How My Village Got Me Through My Double Mastectomy

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Apart from when I had each of my three children, I’ve never needed to be on the receiving end of major help. After my surgery, I suddenly found myself organizing childcare for my boys, deciding the dates I wanted to sign up for a meal train, lining up grocery pick ups and errands to be run. When you’re the mom, you are the one making all these plans and decisions for other people. You’re the helper. Switching to the role of “helpee” was harder than I anticipated, solely due to my own mama-pride, not due to anyone’s lack of wanting to help me…

Continue reading this guest post I wrote over on Komae’s blog.

Komae is a an app that makes finding a sitter so easy! It is the easiest way to coordinate all of your sitting needs for both your kids and your pets within your circle of trusted friends, family, and paid sitters. They call this your village. In fact, Komae (ko’-may) means village in Greek! Whether it’s a sit-swap with your friend, a favor from Grandma & Grandpa, or cash to the teenager next door, Komae’s got it handled. Find out more about them here.

My Favorite Clean Beauty Products

Hey friends! My last few posts have felt a little heavy, so I figured it was about time for something more fun! I did a round up of some skincare products I love earlier this year, but today I want to cover the whole spectrum of personal products, including some updates on skincare! If you've been around here a while, you know that products that are "clean" and safe to use are very important to me! So almost all of the things I'm sharing today fit into that category. As a disclaimer, some of the links below are affiliate links, which means the company (not you) pay me a percentage of the sale if you click and/or purchase something (read more here).

Ok, enough chit chat. Let's jump in.


Body

SheaMoisture African Black Soap
This bar soap has helped out my dry skin a ton! I get mine from Target, but I know Walmart carries it as well.

The Seaweed Bath Co. body wash
I know some people are anti-bar soap, so here is a great alternative. I love this body wash!! The scent is amazing. There's a eucalyptus scent as well that is heavenly. I like the lavender since I shower at night usually. It’s available at Target and Amazon.

Beauty by Earth self-tanner
My friend Mycah from Home Sweet Hunter recommended this brand to me and I love it! Easy application, non-orange and non-streaky color. Safe to use and easy on the budget!

Honest Company body lotion
Lightweight & moisturizing! I use this immediately after showering and anytime my skin is feeling a little dry. It’s available at Target as well, but the Amazon price is cheaper.

Primally Pure deodorant
I've tried a lot of natural deodorants, and this is my favorite! I've been using it for over a year. It’s non-irritating and actually keeps the BO away. Lemongrass and Blue Tansy are my favorite.


Hair

Love Beauty & Planet shampoo and conditioner
I love this budget friendly & safe option that I get at Target. I personally use the shampoo and conditioner for color treated hair, but they have a lot of good options depending on your hair type.

Love Beauty & Planet hair oil
Hair oil is great for taming frizziness and keeping hair moisturized (a must for me especially with color treated hair). I run this oil through my ends after I shower and when styling.

Not Your Mother's Dry Shampoo
I love this brand because it's budget friendly, lightweight, and unscented. You can find it at most drugstores including Target and Walmart.

eSalon hair dye
I'm at at-home hair color fan, mainly because I like to live on a budget. Also because making time to get to the salon frequently is next to impossible sometimes...especially when you have grays to cover up. And y'all, I'm just too vain to have grays in my 30s. eSalon is fully customizable color. You work with a color specialist to get exactly what you want. I have been using it for years and absolutely love it.

I’m in search of a clean or safer hairspray that doesn't cost $$$$, so hit me up with your recommendations in the comments!


Skincare

So YaYa Loopy Cleansing Balm
If you've never oil cleansed then we need to talk ASAP. It has totally changed and healed my skin! I've been oil cleansing for years. I stopped a few times for some reason, but I always come back. And I don't think I'll ever stop again now that I found this balm. It's a clay, coconut, and castor oil based cleanser. It removes all of your makeup and cleans the gunk off and out of your pores! It contains an emulsifier which makes it really easy to wash off of your face, unlike a lot of oil cleansers out there.

