- Posted October 11, 2012 by
Santa Monica, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Tested for the breast cancer gene?
Saying Goodbye to My Breasts at 21
She said writing helps get her feelings straight 'and makes it easier to explain them to other people. It also reassures me that my mastectomy was the right choice, not just for me, but for others. I get emails every week from women who have found my blog. They are often BRCA-positive individuals or they’ve just had a mastectomy. They say that reading about my experience helps them plan for their own journey through recovery.'
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
“So how are your boobs?” Marissa asks in between bites of her burrito. We’re out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, catching up after a few months.
“They’re fine,” I reply, reaching my fork down for another bite. “Just moving along in the process.”
The conversation feels so normal—it’s mundane, an almost-routine dinner exchange. My breasts, sandwiched between talk of Marissa’s new job and my plans for the weekend.
What I don’t tell her is the truth: my boobs are hard as rock. They stick out of my sides awkwardly, and when I put my arms down, they seem to jab into me. Strange pieces of plastic poke out of them at weird angles sometimes, and once a week, someone stabs them with a needle and I watch them grow before my eyes.
What I don’t tell her is that they aren’t even my boobs anymore, they are just saline pockets sitting on my chest. I don’t mention that I find myself staring at the cleavage of women around me, the real cleavage that plumps together with a push-up bra. I don’t say anything about the discomfort I feel sleeping on my stomach, or the phantom itches that I can never quite scratch.
And I say nothing to her about the fact that despite all this, these strange, fake boobs may have saved my life. I’ll say it to you, though.
I was born in 1990. I received my first training bra in 1999, and started actually going through puberty in 2001. The breasts I came to know as my own developed around that time, and by 2004, they had become an accepted part of my life.
We had a good run, my breasts and me. Sometimes I loved them because they filled out the halter-tops my skinnier friends couldn’t wear; other times I hated them, because they were too jiggly and hurt on wood roller coasters. But usually we were on good terms.
In 2011, they turned against me—or rather, I found out that they’d been lying to me for a very long time. My mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in twelve years. Doctors tested her for a BRCA mutation, thinking it suspect that she had two unrelated cases of breast cancer so far apart.
She tested positive for a BRCA 2 gene mutation. I’d never before heard of the BRCA genes, but when I found out there was an opportunity to see what the future might have in store for my breasts, I jumped to be tested.
October 24, 2011: a normal day. I go to work in the morning, class in the afternoon. Check my phone for messages from my genetic counselor. No messages. Dinner with the boyfriend, TV, then bed.
October 25, 2011: a simple phone call transforms my breasts from cherished body part to mortal enemy, a pair of ticking time bombs waiting to take me down.
As soon as I found out I had the BRCA 2 gene mutation, I started wondering if there was cancer growing in my body at that very moment. I hated my breasts for turning on me; I hated my DNA for leaving me flawed.
I spent a good week feeling sorry for myself. Nothing felt important anymore; school and work wouldn’t help me if I were dead from breast cancer. I wanted to live my life like a bucket list, scratching off crazy antics every day.
Then I snapped out of it and got over the pity party. It helped that I learned about other young women who had BRCA mutations and managed to go on with their lives. They’d all had prophylactic mastectomies, voluntarily removing their breasts to dramatically reduce their risk of breast cancer. They all seemed happy, healthy, and relatively carefree—and their reconstructed breasts looked good, too.
So I decided to follow suit.
March 13, 2012: my mastectomy. I arrive at the hospital early, before 7 am. I slip into a hospital gown and give my breasts one final look-over. There are no tears or long glances in the mirror. It’s a short goodbye. Anesthesia kicks in, and I’m out. Hours later, I wake up.
My breasts are gone.
In their place are tissue expanders and a new lease on life.
Seven months later, the tissue expanders are still there. They’re fully inflated to 700 ccs of saline on each side, and that’s what’s making them feel so bulky and hard.
Sitting with my friend over dinner, I don’t tell her that I miss my breasts. Because sometimes I do.
But you know what I don’t miss? Feeling disconnected from my body, and feeling anxious of the chemical reactions happening at the cellular level. I don’t miss dreading that first mammogram, followed by that first MRI six months later. I don’t miss thinking about my risk of breast cancer as a “when” instead of an “if.”
At times it seems unfair that I had only a few good years with my breasts and my true body, untouched by plastic surgery. It seems ludicrous that the only viable option was to cut off my breasts at age 21. But then I remember that I am lucky. Many women don’t get to make a choice—a mastectomy is just forced upon them, followed by an intense round of chemotherapy and radiation.
Ask me how my boobs are today, and I’ll probably mutter something about them being slightly uneven. I’ll direct you to my blog, Ticking Time Bombs (http://www.tickingtimebombsblog.com). You’ll read about the ups and downs of my journey, impressed and slightly mortified by the complete honesty of the writing. And every so often you’ll stumble upon a post similar to this, a post where I realize and reaffirm once again why I picked a mastectomy.
Life is valuable to me, and it is far more important than a pair of natural breasts.