…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.    Continue reading

Ahh, Implants!! Phase 2 of a PBM…

Monday morning, December 29th, I had surgery to swap out my rocks (expanders) for nice, squishy implants. I woke up super early and followed doctors orders – shower with this special soap and put this prescription patch right below the ear. Done!

Mom and I arrived at the hospital around 5:30 and I checked in immediately. After that, we went to the third floor to the ambulatory surgery center. The nurse assistant, Daphne, took me back to my room and I changed into the gown, walked to the bathroom for that happy dance (pee in a cup), and back to the room where I settled in. Daphne and I got to know each other pretty well after my first surgery when I had to go to the ER and spend the night. She and I caught up on Monday. She’s a breast cancer survivor herself and I got her to commit to doing Team Phoenix. I told her I’d train with her and help her get back into fitness. She hasn’t done much and was really excited when I said I’d do whatever it took to help her!!

The nurse eventually brought me two pills to help combat the nausea and an Ativan to calm my nerves. Shortly after that the anesthesia doctor came in for a visit and to confirm what he was going to do. He was already aware of what happened last time and reassured me he was going to give me a different anesthesia so I wouldn’t get sick. My favorite nurse came in and we chatted. Valerie is another sweetheart and puts me at ease every time we talk. She’s kind, compassionate, and encouraging. She’s always telling me I made the right decision and how proud she is of me.

Dr. S came in a few minutes before surgery was to start to mark my chest and my stomach for where he’d be taking the fat out. The incision would be through my belly button and he’d pull fat in the general area and transfer it to my left boob area. The left needed the most work; it sunk in badly! He also marked the right and left love handle just in case he needed to pull fat from there as well.

The nurse and anesthesia doctor wheeled me out of the room and down the hallway to the operating room. I actually remembered it this time because I hadn’t had the knock-out medicine yet. He couldn’t give it to me sooner because I needed to be marked and plus my IV needed to be flushed a few times. Speaking of that, it hurts like none other…and as a result my hand has a HUGE bruise on it. Ouch! I made it to the room, met the team, and even made it on the operating table all by myself. They moved me, hooked me up to machines, put a few patches on me…and la-la land I went…

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3 1/2 hours later, surgery was successful…AND, he even got me bigger than anticipated. Sorry, no Pamela Anderson boobs. 2 1/2 hours on the left, 1 hour on the right. The part that hurts the most, believe it or not, is the stomach where he took the fat. He had to take more than anticipated (no arguments there). Originally he was only going to have to transfer fat to the left boob, but the right needed work after the implant was put in.

My stomach from the belly button down and to the right hip is really swollen and bruised. I look like I’m 4-5 months pregnant. It hurts. I can only wear loose bottoms otherwise I’m in excruciating pain. My arms and chest don’t hurt as badly as the first surgery, but there is still pain. A lot of bruising at the fat grafting incisions. Total incisions this time were 8 – one under each boob, 1 fat grafting incision at belly button, 3 fat grafting incisions on left boob, and 2 on right boob.

I’m incredibly thankful he didn’t have to take fat  from my left love handle area. He marked it and the incision would have been right on my tattoo I got shortly after Sarah was diagnosed and I found out I was BRCA1 positive. I’m super elated I didn’t have to have drains this time around. Like I’ve said before, drains suck BIG time.

I had to leave the original bandages on for the first few days, so I didn’t get to take a look. I’ve seen them now and the foobs look good. Actually, let me clarify, I’m happy with how they turned out, but haven’t come to terms or accepted the new girls. I hope, someday, I can learn to LOVE them. Every day I have to put new gauze and tape on over the incisions and wear this Granny surgical bra to keep the girls tucked. I won’t be cleared to do things or go back to “normal” for anywhere between 2-4 weeks.

It is so awesome to no longer have rocks in my chest! I can’t even describe the feeling. This surgery was a breeze compared to the first one. There’s still a lot of pain involved and I’m taking a few steps back, but it’s completely worth it. I’ll be back to working out, eventually. My body needs to heal, considering I had two major surgeries in three months time. There’s no pressure! I’ll bounce back (literally and figuratively)! Ha!

Anyway, that’s all for now. One of the side effects of the nauseau medicine is blurred vision at night. So, with that, I’m going to take a pain pill, get comfortable in the recliner, and pass out for a little bit…hopefully…lack of sleep seems to be the story of my life again.

