an old school hip-hop/R&B playlist we jammed to all night. I danced on the sofa. I took a lot of pictures. There were squishy boobs we kept tossing around and taking pics with. I drank from a pink cup with 36D written on it (my future bra size). I drank vodka (my favorite) and enjoyed it since it would be my last for a while. The party was everything I wanted and more. I remember most of it. Apparently I gave a speech that I don’t remember giving (haha).

Also something I realized the next day, while I knew nearly everyone there, a few friends brought along their friends who didn’t know me. I didn’t mind guests at all. We had plenty to drink and the more the merrier! But I couldn’t help but wonder (I did it again!) what they thought went they walked in and saw boobs everywhere. Like, “Huh? What is going on? What are we celebrating?

I don’t know what’s ahead for me but I know that I’m excited about it. It feels like the beginning of something great. The start of a new path and gaining a new chapter in my life. And most importantly, I know that I have a whole lot of people behind me to get me through it. No one should ever go through a process like this without strong and amazing people at their side.

The “Girls” πŸ™‚

What’s Going to Happen

I know I’ve said this before but I can’t say it enough – thank you. I’m so lucky to have had friends reach out to me from various stages of my life: high school, Texas Lassos, Camp Texas, Orange Jackets, ILC, Contiki, grad school, TNT, Croatia, former students, my professional career, my Austin social scene, YTAC, family, friends of family and so much more. One of the things I love about my life is I’ve taken interesting paths that intersect with people from all walks of life. No matter how brief or long our interaction was and no matter when it was, I made a friend who is part of a certain memory or moment. I have the best support system and you’re all getting me through one of the most daunting things I’ve ever faced.

I wanted to use this post to address a question I’m getting asked a lot: “What’s going to happen with your surgery?” This is a valid question and I don’t mind talking about it. I realize how lucky I am that I get to be proactive and not reactive. Once cancer is detected, options are limited and action has to be taken quickly.

Let me make one thing clear: I’m NOT losing my breasts and I won’t be without them. To be honest, if I had to have my breasts removed entirely, even for just a day, I wouldn’t have been able to have this surgery. It’d be too emotionally jarring. I can’t imagine how incredibly unnerving and what a jolt it is to your soul to look down at your chest and see nothing there. To those women who do it, you are a warrior.

I have two fabulous doctors: a breast surgeon doing the mastectomy and plastic surgeon doing the reconstruction. When I went in for a consultation with the plastic surgeon, Dr. Christine Fisher, she was professional, kind and made me feel incredibly comfortable. I liked her right away and knew I was in good hands. She seemed a bit excited to work with me since she likely deals with a lot of cancer patients and those situations come with a different set of emotions. Dr. Fisher said she could take her time with me since there’s no urgency. “We will minimize scarring. Help you have an easier recovery. And I’ll make sure you will have perky, pretty and full breasts.” Me? With perky breasts? This is how I reacted:

The first surgery is April 10 with a month-long recovery. At this operation they’re doing multiple things: they’re saving my skin, doing a breast reduction, removing all of the breast tissue and inserting temporary expanders. The expanders are empty implants and they’ll be in there to help me heal. So I’m going to have no weight in my breasts. How frickin’ weird is that?

For 2 weeks I have to rest and in week 3 & 4 I can slowly resume normal activity like driving and work. I’m also supposed to use T-Rex arms (picture that – it’s amusing) so I don’t damage anything. I’ll have tubes and drains in to collect bodily fluids, which I can’t do myself (obviously, T-Rex arms) so that’s what I need the most help with – emptying and cleaning them. After this surgery, my breasts will be smaller and I’m currently deciding what size I want to be. Depending on you ask, I get different reactions. “Go smaller. Think of your long-term health and your back problems,” to “Stay the same size,” or “Go BIGGER!” (You can probably guess who’s telling me this.)

I have to wait a minimum of three months to heal and then I can have the next surgery. They’re doing a procedure called a DIEP flap where fat tissue will be removed from my abdomen. The expanders will come out and the fat will go in. In the pamphlets I read, the medical term for this is “reharvesting tissue.” But, as my nephew Adam pointed out, “So, you’re going to be skinny?” Me: “Excuse me? SkinniER!

In all seriousness, this surgery will be painful – I’ve spoken to several women who’ve had it. The recovery time is around 6 weeks. I’ll have a scar across my lower stomach so my dreams of ever having beautiful smooth abs are now gone. But I’ll wear that scar with pride.

As I said before, I don’t mind sharing what’s going on with me. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a pretty open person. I’ve received messages from friends who say they were in denial or scared about their health but are now encouraged to take BRCA after hearing about what I’m doing. My doctor first asked me to take BRCA in 2011 when I turned 30 and the test was really expensive (around $2,000). Plus, not a lot of people knew about it. Then in 2013, Angelina Jolie made headlines when she had the same procedure I’m having after taking BRCA. Thanks to the “Angelina effect” more people knew they had options. Most insurance companies should cover the test if you have two relatives on the same side with the same type of cancer. For me, that is my maternal grandmother (who had it twice and survived) and my aunt. With that test confirming what I already suspected, I’m able to take action now and not just wait for breast cancer to happen to me. And thanks to Obamacare, insurance companies can’t deny you treatment for a pre-existing condition.

So don’t thank Angelina. Thank me. πŸ˜‰



Telling the Kids

First I have to say how grateful I am to everyone who has reached out to me since I let y’all know about my decision. I heard from people I hadn’t spoken to in years saying they would send me their love and prayers, not to mention offering to help with my recovery by walking Finn or bringing me meals. Truly I’m overwhelmed – in a good way. I didn’t know what kind of response to get but to hear words like “brave,” “strong,” “amazing” and “inspiring” is not what I imagined. I’m so blessed to have your support and moved by your words of encouragement.

