The most transformational years of my life have been during this last decade. There were the blessings of getting married and becoming a mother. And there was a lot of loss: My mother, father, and sister all died within six years of each other. My mother and my sister were both breast cancer survivors for years before it took their lives. Due to this, I lived this last decade with a pink breast cancer target on my chest, waiting for my time to come.
Last year I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene that gives me an 87 percent likelihood of having breast cancer in my lifetime. Most of these cases are also marked by early onset in the 30s and a strong likelihood of ovarian cancer to boot). Suddenly, instead of being an observer and care-giver of cancer, and a pink-ribbon event and fundraising guru, the story was now my own. I decided to take action to change my genetic predisposition for cancer and have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.
When I went into all this last year I had two natural breasts that had served me well from puberty through breast feeding both my daughters. Surgery Number 1 took my original boobies and in eight hours on the operating table made two new mounds from my stomach (known as a DIEP flap). I elected to take the minuscule chance of cancer coming in the nipple to have skin and nipple sparing surgery, hoping for the most natural looking result possible. All seemed well enough for a little while, but things didn’t heal even after a few months. Surgeries 2 through 4 became necessary when a MRSA virus wiped out my new left breast and a subsequent tissue expander that had been placed in my chest to make space for an implant when the natural tissue breast failed. What remained after that was my worst fear, no breast on the left side, or what my husband so aptly dubbed “the flopped soufflé.”
I spent the next few months on various antibiotics, wearing a plastic prosthetic boob that, above all else, will offer me some very funny and painful stories over the year. In November I had a new tissue expander put in my chest (Surgery 5 if you are counting). The following three months were spent getting “filled” each week with about two tablespoons of fluid until my left breast ballooned up to match my right breast. After Surgery 6 to take out the expander and place my new implant, I was back to a new kind of new. Again with two breasts, plus a bunch of scars, some silicone, and an asymmetric silhouette.
These stories feel meant to be shared, and this compels me to write and blog. The current working name of my memoir is Life in Asymmetry.