It's been more than a year since I first decided to move forward with my prophylactic mastectomy, more than 3 and a half years since my dad passed away, and just shy of 6 years since I tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. And the craziest throwback of them all? The very last part of my surgery and reconstruction was complete just nine days ago. So the obvious (at least to me) question presents itself: Is it all over? Is the person I've become throughout this journey ending her reign of breast cancer Previvor queen? And the scariest question of all: Who am I now? The short answer is that I am changed. Physically, emotionally, I am a changed woman. Having to deal with physical trials and pain for pretty much the first time in my life was hard, though it made me realize how strong you can be when you need to, and how minimal my pain and trials were, compared to if I would have gotten sick, and not had this as a preventative procedure.
God love one of my BFFs for being the one friend that always asks you the "what was your best and worst of the last year" when it's your birthday type questions. I'm lucky enough that my crew of best friends celebrated my reconstruction completion this past weekend, and naturally, at dinner, this BFF posed the question to both Kevin and I of "what, when now looking back, are we surprised about now that this whole ordeal is complete?" Kev's answer was frighteningly so true: When we look now at those we've either met over the last few months, or even just seen from afar, that are fighting the battle of breast cancer, and especially at such a young age, it definitely scares us straight. The few months of struggles were 100% the right choice, for both of us. My odds were just simply not in my favor, and I did something to fix that. I can't predict the future, but I can say with confidence that I lowered my risk of becoming one of those statistics.
Emotionally, I've been on a roller coaster. I'd say most of the time I've been on top of the ride, able to use this experience as a positive one, staying confident and optimistic. But there were some days I went down the hill and struggled to climb back up. I took things out on people who didn't deserve it, I avoided others, and sometimes let myself get down. But now looking back, I think it was all deserved. I deserved a day or two to be hurting, emotionally or physically, and I deserved to be mad that I had to miss out on something, or mad at the forgotten friend who didn't reach out. It made my skin a little thicker, and gave me the ability to climb myself back to the top of the ride and realize all of the good things and good people I have in my life. I did not come out bitter, I can promise you that.
I guess I'm most scared of losing the identity of the person I've become. I've always had some type of added identity, not necessarily by choice, but always there. Whether it be the girl in the sorority who's dad is sick, the girl with the weird genetic thing or now the girl who had the mastectomy. And I'm not mad about it. If anything, it's helped shape who I am to myself and who I am to others, hopefully in a pleasant light, for overcoming these situations. But, it is scary, thinking I'm losing something that's helped give me a confidence, or a motivation to be better and to do better.
So the silver lining? There is still so much more to share, so many more lives to touch and hopefully many more lives to save. My work now is not just who I am, but my mission. Because now I've done more than share my story and journey as I've gone through it. I've actually overcome it and have the ability to move forward. And I'm going to at least let myself believe that's more than a stigma, or even an identity. My mission is powerful, and now I have even more time to dedicate to serving that mission (and plan a wedding while I'm at it).
So thank you, each and every one of you that reads this, that has supported me all along the way and has shown me love in such beautiful gestures. It's because of that support, love and faith that I can say I am finished with this stage of my journey, and am incredibly happy with the new, healthy and refreshed person I am.
It's not over, it really is just a new beginning and a time to fight for other young high-risk women to have a louder voice in the world. I don't have to be scared (for long at least) that the person I am is changed, but proud of who I have been and am now, because that pride is something that can carry forward.
So I hope you continue to follow the next steps of my journey, because as I said, there is much more to share, and much, much more to come.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” - Maya Angelou