Monday, March 26, 2012

Happy thoughts!

It’s been about a week and a half since I got my boobs removed and all I can think of is how lucky I am.  Lucky to be able to say Fu*k off to cancer the way my mother never could.  Lucky my recovery seems to be going smoothly and everyday is a step forward to getting back to normal.  But most of all, EXTREMELY lucky to be surrounded by love and support from my family and friends.  Today I got out of the house for a bit with two of my best girl friends to get pedicures (drains attached and all).  They presented me with a book filled with fun photos, letters and quotes from many of those who have stood by my side.  I’ve been tearfully reading through this book for the last hour and am overwhelmed with happy thoughts.  It’s encouraged me to look at the bigger picture and I’m really proud because I feel like I’ve done things the right way. 

1    I was able to research different doctors and procedures.  I was lucky enough to be able to choose a timeline that worked best for me.  Not many people who get mastectomy’s can do it on their own terms.
2     I’ve joined an amazing organization called the Innovators Network (a group within The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) that not only has given me a handful of good friends, but also enables me to feel really great about what I’m doing on a daily basis to raise money and awareness for cancer research. 
3    Had a boudoir photo shoot.  Ladies…. Everyone should do this!  Let’s capture these young sexy bodies while we can!  One year from now, I’m going to do another. The woman I used is a local photographer named Sarah Tro. She made me feel so comfortable and we had a lot of fun!
4    Rob (my husband) and I took a trip to St. John three weeks pre surgery.   This allowed me to connect with this wonderful man in my life in a way I’m not sure we had connected before.  If it was possible, I fell in love with him even more. This was easily the best trip we’ve had together… yet, we still have our honeymoon to look forward to.   I also want to note that I got to appreciate the way I looked (pre-surgery) in a bikini.  As women, more often than most we bitch and complain about the way we look with and without clothes on.  Anyone who knows me well knows I’m definitely guilty of this.  However, I can honestly say that on this trip, I appreciated the body God gave me. 
5    I asked for support from friends and family… and boy have they come through.  This was the most important one!  The last 3 years I’ve known of my diagnosis, for the most part I’ve kept to myself.  To go public not only helped create awareness, but also gave me the confirmation that the decision I was making was the right one.  My family and friends have given me the strength to actually go through with this surgery. 
6    I had a fun farewell party to the tata’s.  This included a specialty drink called TaTa Tini, a very inappropriate cake and a fundraiser.  Believe it or not, this idea actually came from my mother-in-law who I’ve come to love and think of as family.  She sent me an article a few months back written by a woman who was also BRCA1 positive and had made the same decision, to say goodbye to the boobs.  At the time I was having a rather rough go of all this emotionally.  Reading the article felt like I was reading inside my own head. Her husband threw her a farewell to the boobs party and I thought, what a great idea.  The best thing Rob and I did was hand the planning part over to a few of my close girl friends; because they took it to a new level.  The night of my Tata party will continue to be a night I look back on for years.  It was an event where close friends from all different stages of my life came together and gave me the strength and courage to take my health into my own hands.  It allowed me to follow through with the decision to remove a part of my body that I love.  It helped me to realize that the benefit far outweighed the risk of keeping my breasts.
7    Finally, I have raised $7300 for ovarian cancer research.  Wow! Thank you to all those who contributed.

The last 11 days have definitely been a roller coaster but I can honestly say that so far, it has been easier then I expected.  The pain has been and continues to be bad at times but always bearable.  I have never once said to myself,  “I wish I would not have done this”.  There have definitely been emotional and frustrating moments but I can still see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it will get better. Pre-surgery I allowed myself to grieve, flaunt, capture, and had a proper goodbye. 

One of the letters in the book that was given to me today is from my friend who went through a double mastectomy about a year ago.  She gave me some incredible perspective.  She actually acknowledged that a few weeks ago was her new boobies first birthday “Happy Birthday New Boobs” she said.  I’m looking forward to next year when I think of this foreign object on my chest as part of me.  Right now, an ‘object’ is exactly what it feels like. 

My breasts and this whole process has been “A mountain like no other, a climb like no other”.  And hopefully will be… “a view like no other”.   – Kristen M.  I have always thought that scars are beautiful and tell a story of strength. 

Thank you to everyone who has touched me in so many ways over the last few months.  There are still so many people who have reached out that I have not gotten the chance to properly thank *yet*. This journey is not over yet, but because of my friends and family, I know I’ll have the strength emotionally and physically to continue the climb and cross the finish line.  Here’s to good health and a long happy life surrounded by loved ones. 

Tata cookie.  Logo designed by great friend Andrew Wicklund.

Fantastic tata cake!  



Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Week Post Surgery

It’s been exactly one week since my surgery.  I’m so glad I did it but to be honest, this last week has been one if the hardest weeks I’ve ever experienced both physically and emotionally.  Surprisingly the first two nights in the hospital, were not that bad.  From what I’ve been told, I woke up in great spirits giving my husband high 5’s and cracking jokes.  It was not all fun and games, getting up to go the bathroom felt like someone was jabbing a knife into my chest and I had to ask my husband to help me with things that were definitely not in our wedding agreement.  But, all in all, the first two nights were a lot better than I anticipated. 
The real difficulties came when I got home.  I was no longer hooked to a machine that pumped strong pain killers into my blood stream; they switched me out to Percocet.  This made me extremely nervous because last time I took Percocet it made me nauseous.  The thought of throwing up complimented with the pain I was experiencing was not something I could even think about.  I asked my doctor to give me something else but she said there was no other medicine strong enough for the surgery I just had.  So, for the last week I’ve been taking half the recommended dose
Another thing that’s difficult is losing the ability to be self-sufficient.  I couldn’t get the lid off of my pain meds, open the refrigerator door, lay down without someone supporting my back and taking weight off my chest and abbs, I couldn’t even brush my own hair.  This all really sucked.  But I knew/know it’s just temporary. 

