We flash them. We smash them. We stuff them and push them way up in the wrong sized cup. Men crave them, and children drain them. For many, they define them. I am talking about boobs.
October is breast cancer awareness month. 31 days of laser focus on “saving the tatas” and turning everything PINK. But for many women like myself, every day of every month is breast cancer awareness month.
My daily breast cancer awareness started on December 11, 2001 when I heard those four Earth–shattering words, “You have breast cancer.” Whether you are a 28 year old mother of an 11 month old like I was, a mother of teenage girls, or a grandmother, those four little words change your life forever. It is what you choose to do from that moment on that makes a difference. For me, it was the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. I opted for a procedure called a tram flap. I had no desire to have silicone implants and the idea of natural tissue made sense. After all, if I was going through hell, why not get a tummy tuck while I was at it…those extra 10lbs of baby weight would make fantastic boobs.
I remember waking up on April 1, 2002 for my big day. I had hives from head to toe. What if I died on the table? What if they don’t get it all? What would Adam do? How would Samara get through life without me? The terror and thoughts were overwhelming. But I kept telling myself I can, I will, I must do this. As I rolled into the OR, I turned to my doctor and said, “If I wake up with three boobs, that would be a really cruel April Fool’s joke.” And with that, I was out like a light. 22 hours later, I woke up with my new Barbie boobs, in pain, completely dazed, but ALIVE. That year was complete hell…9 surgeries, 7 blood transfusions, hundreds of staples and stitches, pills, appointments and emotions. I missed a lot of firsts that year including Samara’s first birthday and picking her up as she took her first steps. Although those were firsts I will never get back, I am fortunate I was and am able to share all the other milestones that were to come.
I had a mantra, “I can, I will, I must.” I can get through it, I will do whatever it takes and I must have the determination to fight and do it with a sense of humor. As I look at it, that was my only choice so I could be here to see my daughter, who is now 12 years old, grow up.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the first or last meeting with cancer. My grandmothers had breast cancer, then lung cancer. My uncle, lung cancer, my aunt kidney cancer. In 1997, my mom breast cancer, in 2006 my dad anaplastic thyroid cancer that spread to his liver, lungs and brain. And in 2008 I was once again diagnosed and treated for medullary thyroid cancer. That is a lot of cancer for one family. After I completed my treatment, I was tested for the BRCA gene…surprisingly, I was negative. However, I was diagnosed with Cowden Syndrome, a rare autosomal dominant inherited disorder characterized by multiple tumor-like growths called hamartomas and an increased risk of certain forms of cancer. I felt like I drew the short end of the cancer stick. But, I am not going to let that stop me from living my life the best way I can and that is just living every day. Even if it means I take a lot of different pills each day.
I am turning 40 in a few months…and have realized that I have many titles and wear different hats on a daily basis…mother, wife, sister, daughter, curator of cool, queen of hydration, Director of Marketing. But the one I take the most pride in, is Survivor! Cancer taught me that I can survive anything thrown at me.
Through research and the work of many great organizations like Consano, I hope and pray that there will soon be a cure for this dreaded disease. Too many people share the pain and struggle of those affected. While cancer brings out the best (and worst) in people and their support systems, it is not a journey anyone should have to take. For me personally, I look forward to the day a cure is found. So I don’t have to be scanned or poked and prodded like a pin cushion. And to put my mind at ease that my daughter, her daughter, friends and family don’t ever have to hear “you have cancer.”