On Being Brave

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I don’t take compliments well. It’s a fact. It’s a personality flaw that I am constantly trying to work on. I know it makes no sense that I thrive on positive feedback but get so many kinds of awkward and embarrassed when it’s said to my face. But it’s true. I can rock some pink flushed cheeks like it’s nobody’s business.

So I never quite know how to react when I’m told I’m brave for what I’m doing. Because I certainly don’t feel that way. It doesn’t offend me at all (seriously! it doesn’t! so don’t feel bad if you’ve said it!) and I don’t know that classifying it as a “compliment” is necessarily accurate, but it’s just weird. I suppose it’s because I feel like there are so many other “brave-er” (is that a word?) people out there that are so much more deserving of the description. And I guess it’s because I truly don’t see any other option. And I honestly believe that most of the people I know would do the exact same thing in this situation, once they see the sobering statistics and meet a few people that weren’t as fortunate to receive the “gift” of knowledge and ability to do something about it. I certainly appreciate the kudos, but let me say it again. In all honesty, I don’t feel brave. I think of bravery and courage as similar, and saw this and think is the best way to describe how I feel:

“Courage is being scared to death… And saddling up anyway” – John Wayne.

Am I scared? I’m not sure “scared” is the right word to describe it. But there’s something. There’s the “how the heck did I end up in this situation?!” and “how is it already here?” feelings. There’s some fear. Mainly of the unknown. There’s the weight of the gravity of the whole thing. There’s the nerves. I joke that my subconscious is more nervous than I am, or at least that’s my excuse for the waking up in the middle of the night (except the Amber Alert thing… that doesn’t count. It was obviously unrelated and seriously scared the crap out of me… Didn’t know WHAT was happening!!) There’s the pit in my stomach when I think of all I’m putting my loved ones through. But then there’s actual physical nausea when I think of the alternative. The guilt I would feel if I didn’t do this and developed cancer.

I have been asked a lot if I’m having second thoughts. I can answer that with an emphatic “NO.” Not once. Sure I wish I didn’t have to do this. But I know in the deepest part of my soul that I’ve made the right decision. And when I get nervous, I just think of my doctors and I feel safe. That I’m in the right hands. The best hands.

It also helps to have friends (cough… Nicole… cough) that embrace the negative reinforcement and send you links to terrible stories with a “I’m so glad you’re doing this” text. I laugh but it’s so true. And those stories reiterate everything. I don’t want to be a statistic.

Not sure how this day is already here, but I’m on the plane to the conference. Hence the vulnerable rambling. I said my “see you laters” ( I don’t believe in “goodbyes”) and made it 99% the way out of the hospital without tears! That’s a feat. I’m literally dumbfounded at all the support I’ve received. I am in absolute awe of humanity. I truly try to “believe in the good” when I wake up every morning. And right now? I’m astounded. I’m humbled. I’m forever indebted. And above all, I’m so, so, so very grateful.


Single Digits

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As I sit here waiting for my CT scan I can’t help but reflect on how hard it is to believe surgery is just a week away. So much has gone into planning for all of this and now it’s 100% crunch time.

Last week someone told me I was handling all this much better than they anticipated. That I was much less neurotic than they expected. I’ll take that as a compliment! Really I had more nerves and a hard time sleeping before Pre-op than I do now! I suppose this feeling of calm comes from within when you know you’ve made the right decision. And that perhaps it will hit again in the next few days. But for now? I’m doing great.

Yesterday was a boobtastic day for sure! Had brunch with the lovely Amy… It’s been so invaluable to have her along in this journey. Hard to believe she’s coming up on her one year boobiversary already!! Her latest blog, a guest blog from her sister, really hit home too. She’s exactly right – I was given such a gift in being able to do something about all this before I get cancer.

Then yesterday afternoon an amazing friend came over and took some incredible pictures for me – it was something totally out of my comfort zone, but something I knew I would regret if I didn’t do it. You know, when I’m (knock on wood) a crazy old lady I’ll want to have them to look back on! So a huge thank you to Sarah – you are a beautiful person, inside and out, and there aren’t words for how grateful I am. It was a weird sense of relief after… Like now that the “before” has been documented, I am at peace with going forward.

