Six months ago I saved my life by having a prophylactic bilateral double mastectomy with DIEP Flap reconstruction. Six months ago. Already, really?!? Wow.
Before we left Austin, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Snyder asked me to write my story for their new website, where I will be featured as a successful story about a woman in her 20's.
Here's a part of my story:
My breast reconstruction story began when I was 10 years old and my mother, at age 32 was diagnosed with breast cancer. I witnessed the grueling radiation and recovery that she went through. Luckily, she went in to remission, until, 10 years later she found another lump and was re-diagnosed at 41 with breast cancer. After a fierce year and a half battle, through chemo and radiation, she passed away. My mom was 43.
I grew up fearing breast cancer. I saw firsthand the way it transforms lives. The pain, the struggle and the loss, I knew them all too well. I had been lectured by numerous physicians regarding my risk of developing breast cancer and the importance of having genetic testing done to see if I carried the BRCA gene. Since I was 22, I had yearly mammograms and/or MRI’s for screening. It took me eight years to decide to have the BRCA test. I knew if I tested positive then I would do whatever it took to prevent having breast cancer. In November 2010 and at 28 years old, I was diagnosed BRCA-1 positive.
At first, knowing I have this gene terrified me. I was 28, happily married, no children and facing the realization that I have 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Those odds were crystal clear. I had a choice, I could wait for breast cancer to find me or I could do something to prevent it and save my life.
I quickly sprung into action after allowing myself a 24 hour period to feel sad, upset and angry. The physician who diagnosed me with the BRCA gene was not an expert in reconstruction options and quickly referred me to a breast surgeon and oncologist. I quickly found out that my reconstruction options included a DEIP Flap, which would allow me to use my own body to reconstruct my breasts. I knew if there was a possibility to have my reconstructed breasts come from my body, that that was what I wanted. My breast surgeon provided me with two plastic surgeons performing the DEIP flap, DR. Snyder in Austin and an office in San Antonio.
As an action oriented woman, I wanted to move forward with the mastectomy and reconstruction as quickly as possible. For me, being armed with the knowledge that you have “time bombs” on your chest really solidified the necessity to act preventatively. My first meeting with Dr. Snyder was in January, 2011. Dr. Snyder and I discussed my reconstructive options, including the use of implants or my own tissue. He spent over an hour with my husband and I discussing the DEIP reconstruction process, answering our questions, calming my anxiety and reassuring me that having this surgery would reduce my risk of developing breast cancer from 87% to 2%. I knew after our initial meeting, that Dr. Snyder would be my surgeon. His compassionate, knowledgeable and flexible demeanor solidified for me that he and his team would work and partner with me throughout my reconstructive journey.
On February, 15th 2011, I had my “big” surgery, a prophylactic double mastectomy with immediate DEIP reconstruction. I had spent the 3 months before surgery preparing physically, emotionally and spiritually for this transformation. I was in surgery for 9 hours. I don't remember much from that morning except being asked the same questions about 100 times and being given my "margarita" before being wheeled to surgery. I woke up in the ICU where I stayed the first night to make sure my transplanted tissue was receiving oxygen. I was alert, hungry and not in pain. I remember laying in the hospital feeling a sense of relief and happiness because I knew I had just saved my life. I remember being asked about my pain levels. Honestly, it was hard to feel much pain because I had made a conscious decision to have this surgery. I never felt like a victim or traumatized throughout this process. I also had good drugs! I spent 4 days in the hospital before being sent home. Eric stayed by my side for the entire experience, taking care of me, going to Central Market to get my soup and bread and sleeping on the crappy cots. I am grateful for the love and support that I received from family and friends. Lots of flowers, visitors and love. A big thank you to everyone who shared this journey with me! Your support helped make the healing so much better.
The next 6 weeks were spent recovering. My Aunt Jo came from North Carolina to help feed me back to health. It was wonderful having her to support my physical, emotional and spiritual recovery. The first week home I was so tired and my system felt like it had been re-booted. Eating was a challenge and I was figuring out how to manage my pain and meds. I slept a lot. I was also sent home with appendages, 6 of them to be exact, 4 drains and a pain pump. Luckily by week 3 I was appendage free. Christie and Jay took week 3 and visited from Michigan. I was much more mobile by then and it was good to have people at home to make sure I didn't do anything I wasn't supposed to. By week 4 I was off most pain meds and ready to be more active. I started driving again and I could get out of bed without help. Progress...
By the time my 6 week post op visit came I was ready to be released from my 10 lb weight restriction. I knew I wasn't super woman by this point and that I no longer aspired to be her, but I was ready to move. To celebrate, Misty and John took us out on their boat where I promptly dove into Lake Travis, it was April 3rd! From there on out, I was back. Not too long after I was riding Mya again, zipping on the zip lines and going for short hikes at work. I was still tired and sore but better, much better!
Everyday since my surgery I get a little bit stronger. I see my body changing and my scars going away. Having this surgery was one of the best decisions of my life. The fact that I had the opportunity to choose this surgery was a gift and I grateful everyday to have had the choice to save my life. I know that thousands of women are not as fortunate and I encourage everyone to take the BRCA test, if and when it’s right for you. Having this information empowered me to save my life.
It's hard to believe that it's been 6 months. For me, the fear of developing breast cancer is gone and not waking up wondering if today is the day is an amazing feeling. The out pouring of love and support from family and friends got me through the tough times and validated my choice. I hope those of you who read this remember my story. My hope is I can help other women save their lives.
If you have a history of breast cancer in your family or you have a friend that does please encourage her to have the BRCA test. If she is not ready support her where she is. Let her know there are amazing and life saving options for her.