You Can Be Scared and Still Be Brave

When Michaela reached out to me to be apart of this organization I had no idea what I was in for. On my personal Facebook page I share a whole lot of the shenanigans I get into with my family, I think that is why she reached out to me in the first place. Making people laugh is my forte, but there is also a very serious side of my life that I have given you little insights into. That is my family history with cancer and my personal journey with being genetically positive for the BRCA gene mutation.

Today we take the plunge in to my last few months, and lets be honest everyone loves to read about the gritty details of peoples lives.

My first article written with Newsymom was a biography, small snippets of my life. The last few sentences of my writings were “Lastly, the more serious journey that I have been debating on sharing is, I am BRCA gene positive…You know like Angelina Jolie, only way less glamorous. In between baseball, diapers changes, kids schooling and being a wife, I am at doctors appointment every 3-6 months with these ticking time bombs of mine, known as breasts, getting smooshed, poked, and prodded. My heart beats out of my chest every time the phone rings to tell me the results of my tests.”

I was without a doubt debating on if I wanted to share this highly personal subject with the world but the further I got into it, the more I realized I have been presented with the unique opportunity to touch someone’s life or reach someone who is in the same situation trying to decide which route to take.

So here goes.

If you haven’t read my back story, here are the links:

Knowledge Is Power Living With BRCA & The Scary Side of Heritage

I’m 30, my leg is bouncing like a rodeo horse, I look to my husband.

“Man, I hope I like this doctor. I don’t want to have to keep looking.” I said

“Me too, lets just see how it goes” He said.

The door opens and in walks my general surgeon – he’s kind, I can tell just by looking at him, before he even speaks a word. He smiles “Hi Jessica, I am Dr. Boone.” We exchange small talk and he asks to do a breast exam. At this point in my life this is a normalcy, I should have kept track of how many times I’ve had someone touching my chest. Modesty is a thing of the past. He speaks with my husband while checking for lumps.

He sits down at his little side table and starts to name off percentages that I’m all to familiar with of ovarian and breast cancer and how my risk is significantly higher because of this mutation.

Mutation- I hate that word, it makes me feel like an alien.

He tells me having a double mastectomy will absolutely extend my life expectancy. He shares his own personal journey with cancer and how it has affected him. Explains to me that it’s just as important for the men in my family to be tested. Something I didn’t know, no men in my family have been affected thus far. I start thinking about my son, I thought all I had to worry about was my daughter… We went back and forth tossing the idea around if I needed to have my lymph nodes tested when I had surgery. We decided not too, as long as I have another breast MRI he could look at one last time before I go in.

I also hate breast MRI’s but I’m staying positive – Trying to remind myself that this should be my last one.

I sit down with his staff member, I think her name is Laura. I hope I’m getting that right because she is phenomenal. She explains what my next couple months will look like. The last thing she said to me was, you can cancel this surgery whenever you want. If you decide you don’t want to go through with it.

I knew I wanted too, but it gave me peace knowing they wouldn’t be upset with me if I backed out. The one thing he said to me that will forever stick is “a double mastectomy will absolutely extend your life expectancy”.

As a mother that’s all I needed to hear. If I can swim to the top before this cancer gets to me. I’m going to swim with all my might to get there faster.

Laura gets me set up with my MRI and my appointment with the plastic surgeon. I still have to meet him, I hope he’s nice.

Me and my husband walked out of that appointment with high hopes, we really liked him. Finally, we have found exactly what I was looking for. 

A few weeks later we were sitting in the waiting room of my soon to be plastic surgeons office. I was nervous this time. Worse then last time. My husband reaches to the corner stand, there’s a magazine with Tim McGraw laying there. Trying to make me laugh he holds it up to his face.
“A lot of people say I look like him, what do you think?” I laugh. He’s acting like a goof ball, which is exactly what I need right now. He lets me take a picture and post it on Facebook.

We go into the room and Dr. McCormack sits down with us, we exchange the typical banter and then dive right into it. He has me stand in front of a blue poster to take pictures. I make a terrible joke about a topless mugshot, I am notorious for this type of behavior. We spent a significant amount of time with him, he went through every option of reconstruction and which methods he thinks would best suit me. We really liked him as well, you could tell he was very knowledgeable and kind.

All I wanted through this process was for my doctors to see me as another human being, as a mother, wife, and daughter. In my mind I needed them to see me that way, my fear was never about loosing breasts, my fear was always about dying on the table. This article is about honesty and that’s the honest truth. 

I compeleted my MRI and my results were good, which meant I wouldn’t have to have my lymph nodes tested in surgery. They called to schedule my surgery, I’m pacing around my kitchen while joking with the assistant on the phone. Another subconscious attempt to make sure they know I’m a human and my existence matters.

February 14th, Valentines Day. Wonderful. I joke with her that me and my husband have been married almost 10 years we don’t celebrate it anyways.

It’s set, the days leading up to surgery are something for the movies. My family organized a scavenger hunt that had me going into stores singing and dancing to get my next clues, which ultimately ended in them surprising me with a new washer and dryer. Then my family and friends pulled off an epic surprise party for my birthday complete with an entire spa day. They knew Id be laid up on my actual birthday. A meal train was put together that filled up in a matter of days. I was ready. The sense of family and community I was feeling was a support I will never forget.