My birthday was on March 11 and, in true fashion, I made sure I celebrated it to the fullest. Sunday I went to brunch. Monday I went to SoulCycle, had a spa day and a great dinner with some of my closest friends. Tuesday I went to see “Earth, Wind & Fire” with one of my favorite people. On Wednesday my parents, sister Melissa and 4 of my 5 nieces/nephews came to Austin to take me to dinner: Kendal, Adam, Jacob and Aidan. I decided it was time to tell the kids about the operation. I know how much they care about me and how attached they are. A long time ago, I choked on a Funion (yes, the chip) after Adam said something funny and it got stuck in my throat. Kendal, who was about 6 and is now almost 14, was sitting next to me and starting panicking and crying her eyes out. I was laughing so hard and couldn’t breath then the damn thing melted and I was fine. I consoled Kendal (it was sweet she was so worried about me), giving her a hug and wrapping my hands around her little face. I said to her, “Oh baby girl. Your Aunt JJ has been through a lot in my life. Do you really think I’d get taken out by a Funion?” She was so young and doesn’t remember this incident but she loves hearing the story.

I had to tell them mostly because I know how used they are to seeing me running around, playing and being active. I know I’m not going to be like that in about a month. I was nervous about how they’d respond but mostly by having to actually say the words out loud. I had the opportunity to finally do it when they were here. They got to town and we went for a walk around UT. The kids were talking about how they wanted to go to school there one day, just like me.

Little Longhorns: Kendal, Adam, Jacob and AJ and they’re arranged oldest to youngest πŸ™‚ (Just missing my Becca)

We were on our way to Hula Hut for dinner and they all wanted to ride in my car – Kendal in the front and the three boys in the back. I turned down the radio and said I had something important to talk to them about so they needed to listen. That if they had any questions to just ask and I’d tell them the truth. I’d never lie to them.

I started out by saying I wasn’t sick and it was important for them to remember that. Then I said I was going to be in San Antonio next month and may look sick but really I’ll be in a lot of pain. I told them about the test I took and how it indicated there was a chance I’d get breast cancer one day. “Like Tia Frankie?” Jacob asked. “Yes, like her,” I replied. “I don’t want you to get breast cancer,” he said. “I don’t either, baby. That’s why I’ve decided to have surgery. So I’m going to get new boobs!”

The boys, being little boys, started laughing at hearing the word “boobs.” Then I looked over at Kendal, who I knew would understand everything, and she was crying. I fought to keep going but my voice wavered at times. I used an analogy of having water balloons with bad water inside so the doctors were going to empty the balloons then put in new and better water. That’s when the questions started piling up. Adam: “Will you still have boobs?” (Yes, I will, but they’re going to be smaller.) Jacob: “Will you be in a wheelchair?” (No, I won’t at grandma’s house but probably in the hospital.) Adam: “What’s going to be inside your boobs?” (They’re going to take fat out my stomach to rebuild them.) I noticed Adam was interested in the science of the operation (totally his personality as he loves engineering) while Jacob’s questions were about my well-being (which is also very much his personality as he’s incredibly intuitive). I went on to explain this was only going to be the first surgery where they’d empty the balloons and make them smaller. I’d get another surgery later where they’d fill them back up. Side note: those boys will never look at water balloons the same way again.

They asked me what day the surgery was and that’s when the funniest thing that came from this entire conversation happened. “It’s April 10 and on a Wednesday,” I told them. Aidan, the littlest one at 6-years-old said, “Ah, man, I have school!” We all burst out laughing, even Kendal.

I told them I didn’t want them at the hospital. “I’ll have Grandma and Grandpa with me and your mom is going to be here. I have two really awesome doctors doing the operation and nurses who will take care of me. I also have a lot of friends who want to visit me and offering to help. The surgery is here in Austin so you guys go to school like normal and I’ll see you a few days after. As soon as the doctors say I can leave, I’m going to San Antonio and staying with grandma and grandpa so they can take care of me. I’m going to need a lot of help so I can get better.

The boys were excited to hear I’d be back home in San Antonio and offered to help me in any way I needed by bringing me food, giving me medicine and even asked what they could do for Finn. “Yes, I’m going to need a lot of help with Finny because I won’t be able to take care of him.” They said they’d pray for me. Then Jacob pointed out Kendal’s birthday is April 12, which I completely forgot. I looked over at her and she was staring out the window, wiping tears from her eyes. I told them we’d celebrate her birthday later. I leaned over to hold her hand and she squeezed me. She didn’t ask any questions and never said a single word.

Finally, the last and hardest question was asked by Jacob: “Are you scared?” I remembered my promise to not lie to them.

“Yes, I’m scared. I’m very scared.” My voice was shaking and I didn’t say anymore because I knew I’d start crying. Jacob, with his young 9-year-old wisdom and honest way of looking at the world, responded by saying this:

“You may be scared, but I think you’re making the right decision so you don’t get breast cancer.”

My eyes finally welled up. I could see Adam nodding. I love that kid. I love them all. I listened to them fight about who was going to walk Finn and who was going to get me breakfast tacos.

It helps to talk about it and share my story. That’s one of the reasons I have this blog. Now that I have my surgery confirmed, it’s become more real and scary. I find myself getting more emotional saying anything out loud. Doing this helps me cope and talk about it. Like Jacob said, yes, it’s scary, but I’m making the right decision. And to hear this from a 9-year-old little boy assures me there actually is no right or wrong way – the right decision is just my decision.