My breast cancer story starts with my Mom.
In 2011, heading into my senior year of college my Mother was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. In the five years following she had a lumpectomy surgery, rounds of chemo, radiation, and shots to try to suppress the cancer. It was 2013 when it metastasized to her lungs, her blood, and then in 2014 to her brain. We lost her on September 7th of 2014.
On that date, I lost not only my Mother, but my best friend.
I wallowed in my grief for about a year before starting to think about genetic testing. It had been in conversations with my mother that I’d started to learn more about it, but I didn’t want her to live with the results I was pretty sure I’d have.
It took me a few years and a struggle with three doctors refusing to test me before I was finally able to push a referral through. Their reasoning... that I’d only had two people in my family with breast cancer. I couldn’t understand how a doctor would have an issue with a blood draw genetic test that could give me preventative options and surveillance. I really couldn’t understand how they didn’t listen when I explained that it was two out of four people in the two generations above me on my maternal side.
When I finally got the referral pushed through I was faced with more medical faux pas that I could write about forever, but I won’t. I was an advocate for myself through this medical process, I didn’t take NO for an answer, I fought for my healthcare rights, and I’m extremely glad I did.
In the fall of 2016 my testing came back BRCA1 positive.
I spent a few months in a tailspin, even though I’d prepared for the worst. Then I picked myself up and started scheduling appointments to set up my Preventative Bilateral Mastectomy with DIEP Flap reconstruction. The only answer that made sense to me was to do this preventative surgery and lower my 87% lifetime risk of breast cancer to 2%.
I vetted doctors through the consultation process and knew I’d found the right ones at The Center For Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans. It meant changing my Tricare plan and traveling three hours for surgery, but in my gut I knew it was right.
I chose to do the DIEP Flap reconstruction option, which stands for Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator. In layman’s terms, my doctors removed flaps of tissue from my abdominal area to reconstruct my breast. They reconnected my blood vessels so that my tissue would not only be my own, but also living tissue. It would appear close to natural as it settled, acting similar to normal breasts and can shrink and grow with me.
This surgery was important to me. I was terrified of implants and possible rejection, as I seem to have all the weird allergies. This was what I wanted and if I had to travel to get it, I would, and I did.
This surgery was also an intense one. Not only the mastectomy and tissue healing up top, but an incision from outer hip to outer hip left me with range of motion issues all through my upper body. I spent months longer in my recovery than the average women who opted implant reconstruction.
Through recovery and complications I am still SO happy with my decision to go the DIEP Flap route. My advice, simply... to know what you’re getting into and understand the intensity of this surgery when making your decision. I had a huge support system that helped me through my recovery, and having people who can physically be there is a must when going through this.
I’ve taken my 87% risk and lowered it to 2%. I’ve stood up for my rights and myself. I’ve said NO to cancer.
I’ve spent the last year sharing my story through my blog ihearitssunnier.com, connecting with women across the globe, and becoming a part of an amazing nonprofit called The Breasties.
I never would have thought I’d have a Mastectomy at the age of 28. I also never would have thought I’d then share it publicly for all to see. But, I am so glad that I have. It has empowered me to start talking about cancer, about my Mom, and about my fears. It has helped me to connect with women going through cancer diagnoses and treatment, women with gene mutations embarking on the same path or in the process of deciding if they will, women who get it.
This mutation is a game changer, and I have plenty more to do. Starting ovarian surveillance and discussions about removal is my next step in this journey. The best part though, I have a gang of women who I can now lean on while making these decisions.
With knowledge comes power, and I’m grateful to finally feel that I have that when it comes to what cancer means to me.