DIY Exfoliant
I just made this exfoliant my friend Blake shared in her skincare post. I love it! It's super easy to make, and does a great job at exfoliating and nourishing your skin at the same time.

Rosewater toning spray
My skin kind of freaked out and became super sensitive after my surgery, so I got this rosewater spray off of Amazon as a super gentle toner. Rosewater is really nourishing and helps balance your skin.

The Ordinary mandelic acid
Rachel from So YaYa told me about this, and I'm hooked. I was using a mild retinol, but the post-surgery skin sensitivity put a stop to that and I had to find something a little milder. "It exfoliates the skin by accelerating cell turnover, which in turn improves the overall texture and tone of skin. If your skin is dull and has a rough texture, it will help to smooth the surface and brighten your complexion – all while fighting off fine lines and wrinkles." Yes please.

So YaYa Quench Serum
Holy grail product. I use this after my mandelic acid at night. Just a couple of drops is sufficient to nourish all the skin on your face. I have dry skin and this serum has been a lifesaver. You can also use it as an under eye moisturizer if all your skin isn't dry like mine, and check out their other serums to find what works best for you. 

Radha Rosehip Oil
If I feel like I need a bit more moisture at night, I will put on a few drops of this rosehip oil. I discovered this oil a few years ago when searching for a natural alternative to retinol. Rosehip oil provides the skin with a rich source of antioxidants and essential fatty acids. It also helps brighten skin, reduces blemishes and has premature aging effects. I use this as my morning moisturizer as well (2-3 drops is plenty).

Beautycounter Rejuvenating Eye Cream
I’ve been using this for years and am obsessed. It know the price is high, but it works and will last you at least half a year! I’m not a Beautycounter consultant, just FYI. I just love some of their products!

Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay mask
This mask claims to be the "world's most powerful facial". I don't disagree! Go read the reviews on it and you'll be sold, too! You mix it with apple cider vinegar (if you have super sensitive skin, it also mixes with water) and apply it to your face. You literally feel your face pulsing as it promotes circulation and cleans your pores. I use this twice a week! Super budget friendly too, hallelujah!

Andalou naturals BB cream with SPF
Daily sunscreen is a must. I did A LOT of googling, scouring EWG’s data base, and reading reviews in order to find this product that checked all too the boxes I wanted. It has a higher SPF than most that I found, it's tinted so it offers some coverage, it moisturizes, and helps fight signs of aging. It also won't leave a white sunscreen glow on your skin! And y'all, it's around $15! I was so glad to find this to replace the $40 one that I was previously using. 

I plan to do an updated full skincare routine post soon! I'll go into a little more detail that I did here.


Makeup

Andalou Naturals BB cream
On a daily basis this is the only coverage I use. Full description in the skincare section above.

Beautycounter Tint Skin foundation
Perfect on days when I need a little more coverage. I use the shade "linen".

Burt's Bees Blush
I love all the Burt's Bees cosmetics I've tried so far. I use the shade "shy pink" and love it. Find it at Target and Walmart.

Burt's Bees Nourishing Mascara
No flaking or clumping, and I really do feel like it nourishes my lashes. I really like this mascara, and I really like the price (about half the cost of the previous mascara I used). Available at Target, Walmart, and most drugstores.

Beautycounter brow pencil
The shade is an exact match for my eyebrows which I love. It's easy to put on and doesn't wear off. I don't love that it's a pencil I have to sharpen, though. Does anyone else get annoyed by that? 

Beautycounter eye liner
Doesn't smudge off or irritate my eyes! This one also comes as a pencil I have to sharpen though. That’s my only critique.

So YaYa lip balm
Obsessed. Grab one to keep in your makeup drawer, your purse, your diaper bag, everywhere.