** 2 hours later… **
Just saw my neurosurgeon, completing my 5 trips out here in a week!! Woot.

Shunt and CT look great which is awesome. He was so reassuring and made my day – he said “hopefully I won’t see you, but if you need me, I’m there!” And the best part was that he said even in a worse case scenario, even if they slice right through it, it can be repaired there and not have to go up to my head. I may have told my mom that my relative “coolness” with all of this has the potential to be absolutely lost if I wake up with my head shaved! Did that once already! So that was a relief. We had a good laugh about a neurosurgeon being involved in a mastectomy – that doesn’t happen every day!!

So yeah. This time next week I will be back here for the Pre-op marathon… But yay for a week “off” first! And even better before that… The Boob Voyage that promises to be nothing short of boobalicious! Aka I have the best friends a girl could ever ask for! No turning back now!


4 Down!

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Not much big to update on… Last few days have been a flurry of driving back and forth and trying to get stuff done!

Neuro-ophthalmologist yesterday gave a thumbs up – all is well, even “great!” When I first got sick we saw him 2-3 times a WEEK for almost a year and it wasn’t always pretty, so it’s a huge relief to get good reports from him. Hard to believe I’ve been seeing him for 8 years! Crazy.

Gyn-onc this morning also had great report! I have to give her and her entire staff such major props. That could be the most depressing place ever (ovarian cancer sucks. Period) but they are so happy, encouraging, and upbeat that I literally left smiling. So much “girl power” I love it! We’re keeping with our plan for surveillance and I’ll see her again in February. Hopefully then I’ll see her yearly until my 30s. Yay! But yeah. She’s just awesome. Again with trifecta of badass doctors!

So I have exactly 3 days left of work. Madness!! Even crazier is by Tuesday I think I will actually have everything ready that I wanted to! You know you have a freaking awesome job when you’re actually kind of sad you’re going to be missing it! I’m crazy. I know. But that’s the beauty of working with amazing people!

11 days to go… Neurosurgeon is the only one left of the 5 appointments before pre-op! Almost there. Trying to enjoy this time and surround myself with my favorite people… They’re keeping me happy and sane, that’s for sure! I’m so very grateful for my parents, the rest of my amazing family, and my incredible friends. Seriously couldn’t do this without them!!


“The Stars are Aligning!”

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Whew! A marathon day, but a very successful one at that! I felt like super woman by the time it was over… Complete with a cape! Haha these things crack me up.

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Started off the day at my awesome plastic surgeon… he’s just… wow. Amazing. Favorite words: “You’re going to have a great result!” I love hearing that. I talked with his nurse quite a bit about all the process of fills and everything, and feel very good about my decision to have expanders (it was an easy choice!) Our goal is to get to a total of 650 cc’s so I can have 640 cc tear drop gummy bear implants as my final implants. The big question is how long is it going to take to get there. A lot depends on how filled they are when I come out of the OR on the 6th, but he won’t know how much he can fill until he’s in there. Then I can start getting fills when my skin is healed, so hopefully 2-4 weeks later. Then fills are as frequent as every 2 weeks, and the amount is what I can tolerate – the most they usually do is 100 cc per breast per fill. And THEN there is a 2 month waiting period after we reach the goal expansion before the actual exchange surgery happens. So my hope for an exchange over Thanksgiving may be pushing it. Obviously it’s not something I am willing to rush, so we’ll just take it week by week, fill by fill! It’s such a fascinating process to me… yes I’m a nerd I know. But it’s pretty amazing what they can do!!

So I’ll have the expanders placed under my pec muscles along with Alloderm to create a tight “pocket” for the final implants. I will have 4 JP drains coming out of the OR, and those will be pulled once the drainage slows down. Hopefully not terribly long! But I’ve got quite the array of fun toys to hang them/place them/etc . The drains are what everyone I’ve talked to that has had this surgery says are the worst part, but hoping they aren’t too terrible. Kind of like septoplasty splints… they suck, but are short-term!

