Dating After a Mastectomy: DOs and DON’Ts

So, Bryce and I broke up. Eight months ago. It didn’t seem like particularly crucial information to anyone’s life so I didn’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops (and by that I mean, post about it on the Interwebz). But lately I’ve received questions from other women about dating after a mastectomy, so it’s time to come clean about the break up.

Now, before I regale you with my dating experiences as of late, I want to make sure all of you ladies out there know that Bryce and I did NOT break up because of my mastectomy, my breast reconstruction, or my BRCA mutation. In fact, Bryce was 100% supportive throughout the entire process and showed a great deal of maturity, for which I’ll always be grateful. We broke up because at 22 years old, two+ years with the same person feels like a lifetime.

Sometimes I miss that Abe Lincoln lookalike, it’s true. And I definitely miss his puggle Hendrix. But I have, for the most part, been enjoying the single life. And it does make for some interesting reading material for the ol’ blog. So in order to report back to my loyal readers and answer your question “How do you tell someone you’re dating about your mastectomy/implants/BRCA mutation?”, I’ve been doing some research. And I’ve learned some DOs and DON’Ts of dating post-mastectomy. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting my findings…starting with:

googlestalkecard

DON’T ask a your date if he or she has Google stalked you. Just don’t. I met a guy at a web developer meetup event, and we went out a few times. During one date, I decided I would tell him about my BRCA mutation and mastectomy, and since he was a computer programmer and had previously told me to check out his personal website, I assumed it was safe to ask him if he’d seen mine. In my head, this is how I imagined the conversation would play out:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: “Why yes, yes I did.”
  • Rachel: “And what did you think?”
  • Guy: “I thought your decision was brave and understandable. You are very smart and wise. I am in awe of your courage and good looks. Also, your writing is hilarious and the simple WordPress.com layout on your blog is not at all outdated. I would like you to meet my rich great aunt who owns the largest book publisher in the world. Oh and would you like to get married?”
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…”

The actual conversation went a bit differently:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: (confused) “…No…”
  • Rachel: (not convinced) “Are you SURE?”
  • Guy: “…I didn’t see it…” (Probably thinking to himself: Oh my god what is her blog about? Is she a serial killer? Porn star? Cult member?)
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…well it’s about breast cancer and stuff…”
  • Guy: (Runs away, screaming.)

OK, so he didn’t really run away screaming, but the horrified look on his face made it pretty obvious that I had made a fatal boo boo. Since I write this blog and I’ve received press coverage for it, I assumed that the guy–being well versed in the ways of the Internet–had already run a Google search of my name and had come across the blog and articles about me. I thought it would be an easy way to cheat and deal with the subject without having to explain it myself.

I was obviously wrong. I still had to explain it all to him–the BRCA mutation, the family history of breast cancer, the mastectomy, the implants–but I had to do it while fighting to convince him that I wasn’t hiding something really bad. Oh well. Lesson learned. Instead of asking guys if they’ve Google stalked me, I now try another tactic:

DO look for ways for your date to indirectly mention it (BRCA mutation, mastectomy, whatever “it” is) without knowing…I call these “topic triggers.” A few weeks after the failed date (which was also my LAST with said guy…hmm, I wonder why?) I went out with another guy, who I had met online. In my dating profile, I mentioned that I blog (in addition to other exhilarating hobbies, such as scrapbooking, playing with my cat, and being a grandma). A fellow writer, he was curious about my blog.

I explained to him that my blog is about hereditary breast cancer and preventative surgeries, a seemingly niche topic with a surprisingly big audience online. I mentioned that yes, I had undergone a prophylactic mastectomy and now had breast implants, but most of the conversation was focused on the blog and the actual writing of it. It ended up being a very valuable conversation for me, because he helped me sort through some issues I’ve been having as a writer.

It baffles me that I'm still single.


With a witty OKCupid profile like this, it’s a wonder I’m still single.

This tactic of subtly sneaking topic triggers into the conversation has worked well for me multiple times. For example, I’ve used my visits to the Playboy Mansion as a segue to my BRCA mutation and mastectomy. Guys are usually so excited that I’ve met Hugh Hefner that they don’t get freaked out by the big scary mastectomy topic.

