Another thing happened when I made that decision: It empowered me and allowed me to take back control. For the first few weeks of this process, I felt helpless. I was scared. But in choosing to remove my breasts, I played an active role in my health, which I felt had been taken away from me.
Of course, COVID-19 added a layer of complications to the double mastectomy surgery process. I had to get tested for the virus a couple times before surgery, and if I was infected, I would have to prolong treatment, which I didn’t want to do. This definitely added a layer of stress, but thankfully, I was cleared.
Another thing that was really hard was the change in visitation rules—I wasn’t able to have guests afterward. The anticipation of waking up and being alone and not being able to hold my husband’s hand was really scary for me. But I will say, the anticipation was actually worse than the experience itself. I had an amazing team at the hospital, I was able to FaceTime my husband, and I only had to stay one night. Ultimately, I made it through, and the surgery went well.
As I write this, I'm recovering from that double mastectomy. (I can even lift my arms above my head now—a huge win in my surgery recovery process.) Later this month, I’ll also start chemotherapy. I don't necessarily know what's in store for me during that part of my journey, but looking back at what I've already been through, it's nothing I can't handle.
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer—and then undergoing treatment for it—during a pandemic has certainly been an experience. It's taught me to appreciate my body and its strengths, it's reinforced my love and gratitude for those around me (especially my mom, who had also previously undergone a mastectomy, so I had someone to talk to who had been through this). It also taught me to stop taking the little things for granted.
If I can pass along one thing to other women that I've learned from this experience, especially right now, it's that under no circumstances—not even a pandemic—should you cancel your necessary cancer screenings and routine checkups. I think my physician, Dr. Buruiana, said it best: "Nobody should be scared of doctor visits and imaging at this time. It's tremendously important."
Finding a proactive doctor like my own Dr. Buruiana is important, too. I truly feel like she saved my life. It may take some research and trial-and-error, but you want to find an ob-gyn who will give you the time you need; initiate open, honest communication about breast health (and encourage you to do the same); and treat you like an individual—not just a diagnosis. Dr. Buruiana would actually call me after hours and on the weekends just to check in on me. Finding a doctor who is not only smart and knowledgeable is key, but also someone who’s compassionate and who’s going put in the time is just as important.
I've felt many things in the weeks since my diagnosis and surgery: anger, sadness, discomfort, pain, joy, relief. But the one thing I've never felt, not even once, was regret. All of the decisions I've made recently—from keeping that checkup scheduled for July to deciding to remove both of my breasts—I’ve made because I felt confident that they were the right thing to do for my health. Cancer doesn’t discriminate so being an active participant in your own health journey, and being a bold advocate for yourself, is the most important thing a woman can do.
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