Boob Voyage

I’m one week from having a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy to prevent the possibility of cancer, since I have the BRCA mutation.

At this point, I’m excited simply because I’m close to getting it over with. Looking back over the last six months, I’ve gone through a full range of emotions and I just wanna get off this roller coaster and be done with it.

Interestingly, I’m forcing myself to write this because I know writing always makes me feel better. But it’s one of the few things I actually don’t want to share on this blog. Perhaps it’s too personal, even for me. In an earlier post, I promised I’d write about it, since it’s as “true” a story as any on this site, but I haven’t felt like it.

So I’ll be quick about this (no editing!) and make a list, and hopefully, as often happens when I write, I’ll feel better. And maybe someone who is going through the same thing will read this and feel better, too.

Things of note.

  • Last week, I got my period. And I realized, “I’ll never have my period again.” And while that would often be cause for joy, it made me cry. Another thing to say goodbye to. (Other times I’ve cried include the moment it hit me that I will have no more children and the moments I’ve thought about losing parts of my body.)
  • Often-present sense of guilt that I feel this sad and emotional about my surgeries, since I don’t actually have cancer. There are groups devoted to the support of people like me, and while at first I thought that was a bit overboard, now I get it. Plus, there are other cancers I still do have to worry about, that I can’t have surgery to help prevent.
  • No, I am not excited about getting a “boob job,” since that’s not what I’m getting, not really.
  • The number of doctor appointments associated with this process is between extraordinary and extra-extraordinary.
  • For a while, I was scared about the surgery itself, more scared than I’ve ever been about anything. I “knew” I wasn’t going to make it through and that was going to be the end of me. I’ve had surgery before, but was never this scared. Fortunately, I’ve passed that phase. If my mom can have a hysterectomy, I can too. This took some mental work, a good reminder that we can change our thinking. Just picture it differently and the picture will change.
  • I’ve never doubted this is the right decision. I’ve definitely freaked out about surgery, but I would freak out even more if I had to get screened for breast and ovarian cancer every six months. As it is, I’ll have to be regularly screened for pancreatic cancer and melanoma.
  • One of the hardest things to put to words is how much I value and appreciate the love I’ve been shown by family and friends. The words “value” and “appreciate” are so ordinary. I’m almost uncomfortable with the wonderful things that have been said to me and done for me. And they remind me that while this isn’t the situation I’ve hoped for, the reality is this: I can largely do something about the shitty situation I’ve been placed in, and that isn’t the case for so very many people. On top of it, I can do something about it surrounded by people I love, and that’s not the case for some, either.

So, really, at the end of the day I feel lucky. Because out of the range of shittiness that can happen in one’s life, I’ll take this any day of the week.

My sister masterminded a surprise “Boob Voyage” party for me, which was awesome in and of itself, let alone considering she will also be having a double mastectomy, one month after me. That’s the kind of people I roll with.

Enjoy some pictures of the party, and I’ll see you on the flip side (meaning after the surgery, not after life).

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Courtesy of my mom and sister.

My mom, me, my sister, and my aunt all carry the BRCA mutation.

My mom, my sister, my aunt, and I all carry the BRCA mutation.

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A table full of some of my favorite people, in a room full of even more of my favorite people.

My husband and sister.

My husband and sister.

I'm quite touched by the number of men who came out to my Boob Voyage.

I’m quite touched by the number of men who came out to my Boob Voyage.

And finally, one of the best cards I’ve ever received, from my friends John and Michelle:

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Endnote: it took some strength for me to call this Boob Voyage, though appropriate. As some of you might remember, I don’t like certain words such as “blog” because they’re too flubbery sounding. Same goes for boobs. But Breast Voyage sounded too serious.

Counting Change

There’s definitely been something about this year.

I don’t know if midlife crises find us, or if we find them through several culminating, transforming experiences.

Either way, I think I’m in one. Though CRISIS is the wrong word. Much too harsh. Maybe it’s a Mid-life Growth Spurt. Maybe I’ve finally become an adult and this is what it feels like. I thought it happened when I had my first child, but maybe that was just the dig that set it all up—the planting that’s been watered and sunned over the last six years.

This year–I’ll use the school year in this sense–started with my daughter transitioning to a Big Girl Bed and leaving her crib behind. The ends of things have always saddened me, I wrote at the time.

Then my son entered kindergarten. There were times I couldn’t wait for my children to enter school. This, in a nutshell, is the cruel joke of parenthood. I am now, and forever will be, in a constant struggle for space and independence, coupled with lonesomeness in the moments I find it.

I’ve never seen the movie To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, but I thought of that title several times over the last year. Thirty-seven was a big one for me. My year of changes, of feeling older, of seeing the end of the road. That sounds exaggerated, over-wrought. But it’s true. I see that there’s an end to this. I never could before, in that wonderful way of childhood and young adulthood, invincibility and joy. Now, I see that time does indeed fly with great big wings. I know when I am seventy I will look back on today and see softer edges, illuminated by the glow that the past inevitably holds for me. And I will think, “Man, that went fast.”

I turned 38 in February. Unfortunately, whatever black magic 37 possessed did not disappear instantaneously.

It was in that mindset, in April of this year of change, that I found out I’m BRCA positive–I have “the cancer gene,” the BRCA mutation, whatever of the various names for this relatively new diagnosis. I therefore have a much greater chance than the general population of having certain types of cancer, namely breast and ovarian. But also pancreatic, skin, and possibly lung and cervical. And who knows what else; it seems so new and good studies are long and slow, that nothing feels solid. Then again, I’ve been in a bit of denial and I’ve pushed it all off, which is unlike me. But I was diagnosed two weeks before my first book was published and I was determined to keep it at bay until after I could celebrate for awhile.

Well, my book tour is over so now’s the time, I suppose. (Though let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m putting my book too far in the background when it’s less than two months old; it still needs some motherly love.) My sister, also positive (which is actually misleading because in our cases, we don’t even have the gene; it’s missing from our DNA), dove in and learned all she could about the gene and our options. I had a “meeting” with her the other night to get up to speed. I felt slightly numb the entire time we talked, as I have pretty much since I found out.

Once in the car, though, a simple sight broke me: I drove past a father and daughter playing softball in a field. The father pitched to the daughter and she swung the bat  just as I passed and I could have sworn it was me and my father twenty-five years ago. And then time and motion and adulthood and childhood and joy and melancholy converged, and I cried all the way home.

There have been light moments—my sister and I laughed today as we talked about getting double mastectomies together and found ourselves saying things like, “December, maybe? I don’t know, when’s good for you?”

My mother and aunt are also BRCA-positive. Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population are BRCA-positive, according to ABC News. I’ve also heard it’s 2%. Regardless, we really represent in my family. We come to the table. Once your parent is BRCA-positive, you have a 50/50 chance of being positive yourself. So the women in my family flipped a coin four times in a row, and four times in a row we got BRCA-positive. I wish money was involved.

I hope to write about our experiences here; after all, it fits right in with the theme of this blog. But over the next few months, I might not be around a lot, and this is my explanation–to the readers and writers whom I usually visit and comment and correspond with. In this year of changes, there are a few more to come.

DNA