Now I realize that not all of you run your mouth on a WordPress blog or frequent the Playboy Mansion, but there are other ways to sneak in topic triggers. Do you volunteer with any high-risk breast cancer groups or participate in charity walks for breast cancer? Those are hobbies to discuss. Maybe you’ve taken some time off from work for your surgeries and you’re preparing to go back? Talk about your return to the office.

If you try this and it backfires horribly…well…sorry. 5-carat diamond engagement rings are not guaranteed with this method. But stay tuned for more DOs and DON’Ts, and maybe you’ll find a gem after all.

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Wrapping up 2012 and welcoming 2013

Hi friends! I hope you all had a great holiday, whatever you celebrate. Over here at the law firm of Horn, Horn & Horn, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.

It’s been more than a month since my implant exchange surgery, and I am much happier with how the implants have settled in. There is still some difference in nipple height, but I think the breasts have evened out  in size and look much more similar.

People have asked me what size I am now. The answer? 14.2 cm 800 cc–duh, obviously.

Don’t worry. I get it. Unless you’re Dr. Festekjian, that means nothing to you. It doesn’t really mean much to me, either. While Christmas shopping at Target a few weeks ago, I bought a cheap bra on a whim. I tried on three different sizes: 36C, 36D, and 38D. The 38D bra fit the best, so right now that’s my size, but I will go to a professional to be fitted soon. (And FINALLY use the Victoria’s Secret gift card my dear friend Anna gave me right after my mastectomy–whoohoo!)

I’ve been dressing up a lot and I love it. If you know me offline, you know that I prefer comfort over style. My weekend uniform consists of yoga pants, a tank top, and sneakers. Sometimes I shake things up with a sweatshirt if I’m feeling daring (or cold). But since I have these brand spankin’ new boobs, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to show them off! Luckily, this holiday season did not let me down.

At the beginning of December, I went to Vegas for my sorority sister Cami’s bachelorette party.  My favorite thing about going anywhere with sorority sisters is that we all share clothes. On Friday night, I wore one of Jennifer’s dresses and I actually had CLEAVAGE for the first time since March! Sorry, Bryce.

The next weekend was my company’s holiday party at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was amazing. There were EEL TACOS. EEL FREAKIN’ TACOS. I used that magical Forever 21 gift card to buy a cute strapless dress for the party, and I even got to wear my giant heels because Bryce is 9 1/2 feet tall!

SLS hotel party

“Hey Bryce, how’s the weather up there?”

AND THEN…Cami and her fiance Nick got married this past Saturday! Their wedding was at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach. It was a small, intimate ceremony. Cami looked beautiful! Nick is a lucky man.

I wore the pink dress I wore to my graduation dinner in May. The only difference was that this time I had two boobs! Last time I had one tissue expander and one falsie. I think I prefer the two boobs.

Sorority sisters! From left to right: Jennifer, Marissa, Cami, Danielle, Rachel, Nora

Sorority sisters! From left to right: Jennifer, Marissa, Cami, Danielle, Rachel, Nora

Clearly, I’ve come a long way in my crazy mastectomy journey. But it’s not over yet. I like my implants now. I think they are a good size and they look and feel natural. However, I’m not in love with them.

Should I go back to Dr. Festekjian and ask him to do more work on them? Maybe. Probably. But even then, I won’t be IN LOVE with them. Because I am not IN LOVE with the rest of my body! Until I am completely happy with how everything else looks, I’ll never be 100% satisfied with my implants.

So 2013 is going to be about changing my body the difficult way…without plastic. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. (Literally, all my life. I learned over Christmas that I weighed over NINE POUNDS when I was born. HOLY SHIT.) Anyway, 2012 was one of those struggle times because of the mastectomy. Now it’s time to get back into shape.

"Stop right now, ma'am! Put the spoon down and back away slowly."

“Stop right now, ma’am! Put the spoon down and back away slowly.”

