Never Be Ashamed of a Scar
Well, hey ladies! Chelsea here- it’s been awhile!
It’s actually been approximately two months and two weeks since I’ve been up in front of the studio teaching a class, but who’s really keeping track?
ME, THAT’S WHO! I’ve missed y’all! It’s been agony hiding out at home for weeks on end, not being able to don that sweet head mic, turn my music up, and squeeze and shake with you amazing women (and sometimes men).
“Well, where the heck have you been,” you ask? Good question. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve been in Thailand exploring options for an international Barre Evolution location!
Just kidding. That would be amazing though… just saying.
I’ve actually been recovering slowly but surely from a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction that took place on April 28th. Never heard of a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction? I hadn’t either, until my lady doctor mentioned it 3 years ago. She made the connection for me that this is the procedure that Angelina Jolie had in 2013. Unfortunately, having this procedure done myself will probably be the only way in which I am, or ever will be, similar to Angelina Jolie.
Humor me and let me tell you a little backstory. I’ll get to the juicy stuff (implants, liposuction, my amazing doctors, oh my!) in a minute…
I lost my mom to cancer in October of 2014. While breast cancer was not the specific type of cancer that took her life, it was the first type of cancer she had. It was also not the specific cancer that took my paternal grandmother’s life, but it, too, was the first type of cancer she had. Breast cancer was also the first (but not final) type of cancer my aunt had. Have you kept track? It’s kind of a lot. My dad’s mom, my mom’s sister, and my mom each developed breast cancer before turning 55. They each beat it. Then each of them passed away from a different form of cancer.
Y’all. Cancer sucks. It sucks so badly. Everyone has someone in his or her life that has been affected by cancer. I did not want to be that ‘someone’ to anyone I know. And truthfully, I have seen (more times that I would have liked) the way in which cancer and cancer treatments beat down the human body and spirit- I knew that I wanted to be AS FAR away from that as possible. Unfortunately, through genetic counseling I learned that being cancer-free was not likely to be my story. Based on my family history alone, I had a 48% chance of developing breast cancer at some time in my life. FOURTY EIGHT PERCENT. The average woman has a 12.5% of developing breast cancer some time in her life. My risk was FOUR TIMES the average woman’s risk.
Uh-uh, no ma’am, not interested.
After learning those statistics, I didn’t need to have the BRCA test done. It didn’t matter. I needed to bring my risk waaaaaaay down. There are two ways to do that, but since my husband and I still want to have babies one day, endocrine therapy was out of the question. That left me with a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. And that was a huge decision.
I sat on this information for a year. A YEAR. 365 days of researching this procedure, learning all that I could about the pros and cons, meeting with a minimum of 10 doctors, and thinking and praying about it every day. Literally every. single. day. It was a weight that sat on my shoulders all of the time. I was so scared to have the procedure done because it’s a freaking big deal procedure and it has lifelong consequences (bye-bye breast feeding, hello scars and numb boobs for forever). I was equally scared to NOT have the procedure done because it left me with basically a 50/50 shot of developing breast cancer in my lifetime. I already knew how terrible that was from a loving outsider’s perspective- what if it was actually me wearing the wig, feeling sick sick sick, and struggling through chemo and radiation?
While I was dealing with this internal struggle, I continued to have the every-6-month breast exams (alternating MRI and mammogram) that I’ve been having since I was 24. Oh wait, that’s not normal??? NO!!!! It’s not!! A 30-year-old isn’t typically tracked and watched like I had already been for 6 years. At one of these appointments I realized that I did not want this worry, anxiety, and stress anymore…
So, on the first day of Lent, I hit the floor kneeling beside my bed and asked for an answer. Thank the good Lord above that I got one, and that was that. Within two weeks, surgery was scheduled. I had exactly one month to get ready, and that time went quickly. Telling my family and friends was emotional for all involved. I held a breakfast for the moms of my kindergarten students and tearfully told them why I would not be finishing out the school year. I was able to tell the other barre babes my news at one of our trainings in April.
