My boobs are officially pre-schoolers.
Four years ago, I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. And while my recent posts have been about the absolute roller coaster ride I have been on related to my bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, my mastectomy was the inspiration for this blog and for my Marathon before the mastectomy.
Many women who are BRCA positive have asked me which surgery was the “easier” of the two. For me, it was the mastectomy. But, very little points to that being the easier of the two. The mastectomy surgery took about 8 hours (plus reconstruction); the oophorectomy took about 15 minutes. The recovery period for the mastectomy was about 6 weeks; the oophorectomy SHOULD have been about 1 week (I had some serious complications). With the mastectomy, I was on pain medicine for at least 2 weeks straight; the oophorectomy, I was off pain medicine after a few days.
But, for me, what made my mastectomy a positive experience was the time I took to prepare myself and to steady the ship. My mastectomy anniversary reminds me of love. When I think about that time in my life, I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of love, community, support, pride and care. It took a village to keep me lifted; it took a village to make me whole.
Though I had lost parts of my body — parts that not only helped me identify as a woman, but parts that also fed my infants and sustained their lives — I had gained immeasurable self-confidence and faith in the goodness of people.
On a cold January day in 2010, I strapped on my running shoes — shoes that had mostly just taken up space in the hallway closet — and took my first steps outside. It was freezing and rain was beginning to fall. On that afternoon, I had taken my first steps towards training for a marathon before my mastectomy. I still remember sitting on the couch at my mom’s house, figuring out how to build a WordPress site. I had felt a small lump on my breast, and I was terrified. And that’s when Marathon B4 Mastectomy was born. I was tired of being afraid. I was tired of being scared. I was going to begin a journey of health to prepare for my mastectomy.
On that cold January day, my friend Eric had joined me. We talked about the surgery and what I was thinking about doing. I was going to run two 1/2 marathons before my mastectomy. But I didn’t want it to be about me — I wanted it to be about empowering others to pursue their goals and to follow their dreams.
The following week, two more co-workers had joined me in the stinging cold air: Christina and Alice. They, too, strapped on their shoes and began walking.
The next week, two students joined me. Two students who had been trying to get in shape and who wanted to take control of their lives.
The next week, I asked for people to join me virtually. And more people joined.
Throughout those months, the winter cold became the spring breeze and rain. And, soon, the summer heat kicked in as we were all getting in our last training runs before the 1/2 Marathon. For me, and many who had joined me during those months, this 1/2 Marathon symbolized strength, endurance, commitment, and confidence. I am forever grateful for the people who ran with me that day, and for the people who posted photos online who had run their own 1/2 marathons in their own towns.
Team Marathon B4 Mastectomy, June 2010
And, I’ll never forget that feeling — of being the very last one to cross the finish line at the Worcester 1/2 Marathon. I crossed nearly 2 hours after everyone else had finished. And, there they were. There was my village, waiting along the course, cheering me on. They were friends, parents of friends, friends who just had babies and who had driven out to cheer me on the course, co-workers, neighbors, friends of neighbors. They all could have left, soaked their legs in ice baths, and gone on their way. But, they waited.
After that race, people ran more races. They trained for their first 5Ks; 10k; 1/2 marathons; and even triathalons. They felt stronger, more alive, and more confident.
Emily running her own 1/2 marathon
“Ohana. Ohana means family. And family means no one is left behind … or forgotten.”
And just as that village came together to run with me, another village came together to send me on my way.
The week prior to my surgery, friends from work organized and participated in a huge event. While the event was to celebrate my achievements and my surgery, it had a much more profound effect. It brought together a community. It created a new village. It created a shared sense of meaning, of belonging, and of responsibility towards each other.
my friend Anne who organized the community event
After surgery, a new village came together to help me heal. They brought food every single night, helped with my children, and listened to me as I cried.
And, the village stayed with me, read my posts, and sent me messages of encouragement when I needed it.
While I could not have done this without the support of my many villages, I am deeply moved by how much Marathon B4 Mastectomy has been able to support others in this journey. I have always believed that my calling in life has been to leave this world better than I found it; but the truth is that the world has left me better.
I am thankful for all of you who have read my words on your screens for the past four years. You have built me up when I was feeling small; picked me up when I have fallen; and walked with me when running labored my breath.
Post-surgery with drains still in place
Together, we have created something special.
May peace, peace, and peace be always unto you.
Love, joy, and health,
Thanks to all those who have run virtually, and especially thanks to the original Mb4M team who ran with me in June 2010: Jim, Donna, Liz, Tina, Jon, Beth, Heather, Julie, Aleta, Chuck, and Christina (and a few other friends of friends). Thanks for sticking with me on those hills!!!