Here are some of my goals for the new year:

  • Develop some upper body strength. If my arms look toned, my implants will look better. I am going to keep seeing my physical therapist Jenni to learn how to do this safely.
  • Get my abs back. Believe it or not, for the first half of high school, my stomach was really toned. I did Pilates all the time and it really worked! Then, for whatever reason, I stopped. And on came the flab.
  • Get back into spinning. It’s my favorite workout, because it’s effective, and everyone looks like shit afterwards. I know that sounds harsh, but I’m a sweater; no, not a cardigan–someone who sweats a LOT. I hate working out at the gym next to girls with immaculate hair and makeup who look amazing the entire time. NO ONE looks good after 45 minutes on the stationary bike at a spin class.
  • In addition to spinning, I want to try more cardio. I am going to join a local gym, probably the YMCA, and I plan to take advantage of the classes offered. Dance Aerobics and Zumba both sound pretty fun to me.
  • Eat out less and cook more (good for the waistline and the wallet!). I need to learn how to cook and be more adventurous with my meals. A few weeks ago, a friend made Bryce and me enchiladas for dinner. He put spinach and mushrooms in mine because I’m a vegetarian. They were DELICIOUS. I would have never thought to put spinach in an enchilada…it was life-changing
  • Buy a castle.
  • Appear on Jeopardy.
  • Win Jeopardy.

I’m not sure yet how I am going to measure my success. My friend at work, Garineh, had a similar New Year’s resolution for 2012.  She wrote a blog post on eHow with tips for keeping a resolution. I’ll develop my actual numerical goals based on some of her advice.

One thing is for sure: once I meet my goals, I will have Michelle Obama’s arms, Gwen Stefani’s abs, Wolfgang Puck’s skills, and Warren Buffett’s wealth. (Yeah, that’s how often I eat out now and how much I plan to win on Jeopardy!) Oh and this castle.

What are your goals/resolutions for 2013? Happy new year, everyone!

Fear

I know the title of this post is not very SEO-friendly, and I don’t care. This is probably as stream-of-consciousness as I’ve ever written.

I’m scared. On Monday I wrote about the pain in my left breast when I lifted up my arms; I stayed home from work to rest. On Tuesday, it got worst. I stayed home again and developed a throbbing headache. My parents left for a trip to the Grand Canyon that day, but I still drove over to their apartment in Redondo Beach because I knew it would be more peaceful there and I would have access to the vast medical supplies of The Horn Pharmacy.

I slept for a lot of the day but my head really, really hurt and I felt kind of nauseous too. At first I thought it was because the only thing I ate during most of the day was sour gummy worms (…you mean you wouldn’t consider half a bag a nutritious meal?) But it just kept getting worse. Nausea for me seems to occur in the form of burps. I know that’s weird, but I’ll have a burp stuck in my throat and it just won’t come out and it’ll make me uncomfortable and almost sick until it’s belched out.

I really didn’t want to call my parents but I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a fever. I was slightly concerned that the pain associated with the tissue expander was linked to the headache and nausea.

Called Mom; she told me where the thermometer was located. 99.8 degrees. She told me that if it was worse in the morning, I should call Dr. Festekjian’s office.

Bryce came over in the late afternoon and took excellent care of me. He even bought chicken noodle soup and removed all of the chunks of chicken because I’m a vegetarian (yes, I’m aware the broth itself is made from chicken stock–I don’t care.)

I took some Tylenol and that really helped my pain. My temperature was down to 99.1 degrees when I finally went to bed.

This morning when I woke up my temperature was even lower, I think it was down to somewhere in the 97 region. Score! I felt that was a good sign. But I felt even more nauseous today; every time I tried to rest my head on a pillow, it was uncomfortable because there was a burp waiting to escape.

I had hoped to drive back to USC earlier today, but since I felt queasy it seemed like a bad idea to drive. So I stuck around Redondo Beach and realized that my limbs were really sore. It was the same sort of dull pain I felt during my hospital stay and after that awful weekend of “hunkering down” while waiting for my drains to be removed. I knew I needed to move my legs a bit, so I went on a walk.

