I am a mutant. Born with a deleterious (i.e. bad mannered) gene that doesn’t do the usual tumor suppressing job that it does in non-mutants leaving me with an 87% likelihood of getting breast cancer that already took the lives of my grandmother, mother and sister.
The day I learned that I had this gene I felt like someone ignited time bombs in my chest. I had to get them out, and quick.
Within a few months I scheduled a prophylactic mastectomy, electing to remove my breasts without/before a cancer diagnosis. My plan was to have breast reconstruction where my own tissue would be taken, in this case from my abdomen, to create new breasts. After giving birth to two babies and breast feeding them both, the idea of using my tummy and turning it into two new perky boobs, free of a cancer threat, seemed like a no brainer–the perfect mommy make-over. I headed into a ten-hour operation and didn’t look back.
But most of the time, life doesn’t come in pretty perfect packages. Six surgeries and a life-threatening infection later, my top half did not resemble anything like the cleavage I saw in the pages of People magazine. Rather, I had what was lovingly (yet painfully) dubbed, a flopped soufflé on the left side and a patchwork quilt of skin and scar on the right. For months I could not look at myself in the mirror. For years I did not let my children see my bare chest. I closed the curtain in public showers and changed facing the wall. In so many ways I allowed my disappointment and disgust about my physical self, override the relief and joy of the life affirming decision I made to have the surgery in the first place.
By voicing the ugliness I felt inside I hoped to be able to face myself again.
I am deformed, but I am alive. Each day that I wake up and don’t have cancer feels like a blessing. I have a chance to enjoy my two girls, my husband, my family and friends and not live my life in fear of when cancer will strike. Now, when I look in the mirror I see the beauty of my choice—my scars and skin taking the shape of a heart with wings, soaring in this life, full of hope and health.