Sweet dreams,

Tits (aka: Firm Jugs)

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my Grinch face as my mom and sister affectionately call it. I was three sheets to the wind and had no idea they took this…funny though…

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beautiful, huh?! what the stomach looks like…

My Unfinished Symphony

Lately, my life’s music has been more like jazz rather than pop, classical or whatever. If you know anything about jazz, it’s all spontaneous, random chords thrown here and there, things mismatched, random solo outbursts between instruments, piano plunking away…I would love it if my story and life was a complete classical symphony. But lately, it’s a half-written, unfinished symphony. The musical lines are twisted, tangled and unresolved. My eraser is my biggest friend as I’m constantly rewriting chords and phrases. I cannot predict things and there are too many unknowns. Jazz is known for its improvisation and the performer’s own interpretation. Right now, I’m doing a lot of improving and figuring things out as I go. Many phrases and chords are unsettled. Movement One in this symphony still has yet to get a finishing cadence, unlike the last page of a finished book. I may never get that perfect cadence of my symphony, so I may just have to learn to love jazz and accept the unfinished cadences and chords. Life is confusing, messy, and full of unknowns. But, lately, I’m learning there’s nothing wrong with that and having an unfinished symphony.

Forgive me for being rather quiet on my blog.

I’m mentally trying to prepare myself for this surgery that’s right around the corner. I should be excited to get my implants. After all, I’ve been joking about it for the longest time. I am, but at the same point, I’m not.

I had my pre-op appointment bright and early this morning. It was at the hospital that I had my surgery at. I was excited while driving there, because this is one step closer to surgery, new fake boobs, and this all being behind me.

But…you know…

That moment when you walk into the hospital, check in with admissions, are taken to the third floor to the pre-op/surgical center, get taken back to a room while walking passed all the rooms I was once in, and smelling that familiar smell…all while trying not to cry, puke and run…

The last time I was on this floor was back in September when I was checking into the hospital and saying goodbye to me real boobs. There was something about being in the surgical wing, smelling that smell…

I wanted to cry. Being in that same area brought back so many emotions. Anytime I’ve been to the hospital for physical therapy or post-surgery visits, I’ve been able to subconsciously ignore that hospital smell. This time around, the all-too-familiar scents and visuals of the third floor made me want to puke. The smell there was completely different from the other floors! I don’t like hospitals ever since September.

I texted a friend and told her I was going to puke. She was extremely supportive and positive. She told me it wasn’t crazy having those emotions. I had a traumatic experience there.

Things changed when one of my favorite surgical floor ladies walked in. We caught up and she made a lot of notes for this next surgery. She even gave me a prescription for some patch I have to wear prior to surgery to prevent me from getting extremely sick. She also ordered more blood work. Apparently when I went in for surgery back in September, I had some low blood count numbers. They needed to draw blood today to see where things are at. If the numbers come back low, I guess I’ll cross that bridge. I should have asked more questions about that.

I still feel like I’m going to puke after being there. I don’t have an appetite. I didn’t think being on that floor would affect me like that.

I left and drove up the lakefront. I had no destination in mind, but just wanted to drive. Normally when I want to clear my head, I hop on the bike; it’s too cold and windy to do that now. So, I aimlessly drove north along the lakefront for a while, turned on my favorite music, and eventually headed to a favorite thinking spot. My brother and I would cruise in his go-kart of a car he built and head up there during the summers. We’d walk out to the lighthouse and sit and talk. It was too icy and slippery to walk out there, but, I hung out there for a bit, listened to the waves crashing in, and reflected.

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I’ve been told this second surgery is way easier than the first. It’s not a 7 ½ hour surgery again with any overnight hospital stays. It’s maybe a 3-4 hour surgery and outpatient – I get to go home the same day! He’ll be taking the expanders out, putting the implants in, and transferring fat from my belly to chest area to even out the new rack. I have ridges and indents that need some work. However, the thoughts of no sleep again, not being able to wash my own hair, having to deal with drains and those incisions, having raw and sensitive skin, sleeping on my back again when I’ve finally figured out how to sleep on my side…and the list could go on, doesn’t excite me.

The drains are the worst and I can see why people don’t do reconstruction. I’m still having issues from the drain incisions the first time around from the scarring and how Dr. S had to put them in me. He had to go through my rib cage and oblique muscles to get the tube up and around the expander. They were placed through the incision and sewn into me with stitches. They pulled and snagged.  It was extremely uncomfortable. I’m a tough cookie and always handled pain well. However, the drains were depressing. The thoughts of having them again are depressing.

I never want to see gauze or tape in my lifetime again. Ever. The thought of having to tape the drain incisions and ripping it off raw skin every day, makes me cringe.

I gained a little weight after the first surgery from lack of activity…and maybe from too many fudge bars. But hey, they told me each popsicle counted as one fluid. Ha! I was in great shape prior to surgery and lost a lot of upper body after. I’m nowhere near where I was, but I’ve busted my rear to get it back at it and to lose those few extra pounds I gained. I’m not there and it’s frustrating. There are times I want to give up, but know I cannot.

I woke up and had some bad reactions/complications after surgery. The pain couldn’t be managed or controlled and I got extremely sick. I’ve already informed the hospital and my surgeon of what medicine they are not allowed to give me. After today’s appointment, the surgery center has notes and things on file! They reassured me this time around, I won’t get that sick and have reactions.

