One year ago today I was lying in a hospital bed at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, extremely groggy and extremely happy. Part of it was from the pain medication, I’ll admit, but most of that happiness was caused by an overwhelming sense of relief.
Some women wait years between testing positive for a BRCA mutation and having a prophylactic mastectomy. I waited 140 days. 140 days of discontent. 140 days of suspicion. 140 days of self-loathing. 140 days of feeling like a stranger in my own body.
I went into my mastectomy on the morning of March 13, 2012 with anxiety and excitement, not knowing what would come next. I woke up in the afternoon without my breasts, but with the wonderful feeling of peace. A weight had been lifted: I wouldn’t have to think about breast cancer all the time, and I could get back to loving myself again.
One year later, I can say with confidence that I am once again glad to be me, Rachel Joy Horn. I don’t feel broken anymore, and I’m not living in fear of my body.
It’s been an interesting year, but looking back on it, certain moments that at the time felt awful were just hiccups along the way. Those Jackson-Pratt drains were horrendous, they really were–but whatever. My family didn’t care about them. My boyfriend didn’t mind them. My friends didn’t think they were weird. Despite them being a huge inconvenience to dressing like a normal human being, they didn’t stop me from having fun and being social.
At the time it was playing out, it felt as if the cellulitis infection and subsequent tissue expander removal would ruin my life. I literally sat in the hospital bed, Googling freezing-cold places I could escape to so I would never have to be seen in a swimsuit. But then I found a cotton prosthesis, and my mom made me a kick-ass mastectomy bikini with a waterproof falsie. And so I had One Ugly Summer…One Fun, Sunny, Active, Flat-Chested-on-the-Left-Side Ugly Summer.
Over the last year, I’ve learned that I have horrible veins and that I have fabulous friends. I’ve discovered that narcotics can give you migraines and that social networking can give you an incredible support community. I’ve realized that talking to doctors is crucial, just as talking to strangers is–you never know who understands and how they can help.
Sometimes I miss my breasts, or more specifically, my breast tissue. It’s a rare moment that I get jealous of another girl’s rack, but it happens. (I’m looking at you, Sports Illustrated cover Kate Upton.) My new boobs are not perfect…but then again, neither were my old ones. They are, however, mine, all 800 ccs and 14.2 cm of them, and they fit me. There are even glorious times when I think that I am the luckiest girl in the world for having them, like when I can wear a backless dress without a bra and not worry about sagging.
For all of the women going through breast reconstruction right now, I ask you to please be patient. I know that it can seem very disheartening, what with all the scars and the weird shapes and the rippling. But things will look better, just wait…and maybe ask your plastic surgeon about some nipping and tucking.
To my friends and family, thank you for the flowers, the pillows, the sweet treats, the fuzzy elephants, the magazines, the nail polish, the phone calls, the text messages, the cards, the hospital visits…the love.
To acquaintances who have reached out to me with words of support and encouragement, thank you for your courage to speak up.
To my work colleagues, thank you for understanding my circumstances and for accommodating me with such graciousness.
To the wonderful ladies online going through something similar, thank you for your bravery and for your willingness to share your experiences to help me and others like me.
One year has gone by so fast, and I know part of that is thanks to all of you. Before I know it, I’ll have had my implants for ten years and it’ll be time to replace them. But let’s not rush that. =)
As I start my journey you are a brilliant inspiration. Thank you for sharing x
Didn’t realize our anniversaries were so close! Different paths- same relief. So very happy for you!
An anniversary worth recognising for sure. Am so pleased you did what you had to do and now feel less afraid and more free. I am also BRCA 1 but unfortunately was diagnosed at 31 before I found out. But I take comfort in the fact that because of my experience other family members can be spared the same fate and can take action like you did. God I wish I could have known before. I am still waiting for reconstruction (I live in norway and they dont reconstruct when they are removing cancerous breasts) and hope that I too can wear what I want and feel confident knowing that it is probably just me who knows that they are truly different from anyone else´s. And I hear you on boob envy – seriously it is the first thing I notice about women ever since I lost mine. You cant fight the fact that some of the feminity is gone..but perhaps replaced with tougher stuff for tougher girls like us! OBB from Norway
Thanks for the comment, Kate. One Boobed Bandit=AWESOME name. You rock.
Do you know when you’ll be able to start reconstruction?
Thanks! Makes the whole cancer world seem alittle more superhero and less depressing. I always try to find the funny side to most things. 🙂
There has been lots of recent news in Norway with regards to reconstruction. As of last year there was a 5-6 year waitlist but after much debate and protest from the pink sisters, it is getting better and the government has put more funding in. However when you dont reconstruct immediately and allow scar tissue to develop and get radiation, most of us need to have a a brand new breast built from our own skin as expanders and implants become impossible. Given all that I have been through the last 2.5 yrs, I can´t imagine going through another major surgery right now and I need to put some meat on my bones if we have a chance of complete reconstruction. So for now, I am at least symmetrically flat and am trying to rock the french “Amelie” look with lots of scarves and flowy tops. :)))
You have such an amazing attitude! Love You!
THIS IS JUST AWESOME! Thank you for sharing it. I’m so glad to have connected with you….keep writing….please. 🙂
Man, I can’t believe it’s been a year already! Time flies, even when in the throes of all the crapola it doesn’t feel that way. I’m just SO happy you are on the happy side now! 🙂 yippeeeee!!
horrible veins and fabulous friends! I LOVE IT!!! and soooo much better than fabulous veins and horrible friends!
okay… call me silly but I don’t understand how the pillow helps. where do you put it? why don’t I understand the design benefit. I still pretty much sleep on my back. it sucks… but its doable.
Happy One YEAR to YOU!!!
I am 28yrs old and brca1 positive, i had my breasts removed 6th dec 2011 scariest and best day of my life, although at the moment i have had cellulitus in one of my reconstructed breasts, finished a weeks worth of antibiotics but still feel so ill, im scared they take my implant out and dont know how il cope but just want to feel well again, any advice greatly appreciated. Thank you xx
Oh no. =( I’m so sorry. I remember the feeling of anxiety of not knowing if my expander would survive. REST REST REST and hope for the best. And realize that if your implant does have to be removed, it’ll be for the better in the long run, because you won’t have to worry about the infection creeping back to hurt that implant again. Feel free to email me (email@example.com) if you have questions or if you just want to vent.
Rachel, can you tell me where to get that pillow? thanks! Shannon
Shannon, are you talking about the heart pillow? My mom sells some on her Etsy store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/PreciousSurvivors/