3-31-2021 ~ WARNING ~ Proceed with Caution (or sunglasses). If the site of a boob scares you, turn back now!
After 14 months of researching, thinking about and planning for a Prophylactic Double Mastectomy, the time for it is pretty much here. In two days, I will walk into Magee Women’s Hospital and place my boobs into the hands of a team of physicians who will work their magic and take my risk of developing Breast Cancer from greater than 80% (according to some research) to less than 5% (also, according to some research). Truthfully, at this point, I don’t care about the numbers. I simply believe I am doing what is best for me and my family. I want to continue to live a healthy and active life filled with adventures and memories. With some luck, this surgery and my previous Hysterectomy ~ Salpingo/Oophorectomy will help ensure I do, or at least give me some extra years.
Self-doubt has always played a big role in my life. None of the decisions I have made since finding out I carried the BRCA1 mutation have been easy and not one single day has been smooth sailing without some hint of second thoughts or self-doubt. However, a couple of things happened last week, that have quieted those doubts and helped me release the hesitations and constant self-questioning.
First ~ Monday, April 22nd was a full-blown Pre-Op day at the hospital. It included a general clearance, which consisted of an EKG, chest X-Ray, blood work and a meeting with a physician that would clear me for surgery. Following this appointment, I had to do a diagnostic mammogram, meet with the breast oncologist/surgeon, and end my day with a breast MRI.
- I want to write about the meeting I had with the first doctor that cleared me for surgery. This particular physician was an older gentleman who walked into the room masked and face shielded. He was kind and “elbowed” a greeting to both my husband and me. He went about asking general questions and then asked, “do you have a strong family history of breast cancer.” When I told him “no”, he asked how I found out. When I told him it was from a “23and me assessment”, he sat back in his chair with a look of intrigue. He continued to share with Jim and I that, 1.) he has not met a patient that has found out about a BRCA mutation this way and 2.) it can be extremely difficult for physicians to get an okay from insurance companies to test patients for this mutation. He then shared with us that he has spent most of his career dealing with really sick cancer patients (many of them suffering from breast cancer) and how it has impacted his career. As he made his way out the door after examining me, he stopped at the threshold and asked “a 23and me, huh”. I nodded my head in acknowledgement and pulled my cheek inward slightly (this happens to be a habit I have and one that I do in an attempt to to stop tears from forming.) He stopped himself from proceeding through the door and looked me straight in the face and said, “that test saved your life…….it SAVED your life.” Damn! Talk about a mic drop! If you have been following along with my posts, you know, I believe things happen and or are sometimes said at the exact moment they are needed. Call it divine intervention, coincidence, the universe, a slap in the face…whatever you want. In that moment, I needed to hear those words and I will continue to replay them in my own head for days/months/years ahead. Those words have helped me change my perspective a bit and have given me a little extra strength to face what lies ahead.
Second ~ As if those words weren’t enough to cement my decisions, the phone call on Wednesday morning was one more thing to solidify my choice. After comparing the mammogram with the MRI, there was enough suspicion to suggest a breast biopsy. Shit! I was so close to avoiding this particularly unpleasant test. Of course, I asked if it was necessary; after all, they were coming off in 9 days. My surgeon assured me it was for the best. She preferred knowing what she was getting into and the results could alter the approach of the surgery. Soooooo…. back I went to Pittsburgh for an early Wednesday morning biopsy. Once again, the team at Magee’s was P.H.E.N.O.M.E.N.A.L.! They talked me through the entire process and helped me be as comfortable as I possibly could be (under the circumstances). The test itself took about 1.5 hours and Jim and I were back home by early afternoon. Thankfully, my surgeon called early Thursday with good news. The biopsy was benign! I celebrated the good news, but I am painfully aware that if I chose to do monitoring only, biopsies would more than likely be a regular occurrence and one day, I might not be as lucky as I was that day.
The next few days are kind of a blur. Since I (and many of my family and friends) have been fully vaccinated, we collectively decided it was time to celebrate. I am blessed to have a group of people in my life that are as crazy as I am. We find a way to honor every milestone in an appropriate fashion. And when I say, “appropriate fashion,” I mean P.A.R.T.Y.!!! Covid kept us from more than one gathering last year, but it wasn’t keeping us from a few monumental birthdays or a Boobvoyage in 2021! What exactly is a boobvoyage, you ask? Well, for me, it was addressing the elephant in the room, letting my girls be freer than they have ever been before and allowing myself to soak up all the love and support from my glorious tribe. I will never be able to fully put into words how much these people mean to me or what they have brought into my life. The road to friendship is not always easy, but we have all found a way to navigate the rocky roads together. I have said on more than one occasion that I treat all relationships in my life like “mini-marriages”. It takes constant work, communication, love, and respect to be successful. I hope with all my being that I am as good of a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, and wife to those who have surrounded me with their overflowing love and gifts of friendship and support, especially these last 14 months. I would not be the woman I am without them and I want to say to each one, I LOVE and APPRECIATE ALL YOU HAVE DONE and WILL CONTINUE TO DO in the weeks/months ahead. I look forward to the day when once again, I can be the giver instead of the receiver. This whole process has humbled me in countless ways, and I am indebted to you all.