Burt's Bees Satin lipstick
Drugstore lipstick that's safe and doesn't dry out my lips! There are a ton of beautiful options, but if you can only get one I'd recommend Iced Iris. It won an Allure best in beauty award last year! Here’s a link to get it from Walmart!


Whew, we made it guys. I know that was a lot, but I wanted to create a resource that covered the entire spectrum of personal care products. If there's anything I didn't cover that you want to know about, comment below, email me, or shoot me a message on Instagram! If there's anything you want me to go more in-depth on let me know that as well! I'd also love to hear your product recommendations. Come chat and share away in the comments here or on social media! Cheers to safer beauty!

Save the photo below to pinterest to keep this as an easy reference!

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Joy and Sadness

“I’m doing pretty good” was the mantra I repeated to anyone who asked. I wasn’t lying. I really was doing good, all things considered. Everything was right on track, no complications. I honestly felt better than I expected to feel. Sure, my entire body hurt. And yeah, going into the OR and being put under anesthesia had been incredibly scary for me. I also couldn’t face looking down at my chest for the first 4 or 5 days. So “pretty good” seemed like a good description to me, because nothing was that bad and I knew it could be a lot worse.

But in those first few days when friends would ask me about going into surgery, I’d find myself near tears every time I recounted the experience. I felt silly because being put under anesthesia is just a common thing. Almost everyone has had to be “put to sleep” at some point. Lots of people have surgery. Some people have to have my same surgery and then also fight actual cancer. I’d just say it was scary and then move on because I felt a huge wave of emotion rising. I don’t think anyone noticed and I just kept moving on with my story.

The first night home from the hospital is when that wave I’d been trying to stay ahead of finally knocked me down. I felt totally confident that I could handle checking on all of my incisions and emptying my drains that were still in. I’d watched the nurses do it what felt like 100 times over the previous few days in the hospital. So I was confused when all of a sudden I felt lightheaded. I had to let Jonathan take over. I was burning up hot and had to quickly go sit down with the fan on full blast. And then the tears started.

“It’s just a lot” is all I could manage to say when Jonathan walked in and found me crying. I had finally been forced to acknowledge all that I’d been through. My body didn’t look like my own. I was bandaged, I couldn’t stand up straight, I had to have help with almost everything including putting on my own underwear. My boobs felt (and still feel like) like foreign objects stuffed in my bra. I had undergone a 5 hour surgery because of the fact that my body’s genetic makeup was nearly incapable of preventing me from getting breast cancer. This surgery that I’ve been praying over and been anxious about for months had finally happened. The surgery that I wish I had never had to decide to do in the first place was over.

But…but…I lived! I took my risk of cancer down to almost nothing. My boobs looked way better than I thought they would. I didn’t need much pain medicine. No complications had arisen. Why dwell on the hard stuff when there’s such a bright side to all of this, right? Wasn’t “choose joy” my mantra??

Friends, here’s what I am learning. You can be sad and still have joy. You can be overwhelmed or angry and still have peace. Just because one of these things exists doesn’t mean the other thing can’t. Our emotions can swing all over the map on any given day, and especially in the midst of a very difficult circumstance. We can still experience those negative or hard emotions while being grounded in truth.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 tells us to “Rejoice always.” It doesn’t tell us we need to be happy all the time. Happiness is a fleeting feeling based on circumstances, but true joy is straight from the Lord. It is totally independent of our circumstances. In the midst of a trial we can stand firm in joy and know that our trials and our struggles don’t have to control us. 

The scripture goes on to tell us in verse 18 to “give thanks in all circumstances.” To be clear, it doesn’t say give thanks for all circumstances. It says “in”. Meaning we don’t have to love what we are walking through. We can be hurt or sad or angry about it. But we are still able to give thanks because we hold on to the promise that God made: that He will bring good out of any and every circumstance we find ourselves in.

