Twenty one days from this day, at this hour and in this moment I’ll be wheeled into a five hour surgery. I’ll be cut and scavenged and carved but ultimately FIXED, making it one of the most important days of my life. After all choosing life over death is a pretty important decision. At age 23 choosing to get a double mastectomy isn’t necessarily a normal decision to be making. But I made it. And in twenty one days I’ll no longer be haunted with the idea that breast CANCER is the decider of my fate. As of late being brave has not been an option, it has been a mandate. I am pleased to tell you I am not afraid or fearful. We are, and have been, at peace for many months thanks to the God we serve. Close friends and family have been with us on this journey since October, but I wanted to take the time to tell you THE story.
I’ve grown up ready for this. I’ve been told since age 14 that it would be smart to get married, have your babies quick, then chop off what could ultimately kill you as soon as possible. In high school all my friends knew that breast cancer ran rampant through my family, they knew I’d eventually be getting a surgery that altered my body and my chances of getting cancer. My great grandmother passed away at age 33 and my grandmother passed away in her 40s from this kind of cancer… along with my father’s 30 something year old sister Susan, who I was lovingly named after. When my Aunt Susan passed away… her three sisters all had double mastectomy’s, immediately. Rightfully so, right?? Duh. However back then this surgery isn’t as easy as it is now. One of my aunts ended up in the ICU while the other had multiple surgeries for many years later to correct and correct again what had gone wrong. In the early 80s this surgery was new, scary, and intense I’m so grateful my dad still has three of his sisters still alive because they are some of the most important women to me on this planet. They were brave first so that I can be brave. They pioneered this for me within my family, so that I didn’t have to. This isn’t a boob job! And if you tell me that’s what it is… I might ask you to swallow a fork. My cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s and survived, she has gone through the same surgery after BEATING cancer. She was the first one in our family to do so. Her sister, not wanting to mess around with this monster, opted to get a preventative double mastectomy soon after. You see, there are more women in my family that have CHOSEN to live over their comfort, convenience, or fear. So here I am, joining the club they formed many years ago after watching two of their most loved ones pass away from the same disease.
I never met my Grandmother or my Aunt Susan, but I hope when I get to heaven with all my other aunts and cousins we can all hang out and talk. Maybe we’ll talk about boobs? I’m not really sure. Breast cancer is usually inherited from your mother’s side of the family. So in my case it would be rare for me to get it since it would have to come from my father. But of course…I’ve always been the daughter to take more from my Dad’s side than my sisters. I have red hair like my dad, chicken legs like my dad, brown eyes like my dad… but up until this past Fall I didn’t know if I had inherited the breast cancer gene from my Dad too.
Tyler proposed to me in August and I went to my doctor in October where I was handed a chart and asked to write down my family history. I got to the cancer section… oh boy. Next thing I know the doctor is asking when I can come back and take a BRCA test. A few days later I’m gargling for what seems like forever with my new fiancé in a doctors office in between cake testings for our wedding day. We thought nothing of it. Of course a week later they called and said I tested positive, upping my risk of getting breast cancer before age 30 to 40%. This percentage is BEFORE you factor in my family history. That day I didn’t tell my parents and I didn’t go to work. I cried and cried and thought about how my wedding dress appointments didn’t matter if I was just going to die. Dramatic? Yes, of course. My aunts were beyond confused with my results due to the fact NO ONE in my family was BRCA positive.
Thus began the retesting of my family. Of all the girls, it was split down the middle. I learned my Dad was positive… and my cousin who had beat cancer was negative. What the heck! A geneticist told my family this could only mean one thing… that within our family lineage not only do we have the BRCA mutation, but also another unidentified mutation. Friggin great news right?! Wrong. A few weeks my later one of my Aunts scheduled a surgery to get her ovaries removed. This mutation isn’t just for breast cancer, it’s also for ovarian cancer. A lot of older doctors and friends have been the ones to give me push back on my decision. They’ve said I can wait and expose myself to more radiation while I just wait around for something to show up. Are you kidding me?? My aunts buried their mother and sister from the same cancer, opted to have their breasts and ovaries removed and these doctors are telling me I can monitor it for a few years?! Absolutely not. I come from a family a little more hardcore than these people I guess. :)
I eventually saw an oncologist who was ON BOARD with me getting the surgery, and was willing to schedule before our wedding day. I was sitting in the doctor’s office thinking about how my makeup artist was going to cover the scars on my back while I walked down the aisle in my wedding dress. it could be done, right? Eventually, we decided because of work and dance and time… to wait until Summer. As a precaution I had an MRI where they found two visible masses. They biopsied as benign, and I flew to Kansas and danced all weekend with an ice pack taped inside my sports bra. Like I said, my Templin side is HARD CORE (or at least I think so)! For two months breast cancer took a back seat, after all the lumps weren’t cancerous. Tyler and I had the most amazing wedding and I have no words to describe how grateful I am to be married to him. Two weeks after we were married, we were sitting in plastic surgeon offices with my mom looking at photos of surgeries… before, and after. Talk about awkward, and hilarious. God has been so gracious to us. He has removed all anxiety, all fear, and all confusion and shown us the most obvious and clear path. LIFE. I believe God can heal, but in this case God is healing me before there is something in my body that shouldn’t be. I stand amazed at the fact that he has healed me from cancer by granting Tyler and I supernatural peace and confidence.
My doctor said this to my mother and I during our first visit back in December, and I use it as my reason when people ask me why.
Mom: What do you think about Connie getting this surgery now, when she is so young?
Dr. B: I think more people need to be doing what Connie is doing, especially with her family history and test results.
Me: So you don’t think it’s crazy or too drastic?
Dr. B: I think of it this way. You can either not breast feed your kids and take care of them, or you can find a babysitter while you sit at chemotherapy.
If I don’t get this surgery, will I get breast cancer and die? I’m not sure. But I do know I’m not willing to take the risk. It may be too extreme to some, but I want to be extreme. I pray everything I do is extreme. From my pursuit of Jesus to my desire for good health and a loving marriage, may it always be extreme. No one in my family pressured me into this, no one in a doctor’s office did either. I want this, I need this, and on top of all that I feel empowered to do this. So I will. So here’s to LIFE and to a family full of PIONEERS and to husband who is just as PROACTIVE as I am. I hope you will cover our family with your prayers during this time.
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!" Deuteronomy 30:19