Moving On After Mastectomy

A version of this blog was first posted on All-in with Allyn.

It’s funny how time changes everything. I woke up this morning like every other day. I sent my husband off to work, brewed a cup of coffee and started strategically planning how to procrastinate writing my Masters thesis. Yep, just like any other day. And like most days, I logged on to Facebook to see what was happening in the world. Facebook has made a lot of changes over the years, but there’s one particular update that I’ve always loved – the “On This Day” feature. This add-on displays all of your posts, old photos, or tags on your timeline from the current date, going back as long as you’ve had your profile. I’m a sentimental gal and really enjoy having that daily look back.

Today, however, I was reminded of a very special occasion – the 2nd anniversary of my preventive double mastectomy. I frantically checked the date of the post, looked at my calendar and realized – yep, I had forgotten.

I didn’t know how to feel. I imagine it could be compared to a husband bringing a bouquet of flowers home and the wife having no idea that it was their wedding anniversary. It didn’t feel right – I felt like I was in the twilight zone. But then I started to smile. I had forgotten my mastectomy for the very reason that I had had the surgery for in the first place – not letting cancer define my life.

Two years ago today, at the age of 26, I woke up in Georgetown University Hospital. I had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after losing my mother, grandmother and great aunt to breast cancer. This was a decision that I didn’t take lightly, but also didn’t take too seriously – if that makes sense? I’m a pretty practical person. When faced with a problem, I know you simply have to choose a solution and move on. There’s no sense in dwelling on your answer. This was how I faced my mastectomy. These are my risks and here is my solution. I didn’t overthink it, I didn’t agonize over it, I didn’t mourn the change of my body – I just did it.

Since March 9, 2015, I underwent 3 reconstructive surgeries, moved to a foreign country, learned (or attempted to learn) a new language, got engaged, bought a house, got married, traveled across the globe and started graduate school. But these are the ‘big’ things. I didn’t forget my surgery because of ‘grad school’. I forgot because, in the time since my surgery, I learned how much water you’re supposed to give to an orchid, I taught myself calligraphy, I almost “caught em’ all” in PokemonGo, I learned how to make a Bolognese, I figured out how to get Girl Scout cookies through customs, I made friends and I simply lived my life…

My mother passed away in 2004, leaving her diaries to me. In which, she chronicled facing breast cancer twice. At the time of her first diagnosis, she was in her late 20s and was a champion marathon runner, continuing even while undergoing treatment.

Running seemed to calm her, helping her find focus. One particular line always stuck with me:

“With each stride, I repeated to myself:  ‘Left – Right – Left – Right – Don’t Die, Don’t Die’.”

I felt a twinge of guilt this morning because my day started “Left – Right – Left – Right – it’s a Thursday.”  But I realized that it’s because I’ve been given the gift of peace of mind – the gift of not having to remember. And for that, I am incredibly blessed.

So, today, March 9, 2017, instead of my surgery, I choose to remember my mother, who not only gave me life, but whose unwavering perseverance in the face of adversity afforded me the courage to prolong it. I’m living proof that time heals all wounds, quite literally and figuratively.

I would be remiss not to also acknowledge the support of my husband, family and friends. They’ve filled the last two years with happiness and hope. I love you all. Here’s to forgetting mastectomies, forgetting cancer and most importantly – forgetting fear.

XOXO, Allyn