I was living and working in Bangkok, Thailand as a travel writer. I’d been there for a few years after graduating with a degree in journalism and loved the daily adventure. My days were spent swimming in waterfalls, trying delicious and local cuisine, and meeting new people.
Then, my world came tumbling down when I found out I had a BRCA1 genetic mutation.
After finding out I had the mutation, I visited a breast specialist in Bangkok who was concerned about a lump he felt in my right breast. MRI imaging showed a total of three tumors in my breasts, two of which were determined benign with an ultrasound breast biopsy and one with an MRI breast biopsy. I am so incredibly grateful that they were benign, but with this good news came a substantial price tag. Although I was able to later receive reimbursement from my insurance, the hefty hospital fees all had to be paid upfront.
Between the costs, the language barrier, and feeling, for the first time in a long time, very alone, I decided I would fly back to the United States to have a preventative bilateral mastectomy. I simply could not emotionally or economically sustain proper breast upkeep in Southeast Asia.
Three surgeries (an additional fat grafting surgery followed by swapping out my implants altogether for a more natural look) and six months later, and I am back in Southeast Asia. I’m writing about everything from the rats that are taught to detect landmines from interviewing people in the LGBTIQ+ community in Cambodia. Life certainly goes on, but the pain of those six months back in the States lingers like my own shadow. I am at constant battle with my body — from attempting to get back into yoga to trying to appreciate being intimate with someone when my breasts have zero sensation — it’s a pretty big downer.
Not all days are bad, however. I have moments where I catch myself smiling without forcing the corner of my lips up at the hand of my imaginary marionette, and this is possible because of my writing.
I was journaling pre-mastectomy and realized how telling my story if only to myself, gave me clarity, so I decided to share my story with the world. I write about my insecurities and struggles while I try to figure out how to navigate my new body. I find comfort in putting my feelings into tangible words and allowing them to go out into the universe. I hope others find comfort in their honesty and vulnerability, as well.
The more raw and open I am, the more therapeutic the writing becomes for me. I’ve written stories about what my sex life is like post-mastectomy, how I found a strong community with the help of Instagram (and #BRCA — seriously try it — you’ll find so many other women going through something similar!), and even how having this surgery forced me to face my negative body image head-on with the help of therapy.
I’ve come to the conclusion that out of all the men and women facing the hardships that come with having this genetic mutation, I was somehow meant to have it in order to discover the passion that flows from me once I started writing articles about myself, my experience, and women’s health. I was somehow meant to share my story and continue to try to help women facing something similar. Now, I’m a breast awareness advocate — and none of this would’ve happened without the mutation.
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