…One Year Anniversary: A Time to Reflect

Today is my anniversary. One year has passed since I had my bilateral double mastectomy. A year ago today, I was up at the butt-crack of dawn and heading to the hospital with Mom, Dad and Liz. Check-in was at 5:15am and surgery was at 7:00-ish am. Two surgeons, along with two amazing teams, and 7 1/2-ish hours later, I was “out” of surgery.   

“You feel like you’re falling backwards
Like you’re slippin’ through the cracks
Like no one would even notice
If you left this town and never came back
You walk outside and all you see is rain
You look inside and all you feel is pain
And you can’t see it now

In every cloud there’s a silver lining
Just keep holding on (just keep holding on)
And every heartache makes you stronger
But it won’t be much longer
You’ll find love, you’ll find peace
And the you you’re meant to be
I know right now that’s not the way you feel
But one day you will

Find the strength to rise above
You will
Find just what you’re made of, you’re made of”

I knew this whole process and experience wouldn’t be easy or effortless, but I didn’t know some side-effects and processes would present itself. I overestimated things, and I struggled with the setbacks. There are many things post-surgery that no one talks about. Someday I will, but today is not that day.

One year later, I’m mentally and emotionally stronger than I’ve ever been. I learned to trust the struggle, the power of patience and perseverance…I’ve learned to accept things as they are – don’t try to rush things or force healing. The body and mind heals in its own time. I learned to embrace challenges and not sweat the small things in life. I have changed so much in the last year – personally, mentally, emotionally and physically. I have gained a deeper respect and understanding of myself and life in general.

My breasts are gone and what’s been built in their place will never, ever be the same. And no, they won’t ever be perfect. They are scarred. They pucker and ripple. I have fat grafting spots that failed resulting in dents and ridges. The pec muscles, that are now directly under my skin, seize and spasm when I’m cold or randomly. I have no control over that. But you know what, they are mine. They are the remnants and the recreation of what was. The scars tell a battle story – “it’s my best attire. A stunning dress made of hellfire.”

It hasn’t been an easy year. I have 7 incisions – one under each breast, two incisions on each side from the drains, and one on my belly button from fat grafting. They are (sometimes dark) reminders of the memories, struggles, and moments.

It’s been one heck of a ride, but come September 10, 2016, I am 100% confident those sad reminders will continue to fade and the silver linings will still be shining ever so brightly. There’s sadness, but so much more that comes from “holding on”. Despite everything, I know that peace and joy is there. It’s waiting for you and for me!

“You wake up every morning and ask yourself
What am I doing here anyway
With the weight of all those disappointments
Whispering in your ear
You’re just barely hanging by a thread
You wanna scream but you’re down to your last breath
But you don’t know it yet

But down the road the sun is shining
In every cloud there’s a silver lining
Just keep holding on (just keep holding on)
And every heartache makes you stronger
But it won’t be much longer
You’ll find love, you’ll find peace
And the you you’re meant to be
I know right now that’s not the way you feel
But one day you will”

~Lady Antebellum

I don’t have many words today, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking and show my vulnerable side. Preface: Some of the pictures are not for the faint at heart. It depicts the emotions and side that no one really shows the world.

My Why:

Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer March 10, 2014 at 29 years old. Shortly after diagnosis her genetic testing came back positive for the BRCA1 gene, which is the breast and ovarian cancer gene. It’s extremely aggressive. I got tested shortly after.

One of the brightest silver linings in the double mastectomy is my relationship with Sarah has blossomed. We’ve become so close through our surgeries. Side note: Did you now both of our surgeries were only two and half weeks apart?! Sarah was always the older sister I looked up to while growing up. She was the older sister, wiser one, could do no wrong in my eyes. We were inseparable. Then, during late high school and her college years we weren’t as close. We had our sister moments, and things weren’t always unicorns and skittles. When she was in town, she knew how to push my buttons and, of course, I’d react. I’d push her buttons and World War III happened. We both hurt each other, eventually apologized  and moved on. Together. We became even closer when she came up here for her double mastectomy and exchange surgery. We have our differences that make us special.

I had my surgery first. Two and a half weeks later, Sarah was up here with my doctors operating on her. It’s a miracle how everything worked out – both surgeons were free and available, operating room was open, insurance covered her up here, . I had my expander/implant exchange surgery first. Two and a half weeks later, she had hers. Sarah lived up here for several months during surgeries. We grew tremendously close. We have a bond. If I have my moments and frustrations, I call her because she can relate. She understands. Sarah, you’re my why! I am so sorry you were diagnosed and went through everything you did. I wish I could have taken it upon myself and gone through it for you. Thank you for being my sounding board. Thank you for being by my side encouraging me, helping me and being there. Thank you for all of the laughs and tears throughout this journey. I am so thankful we had each other to go through this. Words aren’t enough and saying thank you won’t ever be enough. Thank you. I love you to the moon and back! XOXO

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My Journey:

I did genetic testing May 2014 and also came back BRCA1 positive. I had an 87% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime and have a 44% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Knowledge is power. I elected to do the prophylactic double mastectomy and had it done September 10, 2014. Breast cancer would be in my future (thanks to the atypical cells and small lump found at surgery). I’d rather lose my breasts on my terms, rather than cancers.