Psychologically, I’ve been working through accepting my new norm and body. I have my ups and downs just like anything in life. Every day I’ve been standing in front of a mirror and saying one nice thing I like about my body or simply looking at my scars. I’m in a way better place and can truly say I’m okay with them. I’m a symmetrical person and only wish the drain incisions were at the same spots on each side. Ha!

I’m scared.

Everyone around me is super sick at the moment, and I’m fearful I’ll get whatever they have. I’m not allowed to take any medications until surgery. I’m not sleeping. I’m in pain again and can’t get comfortable. Damn weather changes!! Oh well, it will all be a thing of the past some day!!

I know some reading this will think this is petty. I’m sure once I’m on the other side, I’ll read this, chuckle and think it silly to have written this.

Like every obstacle thrown my way, I’m a fighter. I’ve been learning to accept the new limitations. Sometimes you have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to learn things about yourself and see what you’re capable of. This has definitely pushed me, taught me much about myself, and shown me many things about life and the human body and mind. This will all be something of the past and I’ll move on to bigger and better things…and eventually face that moment and time to remove my other body parts that define women.

I should be happy about this upcoming surgery, but I’m not at the moment. I’m scared, but this is all another thing in my life that will make me stronger and something I can use to help other women.  This is completely worth it when people tell me they read my blog and as a result they finally got that mammogram done they’ve been putting off. Or when someone emails to say it was refreshing reading my story and gives them hope for when they make their decision. There is beauty in this, even on cloudy days like today. I need to keep the finish line in perspective, which is hard to do at times with a blurred vision.

Someday, this symphony will get its perfect cadence and turn out to be beautiful. Until then, right now I’m going to enjoy the jazz improvisation in this movement, and learn to substitute dominant chords and nonchord tones to something beautiful. There’s dissonance right now, and that’s okay. This movement will get untangled, the chords will line up and make sense, and I’ll be writing the next movement in my symphony.

XOXO,

Tits

*Soon-to-be your BFFF (Best Foob Friend Forever)*

PS: my apologies for the music references. I was a music major in college and had years and semesters studying music theory and all genres of music.

PSS: Forgive me for my bad day! This, too, shall pass!!!

Life is Like a Garden

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I’ll be the first to admit I do not have a green thumb. For many years, I had my own garden and was proud of my accomplishment of NOT killing things. They did okay, but wasn’t anything spectacular. I spent hours a week weeding, watering the plants, and tending to it. I researched which plants you should and shouldn’t grow next to each other. I bought a small greenhouse to start the season earlier, so I could reap the benefits sooner. I carefully measured (with a ruler mind-you) how deep I planted the seeds in the cups. It took time and dedication. But, I did it and the sense of “I freaking did it” when I harvested my plants was awesome.

If you do research and understand the laws of nature, you can create, grow and cultivate gardens that overflow with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Same applies to life. If you use those laws of life to your advantage, you can grow a life full of meaning and beauty.

In life, each of us is growing our own gardens within us. Life brings us all kinds of circumstances, and some have a painful path to walk. Every thought you have is your soil. We’re all given a little piece of ground to work with. My garden isn’t the same as yours; and yours isn’t the same as the next person beside you. Each garden comes with different soil, seeds and climates.

In a garden, weeds steal nutrients, space, water, etc from other plants. They can overgrow the garden and take over whatever is in its path. Weeds like fear, envy, grief, rage, doubt, insecurity, etc can all feed those weeds. It’s important in any trial that you’re pulling those weeds out. It’s okay to have certain thoughts and feelings while going through tough times; however, it’s not okay to let things go, fester and become a deeper issue.

All gardens have potential to blossom and be beautiful. Sometimes while taking care of the garden, you have to get your hands a little dirty, play in the soil, and tend to the pests. In life, we have to do the same things when circumstances and trials come our way. We can turn our heads the other way and ignore those weeds, but what good does that do? Why bring out the weed whacker, when you could pull those few weeds here and there? It takes constant tending and, perhaps, years to uproot certain weeds.

Gardens grow with love and care. Feed your garden with truth, acceptance, trust, joy, dedication, forgiveness, patience, thankfulness, inspiration, kindness, etc etc.

I’ve had to take care of my garden a lot in the last few years, more so this year. I can see how things and circumstances I’ve had to go through have led up and helped me be where I am right now. 2014 hasn’t been a kind year to my family or me at all. But, I have two choices – become angry and resentful for the cards dealt my way or look at it as a growing opportunity. Like I’ve said many times before, life doesn’t come with guarantees or promises that it will be easy. I haven’t arrived, nor will I ever fully arrive until I’m taken from this earth.