We have the choice about which banner we are going to hold up in our circumstances. Claiming victory and claiming joy does not mean we have to forget our hurt or sadness or anger. It means we stand firm on the promises and the truth we know, and we can give thanks for His goodness even if there are tears in our eyes. We can say “I’m having a really hard time” when someone asks how we are doing, even though at our core we know we are okay and secure. It’s okay to admit our struggles and our fears and our heartbreak out loud. It doesn’t make the truth of joy and peace in our lives any less true.

Just because our emotions aren’t pretty doesn’t mean we need to try to fix them. I don’t believe God would have given us emotions for no reason, or just to give us something we had to keep in check. Our emotions shouldn’t dictate our every choice and action, but they can serve as indicators to what’s going on in our lives. And they can point us to Jesus if we let them. What a kind Father to allow us to feel things. Can you imagine a world without our emotions??

So even though my emotions through all of this have been hard to navigate, and it’s difficult allowing myself to embrace and truly feel all of the things sometimes, I am thankful. I am going to allow myself to be sad and be angry, because my circumstances warrant that reaction. And just because I feel that way does not diminish the peace and joy of my spirit. It does not diminish the work of Christ in my life. It doesn’t mean I don’t have faith or I’m not choosing joy. Joy has been given to me and is experienced in my life because of grace, so no amount of bad circumstances or hard feelings is going to take that away.

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Mastectomy & Reconstruction: Surgery and Recovery

It's been almost four weeks since my preventive double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. It feels a lot longer than that some days, but I also know 4 weeks really isn't that much time. The process of healing has been a lot better than I anticipated in most ways, but some things that I didn't expect to be difficult have been. I plan to share more about the emotional journey of healing in a different post soon. Today I want to share more detailed info about the surgery and recovery process, because when I first started having to research all of this I was desperate to find someone else in my similar circumstance. I wanted to hear all about the entire process, hear specific details, see photos, etc. So that's what this post is for! For other people going through something similar, for those who know someone going through something similar, and just to educate anyone who may read this on what this process looks like.

If you're new here, you can read about how I found out about my BRCA2 mutation here, my decision to have a preventive double mastectomy here, and some FAQs about BRCA and preventive mastectomy here.

surgery day

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Here I am hanging out in my super sexy hospital gown. Not pictured: grippy socks and compression tights. I had to be at the hospital at 5:00 AM for my 7:00 AM scheduled surgery. It's weird walking into a normal looking waiting room area when you know you're about to have a major surgery in just a couple of hours. They called me back and I talked with the pre-op nurse (medical history and all of that), got hooked up to my IV, met with the anesthesiologist, got cleaned up with antibacterial wipes (super fun having a lady come rub your boob area down for you). I took a few medications - one to prevent nausea, one to prevent clotting, and finally some valium (praise the Lord). I met with both of my surgeons before surgery to go over everything beforehand. Two of my sweet friends are both nurses at the hospital where I was having my surgery so they came to see me before I got wheeled to the OR. 

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Seeing familiar faces when you're about to go do something scary was seriously such a relief. My friend Erin (on my right) actually wheeled me into the OR room where Emily (on my left) and like 10 other people were waiting for me. 

I've never had any type of surgery before, not even anything minor, so being wheeled into an OR room was very surreal. And I'm honestly feeling a little nauseated reliving it right now to share it with y'all. I was scared. I didn't want to be. I was making jokes and being kind to everyone but I was super freaked out. Especially when they started talking about hooking me up to anesthesia. When I knew it was about to happen I got super nervous and wanted to cry but tried really hard to hold it together. Erin and Emily were both holding my hands and they let me know as soon as they pushed the medicine that would put me to sleep. It really does happen as quickly as you think it will. You feel like you're falling asleep and there's nothing you can do about it. And then you wake up in another place and don't remember any of the last few hours. It's crazy and amazing at the same time. So even though it was really scary in the moment, suddenly the whole thing is over and done with! Am I looking forward to having surgery again in a few months? Absolutely not. But I guess it's a little bit better knowing what to expect now.