A VERY short walk. I don’t know if it was the fact that I wore my Northface jacket and that made me hot, or if I really was starting to burn up from a fever, but I could barely get a quarter of a mile without feeling sticky and dehydrated. I turned around, went home, and chugged water.

My temperature started to rise after that. First back up to 99 degrees, and then throughout the evening it got progressively higher. When I went to bed it was 100 degrees.

Sleeping was awful. My head hurt and it seemed that every pillow made it throb. I was also freezing when I crawled into bed but by the time midnight hit, I was drenched in sweat.

So that’s where I am now: sweating, awake, and with a 101.1 degree fever.

That’s why I’m scared. I thought, for a while, that I had the flu. I know it’s going around and a few close friends have had it during the past few days. But why would my temperature be so high?

I am so worried I have an infection. After showering today I looked at my chest in the mirror and realized that my left breast is bruised; the skin has a slight purple tinge to it, and it’s not just in one spot–it’s everywhere.

At 3 pm on Thursday (which I guess is actually technically today) I have another fill appointment with Dr. Festekjian. I texted Maria yesterday to clue her into the fact that my left breast didn’t look too good and to make sure Dr. Festekjian himself would examine it. I am so scared for that appointment.

First of all, I doubt I’ll actually get a tissue expander fill. The first time I had a fill, only the right side was filled up with more saline because the left side was “still a little pissed off.” The left side now doesn’t just seem “a little” angry–it looks like it needs to meet with an anger management therapy group. If my fills are delayed, that means that my exchange surgery will be delayed, and I NEED to have my exchange done by June 30th.

That’s just the first problem; if that is the only thing that’s wrong, then I’ll take it.

But what if I do have an infection? Infections are not good. At all. What if Dr. Festekjian tells me I have to start over with my tissue expander? I don’t know what I’d do. God, I really don’t know. There’s no way I would have my implant exchange by June 30th, I know that. And I just don’t know how I would deal with my lopsided appearance. I’m fine with having smaller boobs; people know I had surgery. But if I had a B cup on the right and a flat chest like a nine-year-old boy on the left, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I wouldn’t go to graduation. I wouldn’t go to my grad party. I wouldn’t go to work.

It’s fine that I am sick right now. It’s the shittiest timing ever: I missed the senior goodbye banquet at my sorority tonight; I’m not going to be able to participate in tomorrow’s Fountain Run; I probably won’t get to go to my last sorority invite on Friday. But those things I can accept if my tissue expander survives. Missing them would not be in vain.

So that’s it I guess. The 3 pm appointment with Dr. Festekjian will hopefully soothe my worries.

 

Well, it’s been over four weeks since my mastectomy!

I apologize for not writing for some time. Life has been busy! But busy in an oddly normal way. Aside from the slight difference in my appearance, most everything seems to have returned to the way things were before my surgery. I went back to work last Tuesday, I’ve been going to class, and I’ve been out and about with my friends and family. The only thing is that I’m feeling fatigued and I want to know WHY! (More mention of that towards the end of the post.)

On Wednesday the 4th my sister Wendy visited us from Boston with my niece and nephew (ages 13 and 15, respectively). It was awesome seeing them. I have six nieces and nephews (and I love ’em all!) but have always regarded Matthew and Nicole as my younger siblings. I lived in Boston when they were born and I grew up with them.

Thursday the 5th was my 22nd birthday. I had work and class, so instead of rushing out to Redondo Beach after class at 8 pm to try to get dinner with my family, I decided to go out in nearby downtown Los Angeles with my friends. It was really great: not only did I enjoy everyone’s company, I also felt so normal! Danielle let me borrow a really cute crop top and I paired it with a black high-waisted skirt. No one could tell that I had recently had surgery.

Here’s a pic of B Boy and me on my birthday. We started the night at the rooftop bar at the Standard. Please note Marissa photobombing in the background.

During that awful weekend before my drains were removed I was concerned that my drain site was infected. Maria from Dr. Festekjian’s office said she might put me on antibiotics, but I cautioned her that my birthday was later that week and that I would prefer not to be on medication. Luckily I didn’t have an infection, so I was OK to drink on my birthday! My friends bought me some pretty delicious drinks (birthday cake shots and mojitos, anyone?) All in all it was a very successful night.

