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.
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.