I vaguely remember leaving the OR room and being wheeled into recovery. I remember talking with the recovery nurse (who was the sweetest lady on the planet). But I was so tired and couldn't really keep my eyes open. I was awake and talking with them the whole time but it was very foggy. Nothing really hurt too badly that I can remember. I had a slight headache. And I remember having to concentrate on breathing because I guess my lungs were still "sleepy". I stayed in recovery about an hour (I think) before they brought me to my room. My plastic surgeon sends his DIEP flap reconstruction patients to the ICU for the first 24 hours (I share more about what this is in this post), not because I was in critical condition or anything, but just to monitor the blood flow to each breast every hour and make sure the arteries keep working. All I remember about getting to the room is being insanely hot. I think I had a full heated blanket on after surgery, and then they left a heating pad type thing on my chest when I got to the room. I was miserably hot. Evidenced by the photo in which I had them take all my blankets off, hiked my hospital gown up, and requested a box fan. 

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Thankfully once my surgeon came to check on me, he pulled the heating pad off (calling it an old school method), and cranked my AC down for me. Glory!

I remember feeling some slight soreness in those first few hours, but not too much. I mean I was just laying in bed not moving for the rest of that entire day til the next morning. I had those boot things on my legs that squeezed off and on to prevent blood clots. I also had a catheter in and was hooked up to a few monitors for my heart rate and breathing, and a blood pressure cuff that went off every hour (that's as fun as it sounds). The nurses also had to come check all my vitals and listen to the doppler things that were attached to each boob (I just feel weird saying the word breast so we are going to switch over to boob, hope that's ok) to make sure blood was flowing sufficiently. Every hour. For 24 hours. I am thankful for the monitoring but it was definitely not fun.

Hospital Stay

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Around 6 AM I got my catheter removed and they got me out of bed and moved over to a chair. Because of my stomach incision, getting up and down was no joke. But it was nice to finally get up! I got to move to a regular recovery room around 10 or 11 AM since everything was going well. For the next few hours (I honestly can't remember how many) I only had to be monitored every 2 hours, and then that eventually increased to every 4 hours. I also didn't have to be hooked up to an IV stand or any other monitors besides the dopplers on my chest, but they could be plugged and unplugged so I wasn't having to lug anything around. I made myself get up and in the chair most of the time instead of laying in the bed and walked around my hospital room as much as I could tolerate.

The late afternoon of the second day I was able to get up and go for a walk in the hospital hall. It was sloooow and I couldn't stand up straight (due to my stomach incision and because I just lost a few inches of skin, everything felt really tight those first few days). 

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It was nice having visitors to take my mind off of being in a hospital. Before surgery I wasn't sure how I would be feeling, but I was hopeful I'd be up for company! I had to concentrate really hard on not laughing because of my stomach being in pain! But I welcomed the distraction of friends. I was getting up and down and standing up a little straighter on Friday. I was also feeling super glamorous in this fabulous outfit!

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We had the option to go home on that Friday evening (surgery was Wednesday morning), but they also said we could stay another night if we wanted to. We opted to stay. One reason was because we didn't want to scramble around to change the schedule of who had the kids, and also because we felt more comfortable having one more night of nurses checking on me. We went home around 9:30 AM on Saturday! It was so nice to get out and be in my own space!

Recovery

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The first few days at home I spent a lot of time on the couch surrounded by pillows. I watched A LOT of TV. I would take breaks to walk some laps around the living room and kitchen because I knew moving would help me heal more quickly and keep me from going totally stir crazy. I took tylenol a few times for discomfort, but that was mainly in the evenings. I also took a muscle relaxer the first two nights home to help me sleep. The main thing I needed them for was because of my back. Hunching over was giving me major back pain the first few days. I'm thankful that subsided after the first week or two.

