Cheese, BRCA 1 & 2, and #healthiswealth.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “oh, so you’re doing the Angelina Jolie thing?”, I would have ten dollars. Maybe. And sure, in the sense that we both had bilateral mastectomies, they would be right. But there is quite a difference between Tomb Raider and I- she carries a BRCA 1 mutation and I don’t. Because she has a gene mutation, she was told that she had about an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Mrs. Smith opted to pursue something call a prophylactic mastectomy (sometimes referred to as a preventative mastectomy), which seems to have been a wonderful option. She also opted for reconstruction, but I don’t have time to blather about that.

When I was diagnosed, a myriad of appointments were scheduled for me, and speaking to a genetic counselor was one of the first things I did. After watching my mom survive breast cancer, and then watching my grandmother do it eleven years later, I figured I should probably get some testing done. When I brought it up to my GP, she stated that I could do it but that I “was young and it was expensive”. Both are true, of course. My mother had just done her own testing, only for BRCA 1 & 2, which both came back clean (sans mutation), and my grandmother was old enough that testing wasn’t really seen as a helpful option.

So my genetic counselor and I mapped out my family (to the best of our ability because I don’t know shit about my bio-dad’s family) and opted to test the eight major genes that are considered high risk for cancer development. I figured that shit would come back with mutations across the board because…duh…it’s me. The test results took forever to be analyzed and it took me even longer to get in for the results, so in that time I had already had my surgery, had my drains removed (for the first time), etc. Justin and I both went into the appointment with trepidation, both of us assuming that things were going to be terrible- we wouldn’t be able to have children because I would just pass on a bunch of shitty shit to them…

Lo, and behold!

Not a single mutation. Nothing that explained why my body wanted to murder me slowly. The mix of disbelief and surprise was fleeting when reminded of the actual statistics of breast cancer. So I am not genetically mutated, but I still have cancer. And my mom isn’t genetically mutated, but she still had cancer. Granted, these tests aren’t 100% guaranteed, but come on, science and shit- they’re right. We must just be those fluke humans that develop cancer due to stress. I think that’s why it’s important to tell my story. So many people (read: women) have said to me “but you’re so young and healthy!”. First off- thank you. I am young and I am healthy. And then they follow that up with “I should get checked out”, to which I reply emphatically “YES, YOU SHOULD!”.

Here’s the thing: I AM young and I AM healthy. Sure, I smoked for five years. Yes, I ate meat. Yes, I did drugs. Yes, I engaged in risky behaviors because that’s just the natural course of life for a lot of young women in America. But I am a vegetarian, I engage in regular physical activity, and I live my life as exuberantly and as safely as I can. That “but you’re so healthy” is a real double-edged sword for me. I often feel like women are subconsciously judged for their life choices when they’re diagnosed. I certainly have felt that. But I also get the sense of disbelief that this could happen to a young woman. So really, dial it back, world. For those of us who don’t have a gene mutation, there is no cause and there is no cure.

Sure, sure. I could go vegan. I could go sugar-free. I could do a lot of things that I’m not doing to help/prevent/kill my joy. The beloved and I have talked about going sugar-free, but it sounds like a lot of work and we’re already incredibly stressed and anxious as it is. My mother reminds me about giving up dairy products because of my diagnosis. There is estrogen in cheese, she says. I will lower my risk of recurrence, she says. But you will pry this Brie from my cold, dead hands!

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This brings me to the #healthiswealth portion of my rant. Guess what? No, it fucking isn’t. It doesn’t matter how many kale and avocado shakes you make, your chances of getting cancer are still the same. You can buy one of those horrid Juicero things and squeeze your sustenance out of a plastic garbage bag for $400 a day and still get cancer. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, diseases happen to young people, and evil people live forever. My point is enjoy life responsibly, be aware of your body, and do your research.

Women don’t do anything to deserve breast cancer, but it happens.

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Update time!

My drains were removed on Monday due to them trying to physically escape from my chest cavity. Who knew that my body wouldn’t love foreign objects sewn into it?! This means that I am now cleared for all of the prerequisites for chemotherapy, and my port placement surgery is scheduled for this coming week. Chemo commences on June 1st and I will have more updates on that treatment soon. It’s a bit to digest at the moment, but isn’t all of life?

No longer floating in the stratosphere of stupid (and other updates).

Remember all that chest bleeding that was going on last time we spoke?

Well.

It didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. I had to see my surgeon again to have him drain it, which meant being juiced while having my left drain removed simultaneously. Neither one felt particularly pleasant, in case you were wondering. We all hoped that, with the compression of an ace bandage and pressure to the area, the bleeding would stop and the chest flap would adhere to my muscle. In typical Elspeth fashion, this did not happen, and my surgeon scheduled a “right mastectomy exploration” surgery. Exploring, what fun!

On Tuesday morning, I went in for surgery and came out with no explanation for the bleeding, plus two new drains. As disheartening as it is, I am hopeful that the extra drain time will help me heal enough so that I may get on with treatment. In the meantime, I’m collecting photos of the nasty (beautiful) things my body produces so that, at some point in the future, I can create a photo collage and make my big break as a modern artist. El oh el.

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Why, yes, those are Larry David leggings! I wore them to the hospital for good luck. All of my nurses loved them, even though most of them thought they were Bernie Sanders. Speaking of nurses- it is Nurse Appreciation Week! Have you profusely thanked all of the nurses in your life? If not, please take the time to do so. I have been incredibly blessed by the excellent care that the nurses of Methodist Hospital have provided for me in the last two months. Without them, I would still be peeing purple and trying to use WebMD to cure my blood balloon boob.

All of this does put off starting the chemotherapy process, though. I need to heal and have these two saddlebags removed before I can have my port placed. It also means that I am doing well enough to start back at work, which I was less than thrilled about. I’ve really enjoyed having time to write, spend time with Justin and my mom, and focus on getting better, as opposed to stressing the fuck out over whether or not we should be purchasing cups for the med office. If I had it my way, truly my way, we would pack up and move out to LA where we could play in the sun all day and I could make my break into the green burial scene. Home viewings! Natural burial! New age death positivity! Woo! I’d even settle to stay in MN and work from home as a tortured writer figure… But since that isn’t happening, I’m back to an 8-4 routine. At least I have good health insurance and some wonderful coworkers!

The last update I have for now is a very exciting one (at least to me)! If you’ve known me at any point during the last year and a half, you know that I’ve been desperately trying to get divorced from an anthropomorphic chicken nugget, and that it hasn’t been going well. But no longer! The final nail has been hammered into the coffin and I’ll be free sometime in June or early July. Hallelujah, hallelujah, thank the dark lords! For months, my attorney had been proposing fair and equitable settlements to him and his counsel, and they kept refusing them, all the while making terrible comments about me and throwing around unfounded accusations. It all came to a head when we had to sit down for a third party-mediated FENE, which is basically financial uncoupling. I won’t go into details, but I will say that I held my ground and walked away satisfied with the outcome. Sometimes things do go my way.

#blessed