Everyone was so supportive- SO incredibly supportive-in so many ways. A food train was started. Pajamas, magazines, and books were delivered. Dry shampoo, flowers, and cards showed up. Everyone kept telling me I was being so brave. I appreciated the kind words and encouragement more than I could ever say.
The day of surgery came and went with minimal tears, some funny comments while on Versed, and probably a hundred text messages. I went home the next morning and recovery began.
Are y’all still reading? I feel honored! You can stop 4 counts early the next time I cue for thigh dancing J
Recovery has been immensely easier than I thought it was going to be, but still slower than I would like. Needing to be still, having such a limited range of motion, and wanting to rest all the time were all difficult things to get used to in the first days post-op. Two months and two weeks out, I am moving around much more easily, I don’t nap daily anymore (unless there is an afternoon thunderstorm!), and I’m back to my on-the-go self! Everything is still not 100%, but right now it feels pretty darn close compared to two months ago.
Sadly, I’m not back for good. I know, I know- grab a tissue- it’ll be ok. Right now there are tissue expanders where my old normal boobs were. They’re as hard as a rock, uncomfortable as sin, and about every 10 days they get filled a little more with saline. These bad boys have to be swapped out for a set of amazing-looking implants, and I can’t even wait (that’s the reconstruction part of all of this). The plastic surgeon will also liposuction fat from all the usual places and insert it around each implant to make the edges appear softer and more natural. That surgery will be sometime in August, and I’ll probably only miss 2-3 weeks of barre classes.
I’m glad all of this is getting to be further and further behind me, but I’d start the entire process all over again tomorrow if I had to. When they biopsied the breast tissue removed during surgery, one side was found to have a significant amount of atypical cells. Atypical cells aren’t cancer cells, but they’re cells that could develop into cancer. My breast surgeon said that with my family history, it’s likely that those cells were already beginning to rally against me. I feel like I dodged a major bullet.
If you need an amazing breast surgeon, I’m convinced that mine, Dr. Megan Baker, is an angel on earth. If you need a plastic surgeon that is so good that people come to see him from all over the country, I’ve got you covered for that too- Dr. Richard Kline has been incredible.
Last thing, and then I promise this blog post is done. It is one reminder that I want you all to take away from this post – a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction is NOT comparable to a breast augmentation. During recovery, I have encountered women who try to sympathize with me by comparing their experience to mine. Let me assure you that a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction is not anything like a typical augmentation that you or someone you know may have had. With an augmentation, you choose which size breast you would like to have, you schedule your surgery, the surgeon inserts an implant either over or under the pectoral muscle, and you go home the same day. You have some recovery and uncomfortable days ahead of you, but that’s typically the extent of an augmentation. You look awesome and rock those perfectly-planned boobies and make people like me crazy jealous.
A prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction requires the breast surgeon to clean out all of your breast tissue, which stretches from the bottom of your breast to your collarbone down through your armpits and sides. While doing that, they’re going to sever some nerves, so feeling in your breasts and sides is lost and may or many not ever come back. The plastic surgeon then comes into the operating room and puts in two to four of the dreaded drains. Drains have to be put in since you just lost so much tissue, and those have to be monitored and emptied 3 times a day for however long it takes your body to stop producing fluid (my 4 drains were in for 19 days. NINETEEN DAYS.). Expanders are put in place and are filled slowly and gradually over time. After an average of 3 months with expanders you can have your exchange surgery. Sometimes you need fat grafting once, sometimes it takes multiple attempts to get the fat to ‘stick’ in its new location. After it is all said and done, you hopefully look like you have had breast augmentation, but your story is vastly different. Please be cognizant of these differences when talking to someone who has had a mastectomy with reconstruction.
Now what kind of blog post would this be if I didn’t leave you with some deep thoughts?! A friend shared this quote with me before surgery that has stuck with me throughout this entire experience. I hope that it can empower you, too. The author is unknown, but the message has strengthened and encouraged me during some of my down-and-out days:
“Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger that whatever tried to hurt you.”
You’re amazing to have read all of this. I’m thrilled that I was able to share my entire story with you. I’m even more thrilled to be back to teaching at the beginning of July.
See you at the barre.