With a garden, you have to learn to let go of things that are out of your control. I can be OCD at times (shocking!) and want to plan out every aspect of life. I planned races this year and had some pretty lofty goals, only to have things out of my control mess that plan up. Vineman Half Ironman was going to be MY race. I went into it with a stellar training plan, hired an amazing coach, had a race plan to accomplish and shave off an hour from my previous half Ironman time…I had all my ducks in a row…My nutrition going into the race was the best I’ve ever executed. I woke up race morning and ate my calories. I did the swim and set a personal best. Hopped on the bike and started eating/drinking…only to start puking within the first few miles. I couldn’t eat the rest of the day and my “run” suffered. I had no intentions walking a majority of the run, but I had to do whatever to get to that darn finish line. I planned to do my very first marathon in October and signed up prior to Sarah’s diagnosis with breast cancer. Well, I got my genetic testing done, got a surgery date scheduled, and had surgery. No marathon for me this year and I’m completely okay with that!!

Our lives are subject to elements that are completely out of our control (sickness, death, storms, disease, etc). When I had my garden, I had to deal with all sorts of pests – rabbits, foxes, deer…I couldn’t get rid of them and putting a fence/cage around it did nothing to keep them out. In fact, I think they started taunting me even more when I put up the cages. In life, it’s the same thing. You can put up protective barriers around your life to not let those pests, hurts, pain or whatever in, but they’ll still get in some way, somehow. You can put walls up, but that only lasts so long.

Prior to surgery I had plenty of fears, a lot of them I built up in my head, and let them consume me at times. It was part of the process and dealing with emotions. Here are a few for example: 1) I wake up during surgery like Sarah did during her second biopsy. 2) I lose blood supply to my nipples, they die and are surgically removed anyway. 3) My incisions pop open and take a heck of a lot longer to heal. 4) The drains get snagged and pulled out, which results in fluid build-up and pooling between the expander and Alloderm. Infection settles in and there’s the possible removal of the expander anyway. 5) My body rejects the expander and they have to open me up again to remove them. 6) As a result of number 5, I’m flat-chested for at least 6 months before they can try the whole process again. 7) No sleep, blood clots, issues prevent healing. 8)…..

All of those fears couldn’t be controlled. I learned to deal with those issues as they came up. I couldn’t plan things out or be in control; whatever happened, happened.

Right now, I’m focusing on letting go of my fears and worries with this double mastectomy and life after. This last week I’ve had a lot going on and much out of my control. I could bore you with all the things and details, but I won’t. Mostly, anxiety/fears leading into this week. I have plenty of fears and concerns with more doctor appointments and even going into this second surgery (expander/implant exchange) come December (fingers crossed!!). I don’t want to get too excited, because that could very well change. Again, out of my control! I cringe at the sight of seeing gauze, bandages and tape. I fear I’ll get super sick again like I did. I’m scared and fearful of the pain that will come with this next surgery. Although, most of my research and talking with other’s have said the second surgery is a complete breeze. No hospital stays, less pain, bounce back quicker, and much more. I don’t like the unknowns. The worst of what could happen already happened with simply doing the double mastectomy. I don’t know what to expect with this expander/implant surgery, but I do know it’s not worth stressing myself over the ‘what-ifs’. I cannot control the outcome, but can only trust my doctors that they’ll what their skilled and trained to do. They’re the experts.

I can’t keep feeding my thoughts and fears, because it leads to other problems. I’m pulling those weeds in my garden and replacing them with seeds of love, beauty, self-knowledge, strength, and acceptance. I want my garden to continue blossoming into something even more beautiful. Growing a garden takes time and constant nurturing and tending. It won’t happen overnight and I’ve accepted that a long time ago. I can’t advise you on what to do in your garden, but I can be there to love you and support you no matter what. I haven’t worked with your terrain, fertilizer, weather conditions, pollination, climate, etc etc. I cannot tell you how to grow the best garden. I’ve weathered different storms.

I’m learning to bend with the storms, let go of the conditions I cannot control, let the storms and rainy days better me, trust the sun will continue to shine, and continue to blossom. And you know what? I want to share my garden with others and let them in on my journey.

I’m learning to let go, one day at a time. I’m learning to continue taking care of my garden and mind.

“Life is like a garden, you don’t end up where you started…”

What I’ve learned being a Previvor. Happy Two Months :)

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Happy two month birthday to my dear Rocks (expanders)!!!!

