Chapter 18: My bilateral mastectomy

In the days leading up to the surgery, I was certainly anxious, but I was also ready to get this dreaded surgery in my rearview mirror. I had spent the entire month of June gaining my strength, enjoying the time with the twins and the rest of the family and enjoying a piece of summer. The twins were 6 months old and they were so much fun. Chubby, happy and learning new things every single day. They were my joy. They were my heart. They were my why. We knew I would be in the hospital for several days recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and had help lined-up and the casseroles were rolling in filling up our freezer. I was starting to get my taste buds back and could taste some food again. I was actually excited to dig into those lasagnas!

I would be having a bilateral mastectomy (both my breasts), including the nipples and they would add a temporary tissue expander in the second half of the surgery. I had the option to remove the nipples or keep them and for me, it was a no-brainer. I did not want any remaining tissue left that had any chance of even one cancer cell. I would eventually be adding a 3D nippple tattoo down the line and honestly, it did not matter that much to me. The surgery would be around 7 hours and I felt confident with our surgical team and plastic surgeon team. I was ready.

July 1st, 2015 was the day. I was very nervous and had a strong list of “what if” questions bouncing around my brain. I believed in my team, felt God by my side and let my husband have one last jiggle of my boobies to get a laugh in before I went under. The last thing I remember is him holding my hand, looking me in the eye and saying how much he loved me and that I was going kick ass. Off to sleep I went.

I don’t remember a whole lot of the first 24 hours, as they had me on a morphine drip and a pain pump in my chest. I was in and out of sleep and I remember that the pain was intense and I just wanted to sleep through it. I was all bandaged up and they kept me very comfortable. The nurses and doctors were so incredible and made sure I had everything that I needed. I was able to Facetime with the twins and seeing their sweet faces immediately gave me the lift I needed. I was in the hospital for 5 days and we were going to meet with my surgical team in a couple of days for the results. They had removed 7 lymph nodes on my right and were testing everything to see if they were able to remove all of the cancer, had clean margins and if any of the lymph nodes showed cancer. This would determine if the cancer had spread at all.

We went home and it was going to be a tough few weeks, but I was doing pretty well. I slept propped up and kept on top of the pain meds. I had not looked at my chest when I was in the hospital. I wanted to be alone the first time I looked. I went into our bathroom by myself, unwrapped my bandages, turned toward the mirror and my eyes slowly went to my chest. Tears were falling down my cheeks and it was hard to see what was staring back at me. I was very bruised, I had 2 small bumps where my breasts had been and I had drains coming out of the sides of my chest. Nipples gone and there were 2 scars across the middle of these bumps where they had removed my breasts. I just stared and blinked and silently cried. Who was this person staring back at me? I felt so incredibly broken in this moment. How could my husband look at me again? Anyone who said “they are just boobs” has never faced the reality of looking yourself in the mirror and trying to reclaim you new body as your own, especially when part of it was taken from you.

I let myself have a really good cry and then I put the bandages back on, wiped my tears and had to make a choice. This was a defining moment for me. I could fall back into sad and let myself go to a dark place OR I could hold on to everyone around me that had been cheering me on and move forward. I dug really deep and looked myself in the mirror and promised myself…not anyone else…I promised myself that this would not define me. I had fought so hard to get to this point and removing my breasts was part of that battle. I was still here and I was not going anywhere.

A week or so later, we were heading in to see my surgeon to find out the outcome from the bilateral mastectomy surgery. This was huge. This was going to determine so much and it was completely out of our hands. We did not talk much on the way to the appointment, listened to music in the car and I just did my best to breathe. I was a nervous wreck and was praying to God the whole ride in that we would get good news, asking God to just hold me strong. Once we were sitting in the room waiting for the doctor to come in, I almost barfed. I was sweating and I could not say anything. Just sat there and prayed. To this day, I can see her smile as she opened the door, looked me in the eye and said “We got it all.” It was the best news I had ever heard in my life and I hopped off the table and gave her the biggest hug I could and thanked her over and over. My margins were clear, there was no trace of any cancer in my lymph nodes and I did NOT have to have radiation. I was considered “NED” or “No Evidence of Disease” and as of July 1, 2015, I was cancer-free!

It was time to celebrate and start to LIVE our lives without fear around the corner. On the drive home from the appointment, I felt so overjoyed with relief, but I also felt sad. I am one of the lucky ones. I thought a lot about my Mom and how she was never able to hear those words. She was never able to celebrate being free of cancer. She lived for all of us, but never showed us her fear or how she was living the end on borrowed time. I thought of all my cancer warrior friends I had made and that so many of them would not be as lucky as I was at this moment. I felt an incredible amount of peace in my heart and I vowed I would always do everything I could to help others going through cancer.

I went on to have multiple surgeries to get my implants exchanged, had 3D nippple tattooes and then had my ovaries and one remaining fallopian tube removed. Since my cancer was hormone positive and I am also BRCA positive, it was recommended for me to alleviate any chances for recurrence with the surgery. I am on a daily medication called Arimidex that blocks all estrogen in my body (HELLO MENOPAUSE) and causes incredible side effects (hot flashes, joint pain, insomnia, high cholesterol to name a few), but I AM HERE. I am strong. I am living my life every day knowing how lucky I am, how blessed I am and how many people are out there fighting every second of every day. Cancer has certainly changed my life and it may be a huge chapter of my book, but not the title to my story.

I am seeing fireflies everywhere these days…

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