The final countdown has begun. One month. From what I’ve heard, the wait is the worst part. I hope that is true. The distractions that are keeping me busy have been awesome. A girls getaway, a trip to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving, a family ski trip, and going to the gun range to name a few. However, the fact that I have to rent a recliner because I won’t be able to get out of bed and that I need to buy bras to hold the four drains that will hang from the side of my chest loom in my mind. And I wonder what kind of bathing suit I will be able to wear for Spring Break or will I even recognize myself in the mirror?
Usually, I am very strong. But in this instance, the stress of choosing to have a double mastectomy is compounded by the stress of having no support from my family. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and my doctors feel that this is the best decision. I have a strong family history and a genetic mutation that raises my risk of breast cancer to almost 50% over the course of my lifetime. In spite of this logical information, my extended family has been the opposite of supportive. I can’t get into the details, but I am going into this without them.
This is where I am beyond grateful for the friendships I have forged over the course of my years as a mom. These women have validated my character and given me so much hope in people, especially in today’s crazy world. They are my safety net and have come out in droves to offer help in every aspect of my family’s life. My journey is sweeter and safer with them in my life.
Deep down, I know I am making the right decision to have the surgery, but when doubts start to creep in, my friends defend my decision and remind me why I am doing it. They also legitimize my feelings when I worry about the scars or the numbness that will take over my chest. When I feel uneasy about my husband seeing me after the surgery, looking completely different than the girl he’s known for 24 years, they reassure me “he will not care, not ever in a million years because he loves you.” And it’s true, he will love me regardless of the superficial change to my body. He is in it for the long haul.
I am overwhelmed with anxiety thinking about all of these things day in and day out, on top of all of the things I have to accomplish as a mom every day. I can’t wait until the surgery and all of the worries that come with it are in the past. But I still consider myself extremely lucky. After a few surgeries, I will be finished -- no chemo and no radiation to endure on top of the loss of my breasts. I know that I am lucky.
I think back to when my oldest son was in Kindergarten and a fellow mom lost her battle against breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. She was a week younger than me -- I was 36. Or a friend of a friend who, at 39, shared the same fate leaving two young children behind. I have made it to 45 years old unscathed by cancer. This is a pure blessing.
I know this emotional roller coaster will continue until I am on the upend of healing. After my surgery, I will be a previvor. This is the new term coined for all of the women who have taken charge and preemptively removed their breasts before a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, sometimes it takes removing the troublesome factor from a situation to have peace of mind. I’ve learned that the things that have potential to harm me must go, even if the choice is hard and terrifying. I know one day, when I am surrounded by my grandchildren -- and hopefully even great grandchildren -- that choosing to get a double mastectomy before breast cancer will have been the best decision I could have made. And sitting by my side enjoying life will be my husband and all of these women who have supported me.