Today marks exactly two months since my prophylactic double mastectomy and I’ve learned a heck of a lot. I educated myself prior to the surgery and sort of knew what to expect based on other’s stories. But, I quickly learned that my recovery was/is so different from someone else’s, everyone heals at their own pace, and it wouldn’t be helpful giving a day-to-day update. I think you would be bored with my “Dear Diary” blogs…I can’t offer anyone a play-by-play as to what to truly expect after surgery, nor do I want to bore you with the details of every day life. I can give you a list of suggestions of things leading up to surgery (blog for another day), but can’t say for sure how things will turn out. I’ve tried to update on the big events – like jogging a quarter mile successfully, being able to open a store’s door without pushing the handicap button, etc etc. Accomplishing the simple things has given me way more excitement than the normal things…like today for example…I swam over a half mile and even swam 600 yards continuously without fins and I didn’t drown…

Anyway, here’s a few things I’ve learned the last few months…

1) Cancer in general and being a BRCA1 carrier scares people. People don’t know how to respond or what to say when I told them about Sarah’s cancer, my own genetic testing results and how I was doing the preventative surgery. I got blank stares from people with eyes rolling back. I had people say some pretty ignorant things like, “free boob job” or “change your diet and exercise more and you can avoid the BRCA gene turning into cancer.” Ummm, okay! I don’t view it as negative anymore; I view it as quite comical. People get uncomfortable and say things they shouldn’t have. People are just plain stupid.

I was really hurt and upset when people walked out of my life because of it. It was annoying. People don’t understand or know how to give sympathy (not that I was looking for any anyway). I’m looking at those that walked away as not knowing how to respond or simply ignorant. I’ve learned that it’s not because they don’t care – it simply means they don’t know how to respond, are clueless, or scared. I’ve learned their reactions isn’t in response to me or about me, it’s about them personally.

I’ve learned who my real friends are – they haven’t gone anywhere – they fought and went through this with me.

2) I’ve learned it is okay to have emotional outbursts and it’s a form of coping with things. Everyone’s journey is their own. At this stage in my life, most of my friends are seriously dating someone, engaged, married or pregnant. I’ve been told that a guy will come along and love me regardless of having my boobs or not. Yes, that may be true; however, it doesn’t mean that I still won’t have those thoughts and questions of “How will I date after this?”…”Will I be able to date after this?”…”Will a guy love me?”…”How do you tell a guy about this? When do I disclose it to him?”…too late… he can find my blog and it’s all out there anyway! Haha! I don’t have those answers and will cross that bridge when I get there!!

I’ve learned feelings and emotions aren’t facts and aren’t forever. They subside, rise, peak, etc. Some feelings take longer to process and cycle through. Doing this major of a surgery has me going through all kinds of emotions and feelings. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. I’ve learned I need to feel what I feel and trust myself that I’ll be able to breathe and grow from it.

I’ve said this before, I don’t cry often…but this surgery has done something to those tear ducts. I’ve cried for no apparent reasons. I cried when the pain couldn’t be controlled – morphine, Percocets, Dilaudid…and NOTHING’S working!?! It’s an emotional journey and it’s okay to let it out. I’ve learned to cope with the old and now new things that have come with the territory of such an extensive surgery. I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself and to truly show this side of me to others. As much as I hate being vulnerable, I’ve learned it’s truly okay to be vulnerable and let those walls down. You have to process anything major in life otherwise it can fester and turn into anger or bitterness.

3) Live life to the fullest, take chances and don’t take things for granted. I have a very hard time asking for help. I learned I HAD to let people help me because they wanted to be a blessing to me. I learned that I can’t rob people of wanting to help me out and give back. People cooked me dinners, came over to hang out with me when I was loopy and half asleep, drove me to doctor’s appointments, helped me clean my house, did my laundry, etc etc. The simple things like opening the refrigerator door and doing laundry were such huge, exhausting tasks. Making the bed was a cluster so I gave up and stopped making it. Washing my hair was annoying – I had to lean over the kitchen sink, have my mom or sister delicately massage my scalp and hair with shampoo/conditioner, be patient with me when I needed a break because of the pain. It was exhausting! I remember there was one day I just wanted to take a bath and was sick of the sponge baths. I was so excited to fill the bath tub up with a little hot water and bubbles. I took one of my race belts, attached the drains to it with pins, and then attached the race belt to the toilet thingy so I could relax. It was quite humorous when it was all said and done. Getting out of the tub was a cluster and I’m surprised I didn’t bust my junk! I couldn’t push up with my arms and I had to do a Turkish get-up to maneuver myself out of the tub. I made myself laugh. I learned I can’t take anything for granted.

4) Laughter is the best medicine. Throughout this whole journey, I’ve learned that just because I’ve lost my boobs doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humor. Two weeks after surgery, I was walking around my parent’s house with just my surgical bra and drain tank top on. My youngest brother walked into the house, laughed and said, “Welcome to junior high. How do you like it?” I didn’t know what to say but laugh. It was hilarious. I honestly looked like a kid starting puberty. After I got the drains out I was finally allowed to wear sport bras. I had to get certain ones and so off to the store I went.

