Tuesday, March 17, 2015
**This post is a little different than my typical fashion or design stuff, but has been weighing on my heart and I wanted to share in case it helps someone in a similar boat. It's a long, fairly whiny way to say - I don't have cancer. Which, right now, is pretty rad:
So, I've been the worst kind of Instagrammer lately. I know there's nothing worse than vague posts that hint at something being wrong, but never actually say what is wrong. So yeah, guilty as charged! My life has been in a total state of flux lately and as it turns out, I (mentally) don't handle it that well. I'll be sharing a lot of big news in the weeks to come (I promise I'm not click baiting. Just waiting for a few things to be official.), but in the meantime - I figured I could at least write about the most recent stuff.
As I've mentioned in the past, I have BRCA2. Long story short, this means I have a genetic mutation that puts me at a higher risk for breast cancer. This is a pretty big bummer, but who can complain? It doesn't mean I HAVE cancer. Instead, it just requires me to be more active with my screenings and vigilant with preventative care. And it means if there ever IS anything even close to cancer, I can catch it early.
My preventative care program requires yearly MRI screenings. (Mammograms have been proven risky for women under the age of 30. A screening that CAUSES cancer. What a hoot, right?) I scheduled an appointment for February and prepared to "check another item off the list." I have a lot of checklist items each year. You show up, and then it's over! Easy enough, right? I had never had an MRI before, and was surprised at how TERRIFYING it was. I had trouble breathing the entire hour. Funny how someone telling you to "breathe normal" prompts the exact opposite reaction. I was anxious, uncomfortable, and ready to get out of there. Another word to describe it could be "traumatized." I was so relieved it was over, and felt really thankful that my appointments would be done with for awhile.
A few days later, I received a call from my doctor. She told me that the results showed an abnormal spot, and that I'd need to go in for a follow-up ultrasound. I promptly began to "ugly cry," and basically went to bed at like 3pm.
The problem with having BRCA is that you sort of just wait for the day that they'll find something. You're essentially told "OKAY, you're going to get cancer. We're going to just do what we can to make sure you catch it early and don't die." So, every appointment might be a "checklist item," but they all foster the same underlying fear that it will be the time something is actually wrong. I hadn't yet had a phone call that indicated something was wrong. Instead, I've always had the calls that affirm I'm perfectly healthy and tell me to live my life normally. I would say I did NOT properly prepare my emotions.
The following weeks required a few more appointments - an ultrasound and an in-person exam, both of which didn't show the spot. I began to believe that the MRI had made a mistake (something that is actually quite common) and this was all a waste of my time. I think, for me, this is actually the toughest part of BRCA. You begin to feel an annoyance that accompanies all of this preventative care. Like, you guys - let me just go on with my life, right? It's easy to lose sight of the fact that you've got a team of very talented medical professionals watching you like a hawk to make sure you're healthy.
Even though they weren't able to locate the abnormality again, they said I needed to go for ANOTHER MRI to make sure. If they found it, they would biopsy it then. I started the eternal battle between annoyance and worry, usually residing somewhere in the middle. After a REALLY frustrating scheduling mishap (I would call being on a hospital bed in a hospital gown only to be told you had to come back in a week THE WORST), I made it back to South San Francisco for my MRI/potential biopsy. I had been doing my best to think positive, and kept making jokes about how I wasn't technically there for a biopsy. You know, because there would be nothing to biopsy.
I had taken notes from my last MRI and came prepared this time. I wore cashmere socks, dabbed lavender oil under my nose, and did breathing exercises beforehand. I was going to make this as luxurious as possible. And at the extremely wise suggestion of my doctor, I also took a Valium. The MRI began, and I was casually counting the minutes (or in this case, incredibly loud thumps) until they would wheel me out and let me go home. However, they instead said "we found it again, we're going to begin the biopsy now."
Without any control, tears started falling from my eyes. Being the vain person I am, I wore mascara to the appointment. I could see the little paper pillow turning black and I couldn't move my arms to wipe my eyes. I was SO certain there would be no biopsy. I was SO certain it was all a mistake. The fact it was real hit me like a semi truck. The biopsy itself went quickly, but was more invasive - mentally and physically - than I was prepared for.
(SIDE NOTE: at this time, the MRI technician went above and beyond her job. She came over and held my hand as the doctor got to work. This is for sure not something she's required or even expected to do. It was just a nice thing to do. I am going to be forever grateful for having a really nice human nearby in such a vulnerable moment.)
The recovery was much more painful than I anticipated, and I cursed the days I ever said I was totally down for a boob job. One tiny biopsy incision was ruining my life. Or, I just have a very low pain threshold. Either way, it was misery. And with the physical pain comes the worry. It's like having a constant, throbbing reminder that something could be very wrong with you. Something VERY wrong and it's right before a wedding, honeymoon, marriage... I hadn't been sleeping well since the first appointment in February, but this was true insomnia. Every worst-case scenario played out detail by ever-exhausting detail. I wondered about every facet of my life and what it would mean if this was, in fact, worst-case scenario.
I did my best to keep up with work and social obligations, but I just couldn't. Like I said, BRCA preps you for this moment. You KNOW that someday, someone is going to tell you that something is really wrong. It's easy to lose that eternally-sunny perspective when this might be that instance. As with all medical things, you expect to wait. I was guessing I'd be waiting until Wednesday, maybe Thursday, before I had any news. And then yesterday, on maybe the best Monday of my life, the doctor called, said it was nothing at all, and told me to have a nice day.
Voila. Poof. "It's nothing." In a one minute phone call, all of my fears evaporated and the entire ordeal was just over. (It's worth noting, I ugly cried at this point as well.)
I know that this will certainly not be my last biopsy or breast cancer scare. With BRCA, any slight abnormality will require these tests. And that by the time I go through the next one, I should probably toughen up. But since it was the first one, I wanted to write about it. I always say I want to share these things because maybe somewhere out there, there's a girl just like me who is in the same boat and has the same issues and fears. And life really isn't ALWAYS pretty, no matter how many perfectly filtered Instagram pictures we post. I think it's important to keep it real on the off chance that someone out there needs your realness right now. That's why we have the internet right?? Oh, that and cute cats.
Anyways, that was a lot longer and more detailed than I ever planned on writing. But hey. I don't have cancer! And that's the point of this post. I do not have cancer! Pretty rad, right? I mean, 2 months ago it didn't even occur to me to worry about that. So to suddenly realize I don't have to worry anymore, and I can just go back to work and wedding planning and whole-heartedly laughing with friends, is pretty much the best feeling ever.
In addition to NOT having cancer, I DO have some really wonderful people in my life. Thank you to everyone who offered support (even the "strangers" who simply noticed something was up via my social media posts). And thank you to people who went out of their way to do nice things, like my thoughtful boss or my friend Tina who sent the most beautiful tulips (above). And most of all, thank you to my family and Tim's family and to Tim for being my support system and making every day sunny even WITH a dark looming cloud overhead. <3