In between the festivities was real life, Coronavirus was seeping into society but it wasn’t a huge deal yet. We were getting everything in order at the house, but a lot of that time is a bit of a blur. My mind was consumed with how this was all going to go, the kids wanted to be at the hospital with me, and I wanted them to be there. Time was moving at snail pace but most of my waking and sleeping moments my mind trying to prioritize what that day would look like.

I kept myself busy and set forth to tell a few people a day about what my life would look like in the coming months. It was less overwhelming to tell a few people at a time. I hate the look people give me like I’m an injured pigeon. It made me feel really vulnerable and I didn’t like that but I knew it was coming from a place of love. Many people are not fimiliar with genetic testing. I had to reiterate 1000 times that I do not have cancer. All this is preventative measures.

My last day of work was really hard, I went over to one of my co-workers who is more like family to say bye. She told my husband in the store one day to make sure on my last day I stop by her bus to say bye and get a hug. I made sure not to forget. I climbed the steps, we didn’t say anything, just hugged and cried. It was a moment that I needed, I needed to cry and she happened to be the safe place to allow me to do that.

The next day, I woke up early, it was snowing and schools were cancelled. I was so upset because that changes our pick up time for my step-son. I was worried how we were going get him picked up. My heart was already racing and this small change was enough to push me to the edge. I would be under when he needed picked up, I wanted to make sure I saw all my kids before I went under.

I wrote a post about how I was feeling going into surgery.

It read:

It’s Valentines Day.
The day where we celebrate all that we love. It’s ironic that today is the day that was chosen for me to have this surgery.
I hope that one day my children & my husband know that this is all because of my love for them. Of course I want to lower my risk of cancer, of course I want to be here for every up and down in their lives but there is nothing that pushed me more to do this then how much I love them.
I have lived my life up to this point with urgency. To make as many memories with them as I could…just in case. Just in case I didn’t get the chance to be here with them until I’m gray and old.
But today I get the chance to change that. I get to take my risk of breast cancer from 80% to less then 5%
So today while I’m cut off from world for a few hours I hope to make them hours I missed back, when I wake up. I hope that while my kids and husband are in the waiting room they’re not upset, or sad, but they’re brave. I hope that someone encourages Payton to eat lunch bc I know he’ll be nervous. If you take him to subway to eat and he asks for the sauce mom gets on his spicy Italian sub. He wants sweet onion. I hope you try to tell Presley to eat her bread but she’ll refuse and only eat the salami. I hope Kaden makes it up and will have a big ol meatball sub waiting on him.
And Someone tell my husband to go outside and get some fresh air when he starts pacing.
I feel like my insides have been hit with a tuning fork. I’m shaking and I’m not even out of bed yet. I know I’m going to fine but I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared, because I am. I can’t wait to wake up and feel the overwhelming relief of being alive with a slim risk of cancer. I just want to be here with my kids & my husband.
Your support means more then you know.
I love you all. Happy Valentines Day. 💗

When I got there I checked in and they called me back, my family was in the waiting room. The nurse was going through all the regular things but then she asked who was in the waiting room. I told her but when I got to my kids, she asked how old they were. The bomb hit – because of the flu & corona virus my kids couldn’t come back. That was my tipping point, I asked her if I could go see them one more time before they started my IV. She was so nice, I tried so hard to keep it together in front of my kids, they were who kept me strong through this. Not being able to have them there until I went back was a gut punch. I went out and gave brief hugs and kisses but not crying was an impossibility, I was so upset.

The flood gates were open for the day and there was no closing them. When we got back behind the curtain, every thought leading up to that point hit me. The nurse said “This is a good day, this is the day you save your own life, this is a good day” 

I shook my head agreeing. My husband held my hand and let me cry. Telling me over and over that I was going to get through this. This went on for probably an hour while all the nurses, anesthesiologists, and doctors cycled through. They knew I needed something for my nerves and for once in my life I agreed. They couldn’t give it to me until I signed all my papers and met with all my doctors though.

As they took me back to surgery I sobbed, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t envision the day going like this at all. I was mad at myself for crying. I wanted to be strong. Now I know I was, it was just a different kind of strong.

I got into the Operating Room. They moved me over to the table and the tears continued to run down my face. A nurse leaned into my ear and hugged me as they spread my arms from side to side. “Listen honey, we’re all going to take good care of you.” She said “You’ll be done in a few hours.” I don’t know who that nurse was, but she was a true angel. I needed to hear that.

When I came out of surgery,  being wheeled to my room I remember seeing a faint figure at the end of the hall. I was hyped up on drugs but somehow I knew exactly who it was. It was one of my moms best friends and her husband, I remember her saying “Oh my gosh honey, we were trying to find your room. I didn’t know you were coming up right now.”

I rounded the corner and saw my dad, he always stands with his hands in his pockets. The memory as I sit here typing it is foggy but I remember saying “Hi Dad” and him saying “Well she knew it was me.”

My husband came in and snuck the kids to the door before the nurses started telling him they weren’t allowed back there. I quickly told them I was ok, and I loved them.

My mom spent the night with me that night in the hospital. I was so thankful for her being there.

I will stop this story here for now. There’s so much more to come, I will do another article next month detailing my recovery which unfortunately leads into another unexpected holiday surgery and how Coronavirus is affecting my recovery. It’s been a wild ride, one for the books. This experience has taught me more about myself then I could have ever imagined. I am so thankful for the support and everyone who is invested in my journey.

💜 Jess

 

 

 

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