Lastly is the emotional aspect of getting my breasts removed.  I honestly thought that because I had chosen to do immediate reconstruction that I would wake up with boobs, maybe smaller but at least something.  This was only sort of true.  Because I’ve decided to keep my own nipples, my plastic surgeon put in the expanders but did not pump them up because she didn’t want to cause too much stress before insuring the nipples would survive.  Apparently a small percentage of them don’t make it because of how much trauma they’ve been through.  So, I woke up to something, just not anything that really resembles a breast.  My doctors have told me that once they start expanding, it will get much better.  *Hopefully*, I should get my first pump next Friday.  The other thing that’s a bit frustrating is the total loss of feeling I have on my chest (which I’ve been told rarely comes back).  If I touch my breast, the only way I know I’m making contact is because it’s my own hand doing it.  If someone else were to touch my chest, I would have absolutely no idea.   My husband seems to think there might be some benefit for him later on.  :-)  And, they have been very itchy (probably from the narcotics).  Imagine getting an itch but having no way to actually satisfy it. 

On a positive note, today I’m finally feeling better.  Coming out of the surgery I had 4 drains hooked up to me; yesterday I had my first post op with my breast surgeon and she took out two.  This seems to be helping a lot with the pain.  I’m really hoping to get the other two out tomorrow.  Also, I have not had a Percocet since 1AM this morning and I’m feeling okay!  This is a huge accomplishment.  I have tried for the last two days to quit but could not push through the pain.  At the hospital they ask you every hour what your pain level is (gets really annoying actually).  The goal was to keep the pain at a level 3.  I would say right now I’m at a 4 but for the first time in a week I have a clear head.  I’ll take the extra pain to not have to take the meds anymore.

I’ve come a long way in the last week!  I’m walking up the stairs and able to open the refrigerator without any help.  Getting up from laying down still hurts, but I can do it myself.  I still can’t brush my hair or open a bottle without help but I know I’ll be able to do all these things soon.  

About an hour after waking up.  My sis and me.  

First day coming home.  My niece Siena and I.  She found a pink blanket and her pink doggy to match mine.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I never thought I would be a blog person.   While I appreciate blogs, and certainly follow several, I have never really considered myself a great writer.  However, what I have to say this is not about making people laugh, sharing a good recipe or discussing whether or not skinny jeans are in or out (ALTHOUGH I strongly believe they are still IN).  It’s about documenting my feelings, thoughts, joys, reliefs and fears.  It’s about writing these things down because they may help someone else, now or in the future. 

Eight years ago, my family learned we have a genetic mutation in our gene line called BRCA1 (AKA The Breast Cancer Gene).  Many people have recently heard of this mutation because a few years back, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Christina Applegate learned she too was BRCA positive.  Being BRCA positive means you have up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 40% chance of getting ovarian cancer.  Almost everyone (including the men) on my mother’s side of my family has been tested.  About 50% of us are free and clear.  This is great!  It means the gene stops with them; it can’t be passed to their children.  I finally decided to take the plunge three years ago and learned I’m one of the positive ones.  In this case, ‘positive’ actually means ‘negative’.  The stats you read above apply to me. 

So here’s the thing.  If diagnosed with the BRCA mutation, you can look at this situation two different ways.  You can take the “poor me” attitude… which I’ve definitely had moments… no hours… mmmm ok, actually weeks maybe months where I’ve felt sorry for myself.  And that’s okay because it’s really hard to learn what you’re genetically predisposed too.  But there are also moments that I feel blessed.  I have the rare opportunity to fight back… fight back before this even begins.  Because of the simple blood test I took three years ago, insurance companies have allowed me to start getting mammograms at the age of 28 and have paid for the majority of yearly MRI’s I have to get.  I have also been accepted into two different early detection ovarian cancer studies with the Marsha Rivkin Center and Fred Hutch and they pay for two blood tests a year and an ovarian ultrasound.  My mother, unbeknown to us at the time of her BC diagnosis, was also BRCA positive and didn’t have the opportunities I have today.  If she did, I truly believe she would still be around. 

Where’s this all going?  Well the fact of the matter is, while I’m really thankful for all the screening, I’m fed up.  I’m sick of all the constant boob checks, the mammograms, the MRI’s.  I’ve had to put a lot of time, effort and coordination into spending about four hours on Pill Hill (Swedish Hospital in Seattle) taking care of all of these visits once every six months.  So I’ve decided to pull out the big guns, the nuclear weapons.  I’ve decided to give this cancer thing the double finger (hopefully some of you get the Sex and the City reference).  On March 15th I’m going to have a Bilateral Prophylactic (preventative) Mastectomy. * F%ck You Breast Cancer!*