Showering was definitely tricky! I didn't wash my hair for the first week (thank you Lord for ponytail holders and dry shampoo), but I definitely needed to clean my body! I had drains coming out of each of my boobs, and you can't just let them freely hang down without some support or else you'll be in a lot of pain and possibly rip some stitches. So I put a lanyard on to clip them. It's as cute as it sounds ;) 

I had to (and still have to) keep compression around my waist to prevent any fluid from building up around my abdominal incision. My doctor used some type of glue during my surgery which meant I didn't need to have drains from that incision as well (PRAISE BE). Here's what my get-up looked like that first week home.

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Cute, I know. Between this and having to get Jonathan to help me shower, dry off, and get dressed, I definitely wasn't feeling super awesome (I'll share more about the emotional side of healing in another post). Underneath all of this looked rough, but not as terrible as I imagined. I had some bruising, and one of my nipples completely scabbed up. That was scary because I was worried that meant I was going to lose it. But it's apparently pretty common. I hope the following picture isn't too much, but I really wanted to show it for those who may be facing the same surgery and want to know what to expect. Like I mentioned earlier, seeing photos from others was incredibly helpful for me. This was one week post-op. The gray dressing covers the length of my abdominal incision.

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The Thursday after my surgery I had my first post-op visit with my plastic surgeon. He took my drains out! I had no idea how uncomfortable they were making me until they were gone. The spots that they were stitched into my skin hurt and pulled any time I moved. Getting them out was seriously such an instant mood lifter and immediately made me feel more like myself!

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He also took the dressing off my abdominal decision and took the stitches out. I had stitches on the drain sites, on my new belly button, and where they removed my two extra nipples. Yep...ya heard me. I had two tiny extra nipples on my abdomen. You can see where they were in the photo I shared above. They looked like moles so you wouldn't have known what they were if I never told you. My breast specialist said they're super common (she even had one), and she always removes them along with the mastectomy for her genetic patients...because it is technically breast tissue.

Week two was definitely a lot easier, but I was still having to take it really easy. I'd get tired quickly and felt pretty sore all over. But I was cleared to lift my arms, which meant I could wash my hair, shave my armpits, and put on deodorant. All of those things helped me start feeling more normal! 

I had a follow up with my breast specialist during the second week, and my healing process was right on track. I go back and see her in 6 months, and we will continue with physical breast exams every 6 months until everything has settled. Physical exams will be the only type of breast cancer screening I will do from here on out.

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I was feeling good enough to be able to go visit with some friends, get some easy chores done around the house, go for a walk, etc. by the third week. My kids all came back home that weekend (about 10 days post-op). I was still very sleepy at the beginning of week three, because apparently healing takes a lot of energy (who knew? ha!), and I was adjusting to mom-life again, but that's gotten better everyday. I still have to be careful how I pick up Gibson (he's 19 months old), but I can pick him up and get him in and out of bed without it being too difficult or hurting. I can walk a couple of miles and do some lower body exercises, just not too strenuous. I can't use my core muscles to get up and down still, and I'm still sleeping on my back because it is very uncomfortable to sleep on my side. I felt very sore during week three as well, but that is improving too. My incisions are looking better everyday, and I am now using a prescription scar cream on them to help them heal nicely. This photo was a little over 2 weeks post-op, and they look even better today, 25ish days post-op!

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I go back to my plastic surgeon this week for a follow up, where I will hopefully get cleared to do physical therapy. My arms and chest still feel super tight when I lift my arms, and my core muscles will need some help regaining strength.

Other things to note: I don't have any feeling in my boobs. That's been weird and sometimes tough to adjust to. It feels like I have something fake or a bunch of padding stuffed in my bra. I know (at least I hope) I'll get used to this over time. Most of my abdominal incision is also numb, and the space between my belly button and the incision is also numb. Some of that feeling is coming back a little bit. The skin on my stomach felt very uncomfortable the first 2 weeks as it adjusted to being stretched so tightly. The feeling was similar to when you're 9 months pregnant and your skin is stretched to the max. That's also gotten a lot better.