So we took some more pre-op pictures to be as accurate as possible, and Mom and I got on our way! We just love this guy – he’s so humble, yet so very passionate about his work. I am so glad to have been literally dropped into his care, especially knowing how much I’ll be seeing him the next few months. So we split with a “see you on the 6th!”

Mom and I headed off to lunch, then back to the hospital. I had a CA-125 drawn so we have the result by Thursday when I see the gyn-onc. Also got to meet some very special, amazing people, but more on that later!! Intrigue, right?! We were early so had plenty of time to hang out in the waiting room, and I met a young BRCA+ woman who found out she had cancer while she was pregnant, which is basically my worse fear. Her story really hit home with why I’m doing this, and why I’m doing it now. Like whoa. I can’t stop thinking about her – how do you make the decision to choose your own life, or the life of your unborn child’s? Literally makes me nauseous to think about that.

Anyhow… on to the other “boob dude,” my lovely breast surgeon. Again with the humble and passionate! I can’t say how grateful I am. We had a good discussion about what’s to come. And a bit of an unfortunate discovery (from my MRI) that my VP shunt goes directly through my right boob. So I am the proud owner of a lovely purple “tattoo” that I even got the marker for… to make sure it stays for the next 2 weeks! It tracks the path my shunt goes so there are no surprises. We also looked it up and were relieved to learn my neurosurgeon will actually be operating just a few ORs over that day in case anything goes wrong. What are the chances of that?? My surgeon said it so eloquently and truthfully: “the stars are aligning!”

So I also learned a little bit more about pre-op on the 5th. Obviously it involves all the usual tests and meeting with the nurse, but that afternoon I will also have lymphoscintigraphy done. This is a nuclear test where I’ll get injected with a substance that will light up lymph nodes, so should they find anything cancerous the sentinel node will already be identified and everything can be taken care of at the same time. He said it’s obviously very unlikely that will happen, but I certainly appreciate their caution. The scan isn’t until 3 that day so it will be a long day! And then I have to be there at 8:30 the next morning for surgery.

My breast surgeon’s nurse is also amazeballs. I got heart pillows, drain holders, and tons of info! And… consents are signed! We are official. Craziness!

So yeah… day full of info, and we’re ready to go!! Makes me glad the surgeons think the last 5 months have flown by as well… it’s not just me (and my friends) getting old!! These next 2 weeks will be over in a blink of an eye. I can confidently say though, I’m ready to do this, thanks to all the amazing people I have on my side.

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Heading home… with my beautiful comfy pillows! :)


Here We Goooooo!!!

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Well for the past five months I’ve talked about the lull and how late July things would pick up and whoa… Understatement of the century! The last week has been such a blur of random stuff happening while simultaneously frantically trying to get things done before July 31, which has all the sudden become my last day of work… What?? Craziness. That’s in ten days!!

I emailed my boss the other day my list of appointments before the surgery and used the subject “It’s been nice knowing you.” Rather appropriate. And then I got a call yesterday with all the details of my surgery and that just added more to it!

So here’s the game plan:
• Monday: boob dudes. Aka plastic surgeon and breast surgeon, with a CA-125 drawn in between for good measure
• Wednesday: neuro-ophthalmologist. See him every 6 months religiously ever since my jacked up vision leading to shunt ordeal happened. And need to make sure all is well on that front.
• Thursday: gyn-onc. Follow up and make a plan for surveillance of ovarian cancer
• Next Monday: head CT and neurosurgeon to make sure all is well with my shunt
Then I have the lovely conference distraction for a few days then… Boob Voyage party. Pre-op (marathon day of it at that). Then D-day. Like whoa!

So yeah… Quite the mess of appointments and tests and everything but I am SO ready to get this show on the road!! That’s the plan. Fun reports to follow!

Enjoy your weekend… I’m off to sushi with the great friend who first helped me decide to have this surgery way back in October. Perfect night ahead!!