Me: Hey Mom, I kinda like these sports bras because they come down all the way and don’t hit my drain incisions.
Mom: Oh. Did you get them in the kids department?
Me: (Speechless and laughing so hard I almost peed myself)
Mom: Well, Hannah, at least you’re a good sport. See what I just did there? Sport…bra…

(Both of us dying uncontrollably from laughter)

Oh, and these were only a few of the funny moments…

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5) The absolutely worst part of the surgery is the fear and anxiety leading up to it. I can’t even put into words how scared I was prior to surgery. The anxiety that comes with such a high-risk of knowing I would get cancer someday is completely indescribable and can’t even be put into words. Each doctor appointment prior to surgery left me numb. I stressed about a lot of things and had to learn to chill and let go even more of the things I couldn’t control. Life isn’t always “good.” It’s okay to stress, have some fears, but it’s not okay to let them dictate your life.

6) You get used to your new norm – the norm of having lopsided “boobs”, scabs, scars, and less upper body strength. Is the new norm ideal? No! You will be a delicate person after. My new norm is NOT wearing a bra and I LOVE it…(be jealous!). The first time I saw I myself was a few hours after surgery. I wasn’t fully awake or with it and I thought, “hmm, not bad. I look like I’m 12 all over again.” Fell asleep and didn’t have a chance to really think about it. Well, when I truly saw them and the scars, drains, and black nipples, I freaked a little bit. While in the hospital I didn’t recall having black nipples! Well, they scabbed over (which was expected). It’s the norm for some. The new norm is to not have any sensation or feeling in the chest area. My sister thinks it’s the funniest thing to come up to me and pretend poke me, like the kid pointing the finger saying, “I’m not touching you.” Well, there’s times she “pokes” and I can’t feel anything. They say I may get a little sensation back, but I don’t think about that. Less stress. If it happens, it happens. After surgery, the new norm was having issues in my right armpit and hearing it potentially could be permanent. I have learned to deal with the pain and not make it an issue.

7) Be proactive rather than reactive. Being in the BRCA club isn’t a club I’d recommend for anyone. In fact, I wish I didn’t even have to be a lifetime member. I’m so thankful my sister, Liz, is negative for the gene. If you’re a member or become one, please fight for your health. Listen to your intuition. Trust your gut. Don’t let the negativity of people and opinions affect you. Take control and be your own voice with doctors and fight for yourself with insurance companies.

I had to have my doctor’s/surgeons send numerous letters to my insurance to get the surgery covered. I got the approval and then would later receive a denial letter in the mail. I’d have to fight on a weekly basis.

You’re your own voice. Get routine mammograms, MRI’s, transvaginal ultrasounds and the CA-125 blood work done twice a year. Do self-exams monthly. If you notice anything unusual, please get it checked out right away! Don’t wait. You’re your own advocate.

8) Doing this surgery has given me a platform to talk and be passionate about something that means a lot to me. At first I was very hesitant to share my story. When I finally shared it, I received mixed reviews and that bothered me at first. Well, to those that gave me crap I said, “Screw it. I don’t need you in my life anyway” and so I let them go. When random people would look at me funny for asking for help opening a door, I simply would say surgery! They would follow it up with “what kind of surgery.” I didn’t know how to respond so I ignored their question. The running joke with a few friends was surgery through my armpits…now I just bluntly tell people about it and total stranger’s responses are so supportive and kind. I am so thankful I started blogging and sharing my story. It’s so rewarding when people shoot me emails of how the blog and story has helped them or give them a perspective on something they didn’t even know about. Awareness. I find writing and sharing my story has opened the door to healing. Honestly, it’s an honor sharing my story!

9) You will be changed – for better or worse. I have a new respect and appreciation for my body. I have learned more about myself in the last few months than ever before. My life has forever been changed and so has my body. Knowing the what-if’s and odds being against me really opened up my eyes to what I have around me and appreciating the small things in life. Letting go has been the theme of my life since 2012. Letting go of things I cannot control, circumstances that have happened to me in the past, people that no longer add to my life, etc etc. A mastectomy only removed my breasts; it doesn’t change my inner being. There are two options coming out of something like this: 1) Changing for the better, letting the situation have a positive outcome, and using it to educate others and 2) Allowing the situation to take control and becoming angry and bitter. I feel I’ve come out of this situation completely changed and for the better. I’m a better person now and have used this as a platform to help others.

I’ve learned much about myself through this journey. I’m a fighter! I’m strong. I’ve vowed to live my life differently and without regrets. I’ve learned to embrace the present moments and never let go of the good. I’ve found a deeper meaning to life and how I can help others. I’ve learned a long time ago that everything happens for a reason – whether I know now, down the road or never know why.

I may be physically altered on the outside and have scars, but deep down I’m the same person if not a better person with a better outlook and view on life. I’m learning to accept my scars, not have shame in them, and love my body. I thought I would wake up fearful of what I’d look like and life after would be different. Yes, it has to some extent. Prior to surgery I fell into a trap that everything after would be better, like the fairy would bring out the wand and pixie dust and fix everything. I still look like my normal self and have had some changes that only I know and can see. But to the outside person looking in, I have boobs and the same physical appearance. I didn’t get magically taller…or lose the inner tube called love handles…or lose my thunder thighs…This surgery doesn’t define me and it’s not like I’m wearing a scarlet letter on my chest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a life-changing event and I don’t want to diminish that; but I came out of surgery as the same, if not, an even better Hannah.

