Happy Birthday?

Due to the size of my tumor and family history, my surgeon recommended a mastectomy. I opted for a bi-lateral (double) mastectomy for my own peace of mind. If I didn’t go all the way, I know I would spend the rest of my life constantly worried about feeling lumps on my other side. Sure, there’s always a risk of cancer returning even after having had a mastectomy, but the risk is substantially lower. Plus, with reconstruction, I might actually end up with perky fake boobs that look even better than the ones that tried to kill me. I’m thinking positively at least.

My surgery was scheduled for the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, which also happened to be my 30th birthday. (What a great way to turn 30, eh?) No one knew whether or not to wish me a “Happy Birthday.” I wasn’t sure either. My husband, Roderick, and I arrived at the hospital bright and early, ready to get this whole thing over with.

IMG_1036

In addition to the mastectomy, I also had immediate reconstruction surgery. “Immediate reconstruction” is a rather misleading term because the whole reconstruction process will take anywhere from 6 to 12 months, or even more depending on how everything goes. The “immediate” part just means that a plastic surgeon laid down the foundation for breast reconstruction. More specifically, my surgeon inserted tissue expanders that will be slowly filled up with liquid over time to create pockets for breast implants. In the future, there will be two more surgical procedures for my reconstruction. One surgery will be for removing the tissue expanders and replacing them with implants. In the last surgery, my plastic surgeon will remove fatty tissue from my abdomen and redeposit it around the implants to give everything a smoother appearance. I might even get a slight tummy-tuck due to the last procedure. What mom wouldn’t want that?!

IMG_1033

My husband has been the sweetest, most supportive partner I could possibly imagine throughout all of this so far. I am truly lucky to have him with me at each step of the way. Knowing that he would be there as soon as I woke up from anesthesia made going into this surgery much easier to wrap my mind around.

IMG_1034

My surgery lasted several hours. I had imagined waking up from surgery and feeling sorry for myself. As it turned out, there was no time for a pity-party. A best friend from my childhood grew up to be a nurse at our local hospital. I had no idea she would be working the day of my surgery, or that she even knew what was going on in my life at that point. She surprised me by decorating my hospital room with birthday balloons and St. Patrick’s Day stickers. The room was so bright and cheery that I completely forgot about my surgery- even if only for a brief moment. I felt so loved and actually got to celebrate my  birthday.

After spending a couple of nights in the hospital, I was able to go home. Recovering from this surgery was quite different from the two C-Section births I have had. On one hand, C-Section recovery is difficult since you also have a newborn baby to care for. On the other hand, having a new baby to care for makes all of the pain from child birth worth it. There was no new baby to hold after my mastectomy. In fact, the worst part was that I couldn’t hold or hug any of my kids. I had to protect myself with pillows just to be in the same room as my one-year-old son. Not being able to reach out and hug my children after my surgery has been the hardest part of cancer by far. Several weeks after my surgery, I was finally able to hold Elliott on my lap for some of the sweetest snuggles ever. I savored every single millisecond.

IMG_1042

Happy New Year?

On New Years Day 2017, I was filled to the brim with a positive feeling about the brand new year. My baby son, Elliott, was about to turn one and he was finally sleeping through the night. I was buzzing with excitement to delve back into my work after the chaotic holiday season. (My husband and I run an online dress shop, called ActionPink.) I had been dreaming up all kinds of new designs to create between filling existing customers’ orders. Everything truly felt like it was falling into place for once.

By the end of the month, just a week after Elliott turned one, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was meeting with a surgeon to discuss a double mastectomy.

I’d been able to feel a lump in my left breast for a few of months, but it didn’t seem too strange to me. I had nursed my son with great struggle particularly on the left side. I figured the lump was probably a cyst or something left over from something to do with breastfeeding… or something? When it just wasn’t going away, I knew I should probably have it looked at. I remember back then annoyedly thinking ” Ugh. One more appointment to schedule.” If I only knew how much my life was about to be interrupted.

I saw my family doctor who ordered a simple ultrasound of the lump. “Just an ultrasound- no big deal,” I thought. I soon found myself having a mammogram and a needle biopsy at that same appointment. Things were escalating so quickly that I knew something was wrong, but what?

*** Side Note: If there’s one thing I could tell women everywhere it would be “Get your mammogram!” They are quick, easy, and do not hurt! Your boob will not be literally squished flatter than a pancake. I had never had a mammogram before this. The women in my life who had had mammograms always made them sound horrifying and painful, so I never asked to have one done. They’re not bad at all!

My husband and I sat on pins and needles the entire weekend before we found out my test results. We met with my family doctor again to receive the results. We tried to put on our most positive faces as we waited for the doctor to come into the exam room.

IMG_1027

Although we were really feeling scared shitless.

IMG_1028

I have a family history of breast cancer, so I always half-figured I’d be diagnosed someday. I never thought I’d be diagnosed with cancer at 29. I tried to avoid breast cancer risk factors during my adult life by eating a vegetarian diet, having children before age 30, and staying thin and active. I wasn’t able to avoid getting cancer, but at least my life choices may help me through my treatment and recovery.

One thing I know for sure is that I’ll be spending the rest of my 30’s and beyond working towards giving myself the healthiest body I can. I’m going to get through this stupid cancer, reclaim my body and continue to work towards new fitness goals. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I want to be strong at 90.