On Friday evening my parents, sister, niece, nephew, Bryce and I all went to the Melting Pot in Torrance to have a birthday/pre-graduation celebration. My birthday was on April 5th; Bryce’s 23rd birthday was on April 10th; and my nephew Matthew’s 16th birthday is on April 14th. We’ve got an abundance of Aries! Dinner was delicious but very filling.

Last night (April 10th) we went out to dinner for Bryce’s 23rd birthday.

The next day we met up with the Berkeley Cuzzins who had driven down the night before to spend time with fam. The cousins are: Marc, Naura and their two kids, Julia (16) and Charles (14). All of the kids (Matthew, Nicole, Julia and Charles) descended on USC on Saturday morning so I could show them around the campus. They’re starting to think about college, so it’s important that I brainwash them and make them want to go to my alma mater.

They really liked USC, especially the tour of the Frat Row…why am I not surprised? After USC we visited Venice Beach, a place I affectionately like to call the Berkeley of the Sea. Venice Beach is amazing. I love to see the reactions that people have to it. The boys LOVED it–they thought it was hilarious. The girls, on the other hand, were slightly weirded out by it.

After Venice Beach I was exhausted. Really, really, REALLY tired. I’m not sure if it was because it was hot outside (about 85 degrees) and we were walking around all day, or because I’m not as recovered from surgery as I thought I was, or both. The next day (Easter) I was still pretty tired too. I went to Bryce’s house for a late lunch and by 7 pm I had passed out upstairs.

So that leads me to the point of this post: when will everything be back to normal? Not to toot my own horn, but I look great after surgery. I feel chipper and if you ran into me on the street, you might never know what had happened. But there are times when I just feel exhausted! And I don’t know why. Are the activities I’m doing really that tiring, or is my body still in recovery mode?

I am itching to get back to my spin classes. I almost went to a class yesterday afternoon at YAS in downtown LA. At the last minute, I decided to email Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office to ask her opinion. She talked to Dr. Festekjian and told me to hold off on spinning until I see Dr. Festekjian again and can get his blessing in person.

I was disappointed…I really need the cardio workout! I feel like such a slug. But at the same time, I don’t want to rush it. What if my fatigue really does have to do with my surgery? Spinning might make me feel great for a few hours, but I would feel awful if something happened to jeopardize my tissue expanders and I knew it was because I had pushed myself too hard, too early.

Tomorrow morning at 10 am I have an appointment with Dr. Festekjian to get my first tissue expander fill. Hopefully he’ll give me the OK to go back to spinning. I think I’ll also post some “before and after” pics from my fill (rated G, I promise!)

I’m looking forward to getting the show on the road, but I hope the fill doesn’t hurt. Does anyone have any advice for making it as comfortable as possible?

Check out these ADORABLE cake pops that my friend Kate sent me last week! So yummy and so cute.

 

Sometimes all I need is a little TLC,

and I want to recognize the people who give that to me.

Let me preface this by saying that I have been a mess these past few days. On Thursday I finally felt brave enough to show my face in the classroom. Things went well there (nothing happened with my drains) so I decided to attend a close friend’s birthday dinner. Well, my drains started acting up. They popped out at least five times. Embarrassing, but since I was sitting down it wasn’t that noticable.

The next morning I couldn’t go anywhere because the drain wouldn’t stop popping out. Every time I moved, it moved, too. POP. Fluid. Gross. I called Maria, one of the nurses working in Dr. Festekjian’s office. I basically just sobbed to her on the phone about how my drains were embarrassing me and making me miserable. I told her that they NEED to come out. She said she would consult with Dr. Festekjian and let me know.

Well, of course the answer was no. And I understand it, I really do. If the drains are taken out too early, fluid can build up into a hematoma (or something else but I can’t remember the name), and removing that fluid with a needle could cause infection. An infection, in turn, would jeopardize my tissue expanders and might mean I would have to start the entire process over again. That sounds awful. No way I want that.

