Preventative surgery: What I've learned since my prophylactic mastectomy

By Rachel Joy Horn
My Preventive Double Mastectomy At Twenty-One

I was 21 when I chose to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy on March 31, 2012. Just shy of my college graduation, my life was filled to the brim with thoughts of breast cancer: My mother's second diagnosis and her double mastectomy, my subsequent BRCA2 gene mutation discovery which almost guaranteed I would have breast cancer at some point in my life, appointments with gynecologic oncologists to review surgery plans and discussions of breast reconstruction options with plastic surgeons.

It wasn't a glamorous time, but it was a decision I chose for myself, so I was fully dedicated to it. I launched a blog, Ticking Time Bombs, to document my entire journey with a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. I joined the online breast cancer community, communicating on forums and Facebook with other women. I told my story at medical events and charity walks, and even at my own office during a fundraiser for breast cancer research.

On my blog, I shared every detail of my journey with the world, from the status of my various surgeries to funny interactions with co-workers about my breast reconstruction to my new favorite bikini top. Then a year had gone by, and I commemorated the one-year anniversary of my mastectomy. Then I was interviewed by multiple news outlets to share my thoughts on Angelina Jolie's story. Then I commemorated the two-year anniversary of my mastectomy. Then I stopped posting as much on my blog, but I had occasional email exchanges with readers who were undergoing their own experiences with mastectomies.

And then I woke up one morning and went to work and had lunch and realized, 'Holy sh*t, it's been three years since my mastectomy.' And that was that.

The fact is that now, three and a half years later, I never think about my mastectomy unless someone brings it up.

My breasts may technically be silicone, but they've fallen into a natural shape. Yes, they're a bit quirky at times, but I've seen enough breasts in the gym locker room to know that no pair is perfect. When mine allow me to wear a backless dress without an ugly bra peeking through, I find that silver lining in my decision. And honestly, my boyfriend doesn't see silicone—he sees boobs.

My mind is as active as ever, fretting about my job and my mortgage and whether I should go back to school, but the one thing I don't worry about anymore is breast cancer. I still wonder about the mole on my foot, and if I'm eating too much sugar, and all sorts of other health-related concerns, but breast cancer is not one of them. Not thinking about mammograms and monthly breast exams and MRIs does actually free up a lot of room for thoughts about one million other things.

If you're considering a mastectomy, remember that life doesn't suddenly become perfect after your own 'ticking time bombs' are gone and breast reconstruction is complete. You will have aches and pains, even well after you're home from the hospital. If you get implants, you will go through an awkward adjustment period, during which time you'll probably hate the way they look and feel. But those anxiety-ridden days after your surgery turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into three years, and suddenly that major life event that tested your emotional and physical bounds is just a blip in the past.

It's been three and a half years since my mastectomy, and I no longer have to try to accept my new body and a new definition of 'me.' This is my body. This is me. I love country music, trivia, chocolate and hiking. I have a great job in the tech industry, and a few years ago I underwent preventative surgery for breast cancer.

Photo credits: Rachel Joy Horn

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