This will more than likely be the last post before surgery. I 100% feel as though I am nesting. In a sense, I guess I am. One of my favorite memories about becoming a parent has always been, how weird it was for Jim and I to walk into the hospital as a couple and out as a family. This time, I will be walking in as me and walking out with two new girls to introduce to the world. I already have names picked out for my “twins” and will reveal their names in a future post. For those of you who already know their names, please don’t ruin the surprise. 😉
I know I have said it before, but not everyone reads every post. Sooooo, for anyone considering this path, whether you have a BRCA mutation, another high-risk mutation, or a strong family history of breast cancer. Please know, I am here for you and will be happy to answer ANY questions. There are great resources out there. Research, ask questions, talk to someone (or multiple people.). IF you are of Jewish descent, please consider talking to your doctor(s) about your risk of carrying the BRCA mutation and what it means for your health. Awareness, education, and prevention are three key factors in promoting positive healthy outcomes for anyone facing this challenging and emotional road.
This post is going to contain a few more pictures than normal. I want to visually showcase the last 9 days. Photos have been a profound influence for me throughout this entire process and I hope mine can help others navigate their own personal ship. Like the sea, there will be calm days and there will be days when you feel like you can’t possibly weather the storm, but keep the compass pointed in the right direction and focus on the lights. They will guide you to safety.
Pre-op….here we go!
Test #1 ~ Diagnostic Mammogram. With and without contrast. Last one for a lifetime. No more squishes for me!
Oh, mirror image right boob. We almost made it to the finish line without a biopsy. ALMOST!
I am purposely adding this picture to showcase, this part of the journey. Sometimes, the emotions sneak in and take you down. See the glasses on the counter? I was washing those in preparation of the fun that was about to ensue less than an hour later.
Boobvoyage Celebration Night 1 ~ The night consisted of Boob Art, lots of Prosecco and an abundance of laughs. ~ No Boobs were harmed in the making of this or additional paintings. ~ Our very own talented artist will be completing this print to make it into a full ice cream cone. “Ice Cream is Better with Friends”. And, yes…..5 different boobs are showcased here. ~ Have I mentioned that I have the BEST friends EVER?
Calling all Boob Art models! ~ If you had told me 1.5 years ago, I would doing this…I would have called you CRAZY! Yet, here I am! Remember that picture from 2 hours ago, this is me, picking myself up off the floor (with the help of a friend), slapping some make-up on my face and letting myself smile through the pain.
Another group project. This will be scanned and printed so all the marksmen in our lives have a “Titty Target” to practice with.
Buttery Nipple anyone? Equal parts Butterscotch Schnapps and Bailey’s Irish Cream (poured gently over the back of a spoon), add in a delicious Bourbon soaked cherry for a delightful little shot.
Boobvoyage ~ Night 2
Birthdays and Boobvoyages pair nicely together!
Another peek into reality. See the small red mark above the bruise? That is from the biopsy. If you ever have to have one, don’t stress. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, just don’t look when they insert the needle and keep talking to the techs. It helps tremendously.
Once the fun was done, it was time to seriously prepare. This has been organized for my husband and will hopefully contain all he will need to tend to my wounds.
A final touch before heading out to spend the night with my sister and her family. Tomorrow we will head to Pittsburgh for an early Friday morning surgery time. This will be a reminder to all those pitching in to care for me in the weeks ahead.
No Blog Post of mine would be complete with a song, or in today’s case two.
Melissa Etheridge….Ohhhh, this girl! She was one of my original artist obsessions. This song has taken on a more profound meaning the last 14 months. To those who have come to my breakdowns, THANK YOU…..you know who you are! XOXO
Jennifer Nettles is another badass artist that has helped me more than she will ever know. I used this song for a class when I taught at Paul Mitchell the School Cincinnati. I have never forgotten the message and here I am years later, finding myself listening to it on repeat. You don’t have to answer the question, but ask yourself….who shines the light in your world? THOSE are the people worth keeping close.
Thanks for tuning in to another post. We are almost there. Until next time, be well my friends.