She told me that I should stop doing so much upper body movement. Well, okay, really? I’m not lifting weights. I haven’t gone kayaking. I haven’t even tried spinning (even though I reallllly want to get back into it asap!) What was I supposed to do? Dr. Festekjian encouraged me to exercise, so I’ve been walking! With my legs. Not on my hands.

So Maria said I should consider just “hunkering down” for the weekend. Ugh. GREAT. That’s just what I want to do…stay inside and do nothing. But you know what, why not try it? If hanging out at home in bed being a lazy bum for an entire weekend means that my drains might come out sooner, I might as well try it.

It’s still making me pretty emotional, however. I hate being still and I hate being bored. Just a few minutes ago I was crying because my drain site hurt so much. It’s kind of swollen and the drain tube jabs at me every time I move. My dear boyfriend Bryce applied Neosporin onto my drain site, covered it with gauze and taped it up. After he did that I excused myself to the bathroom (where I’m typing this now!) because I needed to write this for him. What he did for me, as gross as it was, made me realize that there are people in my life who have made it all so much easier. I want to recognize the people who have helped me throughout this entire journey, and Bryce deserves to be recognized first.

Here we are last March, singing karaoke…he was so scared to get up on stage, but he did it for me and he did GREAT!

My boyfriend Bryce has been incredible throughout our entire relationship. When we first started dating last January, my dad was going through some serious heart problems. He was in the hospital at UCSF for quite a long time, and we had a few serious scares. Bryce supported me through that, letting me talk if I wanted to talk, cry if I wanted to cry, and yell if I wanted to yell.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer again in September, I didn’t want to talk about it with Bryce…at all. But he wouldn’t stand for that because he doesn’t like to be isolated–he wants to help me. So he made me talk to him about it, and slowly but surely, I did.

When I found out about my BRCA test results, he was there beside me. He didn’t know what to say–no one knows what to say when someone gets that kind of news–but he let me know he was there for me. Later that week, he went with me to a presentation by Lindsay Avner, the founder of Bright Pink. He was the only man there, but he did great, and he learned a lot about what the BRCA gene meant and what my options were.

After we went to the presentation by Lindsay Avner, we went out in Hollywood for Halloween! Can you guess who we are?

In the weeks leading up to my mastectomy, I was very moody, and Bryce was so tolerant of it. Really, I was a bitch to him a lot of the time, but he never said anything to make me upset. After my surgery on March 13th he was waiting for me in the recovery room. He’d been waiting at the hospital since about 10 am, and when I woke up it was 2 pm. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Bryce, mind you, is 6’6 and eats everything in sight: the fact that he had skipped lunch just so I wouldn’t be alone when I woke up is a HUGE deal. Seriously.

Since then, he’s continued to be amazing. He drove out to Redondo Beach almost every night (which is an hour drive) to see me. He brought me movies so I wouldn’t be bored. When the flowers he brought me at the hospital died, he bought me another beautiful bouquet to replace them.

He lets me cry to him. He’s not afraid of my scars. He helped me take pictures of my questionable nipple to send to my plastic surgeon to review. Last night he changed the sheets on my bed so I wouldn’t have to sleep on dirty shirts.

When I tell him I just want to be alone and I don’t want to see anyone, he doesn’t listen. He’s persistent and he annoys me and continues to call me and then he eventually just shows up at my house…with more movies and snacks sometimes, too. And then he’s there and although I’m still sad and my drains still hurt and I look really ugly because I’m wearing a poncho and boxers and no makeup, I feel better.

April 10th is his 23rd birthday. Sometimes, when he’s playing dumb games on his phone or when he’s freaking out about a basketball game, I think he’s an eleven year old boy. But then there are times like these, when he’s just changed the icky dressing on my wound, that I realize he has a very mature side. He is a great caregiver and I’m so thankful to have him in my life. I don’t want to imagine how I’d feel now if I didn’t have him sitting on the futon (which he converted into a fluffy bed of awesomeness so we can watch movies on the big screen in the living room), about to put on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I’m so lucky to have him!