All in all, the entire process has been better than I anticipated. I had no idea what exactly it would be like, but I'm so thankful it's gone as smoothly as it has. Some things are still very difficult and I have to take a minute to let myself be frustrated or sad, but mostly I am doing pretty good nearly 4 weeks post-op. I will have a follow up surgery in a few months for revisions on my abdominal scar and filling in and smoothing out anything that needs it. I'm not looking forward to having surgery again, but I'm glad I will be DONE after that. And that my risk of breast cancer dropped from 75% to less than 2%. I have not regretted my decision for a single second.

I know this post was long, but I hope it was helpful for anyone who is thinking of doing the same thing or knows someone who is! I am open and willing to answer any questions you may have, so feel free to leave them in the comments or email me at coldcoffeehotmess@gmail.com.

I did a podcast interview 10 days post-op if you're interested in listening to that as well. Click here to listen with iTunes!

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Preventive Mastectomy and BRCA FAQs

Since my preventive double mastectomy is only a few days away, I wanted to address some of the questions I've been asked most often about the surgery and the BRCA gene mutation. 

How did you find out you had the mutation, and what made you want to get tested?

I have a strong history of breast cancer in my family, so I always figured I was at a high risk. I thought about getting tested for the BRCA mutation for a while but kept putting it off. After my first cousin tested positive for it and I talked it over with my OBGYN and my primary care doctor, I decided to get tested. You can read more about when I initially found out in this blog post.

What is your risk? How likely are you to develop cancer?

My risk of getting breast cancer is around 75%. I also have an increased risk for ovarian cancer (around 15%), melanoma (around 5%) and pancreatic cancer (around 5%). This is specific for my variation of the BRCA2 mutation.

How did you initially react to the news? Did you have trouble trusting God with it?

I was really sad, obviously, when I first found out. I knew the implications and knew that I would have to make some tough choices. Honestly I never struggled to trust God with it. In this big, hard thing I have turned to Him constantly as my source of peace and wisdom. That's not to say it hasn't been difficult or I haven't felt angry or sad or scared, because I definitely have. But He has been a constant source of peace, and I didn't know how people walk through things like this without Him. This diagnosis has never felt totally devastating or like a death sentence.

What kind of doctors have you seen?

My first appointment was with my OBGYN since my risks are highest in the areas that kind of doctor deals with. She gave me names of a breast specialist/oncologist, a genetic counselor and genetic doctor, and a plastic surgeon. Thankfully those names were also recommended to me by multiple other friends in the medical field. I also have to see a dermatologist once a year to monitor my skin, and plan to see oncologist that will help me monitor my pancreas. I'd be happy to give you the names of the doctors I see if you are local to this area and need a recommendation!

When will you have your reconstruction? 

Thankfully the first phase of reconstruction will happen in same surgery as my double mastectomy. I'm having DIEP Flap reconstruction at this initial surgery, which basically means they will use fat and tissue from my stomach to build new breasts. Because I don't have a ton of stomach fat (first time someone has told me that haha!) I will do a second phase of reconstruction in a few months where we will probably put in a small implant. You can read more about my decision to have a mastectomy and more about the DIEP flap procedure in this post.

Does having a mastectomy mean you won't get cancer?

No, it does not guarantee I won't get breast cancer because it would be impossible to get every last cell of breast tissue removed. But it takes my risk from 75% down to around 1%. That's less than a normal woman's risk. And I also will have the other cancer risks to contend with, and will likely get my ovaries removed in my 40s because ovarian cancer is very hard to detect early. Removing them is recommended for people with genetic mutation risks, but it will also put me into menopause so I'm going to put this off as long as I and my doctors feel comfortable with it. I will have to get yearly ovarian ultrasounds and blood work done to try to monitor any changes.

Is it similar to having a boob job?

