I don’t know what is more difficult; to make a tough decision about a serious potential threat in your future or to wait until you are told you only have one option? To be more specific, to remove healthy breast tissue while it’s a serious threat, but not yet a problem OR to wait and see if it becomes a problem and then have no other option, but to have surgery and other treatment. Let’s be real, who wants to have this debate at all? And let’s certainly not play the “what if” game. When you find yourself entrenched in this kind of debate, one thing is for sure. It’s not pleasant.
Let me also state no one chooses cancer. And you certainly, don’t want to wait around for cancer to choose you. Cancer just has a funny way of popping up unannounced. There is no sh*ttier day then when you hear that you in fact have been diagnosed with cancer. It doesn’t matter what kind, what stage…those words are paralyzing even if only for a brief moment. This past February I had options, maybe they weren’t options I wanted to be faced with, but I have to say, I’m very thankful I have a choice.
So why am I choosing a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy? Le Duh because I’m such a bad-ass competitive psycho that thinks I can beat breast cancer before I even hear that I have it. In a less obnoxious response, I’ll tell you what didn’t drive my decision. Fear. Fear was not the driving force behind my decision. Sure, fear is certainly present. We can have a nice chat about all my fears in a future post. But for now, I mostly fear the regret I would feel if I ignored my genetic mutation. What happens if I am diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing I have always known I was born with such a high risk? I’m not so strong that fear just isn’t a factor here folks. But fear has not done damage to my frontal lobe. I’m fueled by so much more than that.
As I mentioned before, I met with various medical professionals and even had psychological guidance before making my decision. One debate I really, really struggled with was the “when”.
“When is the right time for surgery?” I often answered this question with, “There is no right time for cancer either, so let’s just get this surgery over with.”
“When will I have the support for someone to help me recover while also taking care of my toddler?”
“When should I consider baby #2? Before or after surgery?”
Chris and I talked at length about all the details. We made an in-depth pros and cons list. We talked over all the options with both surgeons and psychologists. All doctors were on the same page when they said “Ultimately, its your choice for when. You don’t have to do it this year, but we recommend this is in your five year plan.”
Baby #2 was a huge factor that I deeply struggled with, cried over, sobbed over actually… really it was the one factor that was incredibly hard for me to justify the surgery for. My plan for the year really changed in February when I found the lump. The plan for 2015 was to sell the condo, buy a new house, and get pregnant. If you want to know the truth, I would be in “new house, new baby” mode now. I would be hoping to be giving birth this upcoming winter if my master plan had worked out.
I really struggled with the idea of not being able to someday breast feed baby #2. There is something about being a mom and the pressures we create for ourselves and the ones that others put on us. With Siena, I felt breastfeeding pressure A LOT. I found the lactation consultants I dealt with were really pushy. Prior to giving birth, I thought breastfeeding would be kind of easy. You have your boobs, your milk and your baby…what could go wrong? For those of you who don’t already know, BREASTFEEDING IS REALLY AND I MEAN REALLY F*CKING HARD. It’s fantastic and in so many amazing ways, I knew it was worth it. I was often astonished by what my body was capable of. “Look what my body did! I not only carried her and birthed her, but now I’m helping her grow. Go me. Girl power. Boob power. Look at me doing this.” Those crazy hormones made me think a lot.
But breastfeeding Siena was only successful for about 4 months with only one working boob and those 4 months were a serious struggle (apologies about my boob talk, but this is a breasty kind of blog so sorry gentlemen). Siena didn’t gain weight from her 4 month appointment to her 6 month appointment. I felt all kinds of guilt and ultimately super emotional about having to switch to formula. This massive sense of failure came over me. I looked into the pediatricians eyes and started to weep when he said he really wanted her to switch to formula. It was like he was suggesting I feed her poison and that together we would be ruining her chances to get into an Ivy League college if I listened to him (to be clear, this is not to put down anyone that chooses not to breastfeed or can’t breastfeed. This is to demonstrate how unreasonably tapped I was as a new mom). All boobs aside, life got better when Siena wasn’t breastfed.
A new baby is a ton of work. And I hear the transition from baby #1 to baby #2 can be a challenge. Ultimately, what would two kids and a mastectomy look like in my 5 year plan? Who is going to take care of two small children while I recover? This solved the “when” question and baby fever. The time for surgery is now.
After finding the lump, I knew in my heart I didn’t want to wait anymore. I was so ready. Even my breast surgeon said, “I know when someone is being pressured to have surgery or they are afraid or they just aren’t ready. You my dear, sound so ready. And after looking at your family history and seeing that you have a small child, you are making the right choice.” That’s when I lost it. I sat in the room with my johnny opened in the front and just let it happen. Chris handed me tissues as I tried to gain composure. In the moment I was feeling sad that this is my family’s reality. I pictured my aunt’s beaming smile and felt this warm rush come over me and tightness in my throat. And like the emotional roller coaster this has been, I quickly felt the shift and began to feel grateful. This surgery is saving me from what my family has already endured so many times. I’m not just dodging a bullet people. The decision has been made. I’m b*tch slapping the gun down and gracefully telling the mutated gene it can no longer prevent me from living the life I hoped to live. I made a promise to myself and to my family, I am going to live a better life than I had ever dreamed of.
Yes, BRCA1 has awakened the sleeping giant inside of me. I am changing my life for the better. I’m moving forward. No more mapping out an itinerary of what I expect to happen. I’m moving forward with a sense of adventure. This chapter of my life has really been remarkable in ways I never expected. There have been many moments that have taken my breath away. I’ve been moved by generosity, support and kindness. I wish you could see me when I receive the email notification that someone has joined my cause and made a donation to Bright Pink. My eyes well up every single time. I used to think that our purpose was how we make a living. This year I learned that is your vocation. Your purpose is so much simpler and so much greater than that. Your purpose is joy. Give it, get it, feel it, spread it. It’s all about discovering, nurturing and celebrating who you truly are. When you know that, when you feel that…and when others are moved by it too… it’s really motivating. I’ve been on long runs with soul-quenching feelings of awe. Each day, I’m growing through this in a way I didn’t know I would be. I’m running faster, traveling longer distances and ultimately unafraid of my choices.
But what drove me to make the leap? What made me start interviewing a team of surgeons? What made me choose to remove my breasts before I’m done creating a family? What made me block out everyone else’s opinion and listen to my own voice? It was the hope I felt after talking to my pink pal at Bright Pink. I no longer saw surgery as this doom and gloom difficult future. I have so much hope. I have hope this decision means I’ll never have to have the same conversation with my daughter that my mom once had with me. I hope I never have to look my daughter in the eyes and watch her feel scared for my health. I have hope my daughter will always know I will do whatever I can to tuck her little chicken bum in bed each night. I have hope this surgery means my husband and I can dream of our future without the constant reality check every six months. I have hope this surgery means one day I’ll be free from that 87% cloud that is always following me around. I have hope one day I will look down at my chest and feel nothing but empowerment. I hope this means we will live and live really well.
For all of you that have hopes, go make it happen today. It’s so worth it.