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. 😉