10) Cancer sucks, and that is something we all know. Is life fair? No, but He never gives us more than we can handle. I’m thankful I was on the front end of this and not where my sister is right now. I wish everyone could be on the front end and take preventative measures. If it wasn’t for my sister getting cancer and testing BRCA positive, I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to get the testing done. I would have been passive and waited. It’s a big deal to get tested and know. You don’t want to hear the words you personally have cancer or someone very close to you. I wish my sister didn’t have to go through what she did. If anything, I wish I could have taken it all upon myself and gone through it for her.

A friend’s mom recently passed away from her 3 year fight against breast cancer. When I heard the news I cried. I wish there was something I could do to take the pain away from her and her family. I can’t. Another’s friend’s daughter is fighting for her life and hoping they can hear the words, “She’s in remission.” Another friend’s cousin passed away a year ago from cancer. One of my best friend’s cousin’s passed away three months ago. Another amazing friend, Nikki, lost her daughter to cancer 5 years ago. Cancer sucks.

I hate cancer and what it does to individuals and families. I hate seeing my friend’s in pain. I just wish I could take it all away.

There’s much more that I’ve learned, but this summarizes it in a nut shell. I’m learning and my new norm is getting better. I know what I went through is 100% worth it and I don’t regret my decision one bit. I’m extremely blessed and thankful to be a Previvor.

Those of you that are debating about doing the surgery, I’d like to share my favorite quote with you…”You don’t need permission to start. You control the starting line. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You’ll figure it out along the way. Ready is a myth” ~Matt Cheuvront

My words of advice, for those of you who will watch someone go through this or make the tough decision, is you don’t have to have the right words to say, have all the answers, or take away all the pain and stress that comes with this. Simply be there for them and listen to them. You don’t have to always be responding back with cliché sayings that everything will be alright or whatever. Support their decisions – whether you agree with them or not. Listen to them. Pray for them. Pray with them. Encourage them. Love them. Be there for them.

Cheers to my Rocks! Thank you for teaching me much about life, about myself, and that scars are a beautiful thing. Happiest of birthdays to you!

Beauty after a Double Mastectomy

This week is the first time I’ve felt “normal”. I haven’t had physical therapy due to my therapist being gone on vacation. I was extremely worried and nervous because I loved when she got in there and broke things up. She stretched and pulled on my arm, especially my right arm.

I’ve felt pretty amazing, not in too much pain, and for the first time I’m actually getting 3+ hours of sleep at a crack. I haven’t felt this good since before surgery. It only took about two months! Don’t get me wrong, I still have pain from the drain incisions (and feel it the most when I attempt to swim and do ab stuff) and don’t have complete range of motion. However, I swam twice this week (with fins on so I wouldn’t drown), ran a few times, and biked on the trainer twice. Swimming is weird and I don’t even know how to explain it. Feels like the top pec muscle (the one now right under the skin) is about to pop out of the chest! Oh…and I did some strength training with some medicine balls…

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I’m baaaaack!!!! Balancing/Planking on four medicine balls while doing push-ups is actually one of my favorite exercises. I did a push-up and held the plank for maybe 15 seconds…but, I did  it. I was told I may not be able to do push-ups post-surgery which wasn’t something I wanted to hear. Well, don’t tell me I can’t do something because I’ll find a way to prove I can do it!

Anyway, this blog post is actually about something that I’ve been thinking about recently. I’ve had many people comment about how I’ve made it appear that it was an easy decision to do the surgery and recovery wasn’t a big deal. So, here goes – my vulnerable side.

I was struggling with beauty yesterday as I got ready for this executive women’s gala night. I wore a dress to work last week and I was actually insecure wearing it because I had no boobs to fill the top part! It hung on me and, well, I haven’t worn that dress since. I’m very limited in selections right now because I don’t feel comfortable wearing a dress that I would have normally filled out quite nicely on the top, is a scoop neck top, or have some cleavage showing.

I had my outfit for this event picked out in advance…but you know the drill…it doesn’t look quite right so you pull something else out of the closet and try it on…before you know it you have a pile of clothes on the bed and you go back to the original outfit. Yep, that was me. My dresses didn’t fit me in the chest area and it looked bad. I threw the first outfit back on – navy blue dress with lace and yellow heels. (Oh, one nice thing about choosing an outfit in general? Not having to find the right bra to wear with the outfit! I don’t wear bras anymore – not when I run, bike, workout or simply out and about. These firm jugs don’t move or go anywhere!)