September 9, 2014: Was marked up like an out-of-control kid with a sharpie. After my pre-op appointment, my sister took pictures. The dotted lines is the farthest “north” they went to remove the breast tissue. The line straight down is my “center” so-to-speak. Not shown: lines under my breasts were where they’d do the incisions. To this day it’s still hard looking at the before pictures; it brings back a lot of emotions.

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September 10th and following:

March 9 631

Nov3 189

Nov3 501 Nov3 500

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4 of these suckers coming out of me…

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Nov3 927

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Nov3 992

First fill…

Nov3 561 Nov3 557

(Flat chested)

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Thank God for baggy shirt vests to hide my lack of chest and drain pooch! First venture outside of the house.

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Notice the pooch. Drains made me look preggos.

Nov3 790

Nov3 838

Nov3 705

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Yes, that’s a kids sports bra. Have to have some humor.

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March 9 729

March 9 767

Nov29 537

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july8 195

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Nov29 142

Today:

  • My breast tissue is still out in San Francisco, California being studied, bio-marked, analyzed, and everything else. Yup, I donated all the breast tissue to my surgeons research lab.
  • I’m in such a better place now physically, mentally, emotionally, then ever before. At times I felt like I was on the street corner watching the world rush by me. I felt stuck, not able to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t feel stuck anymore. Sure, I have my moments, but this isn’t a scarlet letter (at times I felt it was). I’m diving into life and all it has to offer. I appreciate the simple things and have such a different perspective and outlook on life.
  • They say it takes a good year for the body to bounce back after this kind of surgery, and I would agree 100%. I didn’t believe that prior to surgery, but I see now why they say that! I gained 10 pounds after surgeries and I’m determined to lose it. Enough is enough. I’m not happy with the weight and before it was a “comfort/buffer” if that makes sense.
  • I’d say right now I’m a few miles out from crossing the finish line of my own personal Ironman.
  • Yes, losing a huge part of womanhood has been challenging, but it’s not the end of life. There really is life outside of a double mastectomy, and I’m figuring that new normal out every single day. Life is different with no breast tissue and implants in its place. It’s taken a while to get used rocks in the chest and the pressure from it. I still have to sleep with extra pillows to be comfortable. Clothes fit differently now and shopping isn’t the same (I still get stuck in clothes and have to ask random strangers for help getting out – HA!). Bra shopping is non-existent. I get that “walk-in-the-door-after work-immediately-unstrap-the-bra-let-it-fall-to-the-ground” free feeling. Every. Single. Day. And, it’s great!
  • I’m ready to move past this and break free so-to-speak. I still will always have my moments, and that’s okay. Nothing (and I mean nothing), is holding me back. Only myself.

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Pointing to where my “lump” is and showing the huge ridge (although pictures don’t do it justice).

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All the race medals from this year’s races. Each race is such a struggle physically and mentally. My body just isn’t what it was, and that’s okay. I’m out there!

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It’s a new year! Time to break free and celebrate. Today isn’t a sad day, although I’m sure I’ll cry a little bit. But, it’s happy tears! I’m off work today and tomorrow. I’m not making my bed this morning, although I know my OCD will kick in and I’ll go back and make it. I’m getting dolled up today. I’m breaking the rules and wearing white pants today. I’m going to go buy myself flowers. I’m celebrating. With what? I don’t know. Maybe a trip to my favorite coffee shop. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a nice dinner. Maybe I’ll go to the winery and sample wines. Maybe I’ll get a massage and get my nails done (puke). It’s raining today. Maybe I’ll go splash in some puddles. Maybe I’ll go bra shopping and get some cute bras. Maybe I’ll go for a 10-mile run. Maybe I’ll go see that tattoo artist and get the next one. There are no plans today. I just wish Sarah could be here to celebrate with me!

“When life has cut too deep and left you hurting
The future you had hoped for is now burning
And the dreams you held so tight lost their meaning
And you don’t if you’ll ever find the healing

You’re gonna make it
You’re gonna make it
And the night can only last for so long

Whatever you’re facing
If your heart is breaking
There’s a promise for the ones who just hold on
Lift up your eyes and see
And the sun is rising…

Every high and every low you’re gonna go through
You don’t have to be afraid I am with you (I am with you)
In the moments you’re so weak you feel like stopping
Let the hope you have light the road you’re walking

You’re gonna make it
You’re gonna make it
The night can only last for so long

Whatever you’re facing
If your heart is breaking
There’s a promise for the ones who just hold on
Lift up your eyes and see
The sun is rising”

Sun is Rising by Britt Nicole

1 in 8 will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

1 in 67 will get ovarian cancer in her lifetime. 

Be proactive rather than reactive. If breast or ovarian cancer runs in your family, please consider getting genetic testing.

Knowledge is power.

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4 thoughts on “…One Year Anniversary: A Time to Reflect

  1. Thank you for sharing and honoring your journey. I have been following for awhile and you have helped me more than I can express. I am 2 weeks out from having my implants put in and the physical set back has been a struggle… Thanks for showing the fight is worth it.
    Previvor–and staying that way.
    Kate

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your honest and blunt explanations and for your incredible strength to share your story with others. YOU are an AMAZING lady!!! Keep rocking life as God intends for you and keep progressing in who you’ve become… one gem of a gal! Hugs~ Kenna

    Liked by 1 person

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