It’s been 13 months since I discovered I have a significant biological family history of breast cancer. It’s been 7 months since I found out I had a genetic mutation that puts me at a very high risk for breast and ovarian cancers. It’s been 6 months since I had a cancer scare and a (thankfully, negative) biopsy. And in those 6 months, I have been in and out of doctors’ offices, talking with friends, researching, praying, talking with my husband and family, and doing some major soul-searching. I’ve gotten a breast MRI (negative!). I’ve met with an OB-GYN, a gynecological oncologist, and two breast surgeons. I’ve had pictures of my breasts taken by strangers. I’ve worn more of those awkward front-opening mammogram shirts than I ever expected. And all of that has led up to next Tuesday.
Next Tuesday, January 14, 2020, I am having a prophylactic double mastectomy.
The breast surgeon will remove all of my breast tissue and will replace it with either spacers or implants, depending on how things go. My tissue will be sent off to pathology to be combed through to look for any sneaky cancer. I will be sewn up, have drains inserted, and will spend a night or two in the hospital. I will then have a 5 to 6 week recovery period during which I will not be able to lift anything, including my daughter. According to some women who’ve undergone this surgery, lifting a fork feels like lifting a barbell.
This surgery will reduce my risk of breast cancer from 79-86% to <1%, which is lower than the average woman’s risk (12%).
Deciding to have this surgery was both a difficult decision and an easy one. I don’t want to have my breasts removed. I think that’s a pretty normal feeling. I’d prefer to not have to do this surgery. But for me, the idea of increased monitoring instead of surgery wasn’t a good fit for me. The overwhelming fear and crippling anxiety I experienced in July when various imaging revealed a mass in my left breast is something that I possibly would have to endure every 6-12 months. To me and my family, it felt like we’d be waiting for a ticking time bomb to explode. Because 79-86% risk is not something I’d want to bet against. The odds are stacked against me.
Until very recently, I didn’t do much research into the after-effects of the surgery. I had gathered enough information to know what I was getting into and enough to make a very informed decision. I knew this surgery, and the preparation leading up to it, would be very taxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And spiritually. There have been times during the past 7 months when I’ve been mad at God. I have refused to open my Bible at my husband’s and my set daily quiet time. I’ve refused to pray. I’ve refused to go to church a few times. I’ve given God the silent treatment. And yet, He’s been here with me all along, loving me through my tantrums. He’s been showing me what it means to trust in and abide in Him as I read through women’s stories of their experiences, as I’ve thrown out my old bras, and as I’ve held my daughter close, knowing I won’t be able to feel her hugs against my torso for a very long time.
This past month has been a time of grieving for me. Especially this week. I’m grieving the upcoming loss of my breasts, the sensation of them, the significance they brought to me when they served as nourishment for my baby, and a way I identify as a woman. I’m grieving my body shape, because it will likely look alien to me after surgery. I’m processing through my anger and shock and sadness of having to make this decision at all, even though at the same time, I’m so grateful to have this information that so many people in the past haven’t had access to. I feel guilty. And thankful. And angry. And really, really scared. And it’s okay.
And I feel brave and strong and loved. And I know I am making the best choice for me and my family. So, as next Tuesday approaches, I will probably cry every day until then, and I will hold my sweet girl close and lift her high in the sky as many times as she asks me to, and I will hug my wonderful husband and squeeze his hand when I need some strength, and I will trust that God’s got this. Because He does.