I was frustrated…

I reminded myself again that beauty isn’t in a dress or boos; it’s what comes from within. As I was getting ready, Martina McBride’s song “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” started playing on my iPod (lyrics below). I burst into tears. I could completely relate to this song, not in the cancer aspect, but with the phone call I got when I was told I was BRCA1, knowing the gene was faulty and I would get breast cancer someday…I can’t relate with the having a husband or kids thing, but I did this to live and be there for my family and friends. I don’t have a husband or boyfriend that’s my rock while going through this, but I have amazing friends (and family) that have been there for me through everything. I’m not alone while going through this.

There’s a line in the song that says something about wearing baggy shirts and wanting to be a woman again. I cried harder after hearing that. I miss my boobs, but don’t miss anything about having to wear a bra with them. I’m a woman regardless of having boobs or not.

“When you feel lost and scared to death, Like you can’t take one more step.” Believe me I felt lost many times throughout the last few months and felt like I could barely put one foot in front of the other. There’s another line in the song about surgery. I made it through the surgery and yep…they caught things in time. My atypical cells in both breasts were going to turn into cancer. If I did nothing, I’d most likely have cancer in a year or two and be my sister.

I listened to the song a few more times and cried some more. It’s totally weird the emotions I’ve gone through pre/post-surgery and what has triggered me to cry! I’m not one to just start crying randomly. You have to push me past a point to get me to cry! I don’t even know how to explain it, but I know my BRCA and double mastectomy sistah’s understand!

What is true beauty? True beauty to me isn’t having nice, full boobs, a big booty, or being stick skinny. I keep reminding myself that just because I don’t have my real boobs anymore and I’m smaller than I was pre-surgery, it doesn’t mean I’ve lost my beauty. I’ve lost part of my feminine body parts and that’s it. I haven’t lost my spunk, personality, confidence, strength, grace, etc etc. I’m sure if I didn’t tell anyone about my double mastectomy, no one would have guessed or known differently.

I’ve caught myself staring in the mirror, scrutinizing myself, studying my scars and disgusted with the way the one rock sits and how the skin around it collapses…I don’t think I’ll do fat grafting to “fix” those imperfections. I’m okay with those imperfections. Honestly. Even despite that one bad day I may have. It’s part of the process. Nothing’s perfect in life and there are no guarantees. Whoever I end up with will accept those boob imperfections and thank me for taking control and being proactive.

Beauty isn’t just about the appearance. It comes from the inside. I am beautiful and confident in my own skin. I am okay with my scars and everything that has come with the territory of this surgery. Beauty lies within me and comes from my heart and soul.  I’m beautiful just the way I am – firm jugs, imperfections and all.

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”

― Audrey Hepburn

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My amazing friend, Jen and I at the event

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My favorite guy, Roy! He’s owns the manufacturer of the products we sell. We’re concert buddies!

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Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”

She dropped the phone and burst into tears
The doctor just confirmed her fears
Her husband held it in and held her tight
Cancer don’t discriminate or care if you’re just 38
With three kids who need you in their lives
He said, “I know that you’re afraid and I am, too
But you’ll never be alone, I promise you”

When you’re weak, I’ll be strong
When you let go, I’ll hold on
When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes
When you feel lost and scared to death,
Like you can’t take one more step
Just take my hand, together we can do it
I’m gonna love you through it.

She made it through the surgery fine
They said they caught it just in time
But they had to take more than they planned
Now it’s forced smiles and baggy shirts
To hide what the cancer took from her
But she just wants to feel like a woman again
She said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore”
He took her in his arms and said “That’s what my love is for”

When you’re weak, I’ll be strong
When you let go, I’ll hold on
When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes
When you feel lost and scared to death,
Like you can’t take one more step
Just take my hand, together we can do it
I’m gonna love you through it.

And when this road gets too long
I’ll be the rock you lean on
Just take my hand, together we can do it
I’m gonna love you through it.
I’m gonna love you through it.

Songwriters ISAACS, SONYA M. / HAYSLIP, BEN / YEARY, JIMMY

Published by Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Surgery…

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

~Eleanor Roosevelt

The day before surgery (9/9), I got to work around 6:30am and worked until 2pm. My pre-op appointment with the plastic surgeon was at 2:45pm. All day I kept it together. I focused on getting things off my desk, letting HR know where I was at, and letting my boss know what follow-up stuff she’d need to do with customer’s, and whatnot. I was great all day and didn’t really have a chance to think about it…until 1:50pm came rolling around.

I went into HR’s office to give them the note they could read to my coworkers on Wednesday, Sept 10th explaining why I wasn’t in and wouldn’t be in for a while. I didn’t tell them about my surgery. I filled her in on a few things, and walked out of her office tearing up. I knew there was nothing I could throw myself into, not because I was in denial, but to keep my mind off of things. My 8-year-old niece came up to me, whispered into my ear, and said “I love you and am praying for you. I’ll see you tomorrow at the hospital.” Continue reading