I have to admit this is the only question or suggestion that has frustrated or hurt me. But I have to realize it’s coming from a place of just not knowing, not trying to dismiss or belittle, which is why I feel it’s so important for me to share my story and hopefully educate people. To be clear, I have zero problems with and fully support people getting "boob jobs", and while I will be rocking fake breasts from here on out, it's not something I would have personally elected to do if it weren't for this cancer risk. They will be removing all of the tissue from my breasts - fat, duct work, everything. Along with that I will no longer have feeling in my breasts. There's around a 10 chance I will lose my nipples because they have to scrape out all the tissue behind them. This is not a surgery I'm excited about having. Maybe one day I'll be able to appreciate that my boobs don't sag, but I'd definitely have preferred to keep what I have!

What are you most nervous about?

I've never had any type of surgery, so I'm nervous about going under anesthesia. I'm nervous about pain after recovery and the side effects of pain meds. I'm nervous the flap procedure will fail and I'll have to go back into surgery with a plan B for reconstruction. Mostly I'm just nervous about the unknown. It's hard to fathom that in a couple of days my body will permanently be very different. I'm nervous about what recovery will be like as far as what I can and can't do. I'm nervous about not being to help and do things with my kids. I'm nervous I'll be sad when I see my body. I can't imagine what it will be like to not have feeling in my boobs anymore. I'm nervous about my husband having to sit in the waiting room while I am in surgery, and then having to take care of me. And while I’m not really nervous or in fear that I’ll die in surgery, I know it’s still a possibility that I could just not wake up. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Having to talk over my living will with Jonathan has been hard. Thinking “I should probably update my kids baby books just in case I die” is a very strange reality I’m in right now. Knowing this isn’t a surgery I have to have, I’m nervous about something going wrong and I could have avoided it. It's all just very weird. That's the only way I know how to describe it. But I still feel 100% confident and at peace with my decision.

How is your husband handling all of it?

Thank God for my sweet husband. Jonathan has been super supportive through every step of it. From sitting next to me as I spit in the container that would be sent off to test, to waiting by the phone with me to get my results. He's been at every appointment, given me his input when I asked for it, encouraged me on every fear I've voiced. He is very supportive and is thankful, just like I am, that I have the option to stop cancer before it starts. That my chances of being here for my boys will greatly increase. That we won't have to deal with the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis. He has been amazing through it all, and I have zero doubts that he will be amazing through my recovery. I'm a little nervous about him washing and fixing my hair, however ;) 

Whose boobs did you go with for your new ones?

This is a super common question that makes me laugh. For this first stage of surgery, there's not really any picking out. I will get to make decisions about size and type of implant before my next surgery in the fall. But for now I will just have some sort of new "breast". I've seen them lovingly referred to as "foobs", which I really like ;) For those who don't do some type of flap procedure like I'm doing, you are basically left with just skin on top of an implant, so it doesn't give you a lot to work with like an augmentation, lift, or reduction would do. 

What are your plans for your kids post surgery?

We are so thankful to have a ton of people to help us! My parents will be staying at my house with the boys while I'm in the hospital (3 nights). Then the boys will go to my sister and brother-in-law's house for a few nights, then I have a friend taking them for a day, then help from my mom again, and then Jonathan's parents will take them for a while since they are both retired. Evan starts school about 2 weeks after my surgery so he will come home the weekend before that. And we will just play it by ear with the other two boys depending on how I'm feeling. They'll stay at Jonathan's parents on weekdays while he is at work, and then they will come home on the weekends.  We will do that until I am confident I'll be able to take care of Gibson - the main concern is with lifting him in and out of bed, the car seat, high chair, etc. And toddlers just need to be picked up and held a lot. So until I'm able to do that, I'll have to have help. I plan to fully document and share my recovery so hopefully I'll have some good advice and feedback about the recovery timeline after that. I know that was my main concern going into all of this! 

If you have any other questions feel free to leave them in the comments, or shoot me an email if you'd prefer. Thank you to every single one of you who have encouraged me and prayed for me through all of this. It means more than I could ever say! 

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