When you decide after years of thoughtful consideration to undergo a preventative double mastectomy at age 25, it’s not all Angelina Jolie and a New York Times op-ed. It’s more of a doctor’s appointments, short-term disability paperwork and awkward conversations quarter-life crisis stage of life. So because of my BRCA1 genetic mutation, and with the help of supportive family members and friends, I decided to take my health into my own surgeons’ hands and have my breasts removed the summer before my 26th birthday.
Not only was I at the prime of my post-grad life, social circle and budding career, I was engaged! Now that it’s been a whole year since this interesting saga of life changes, I can look back, with more ease than anxiety, on everything this decision taught me and what I can hope to teach others. Because let’s be real, someone’s got to go through these strange life events so the next can Google “how to handle having mastectomy in mid-twenties.” I’ll gladly be that girl. Here’s what I learned
Having boobs does not define you as a woman
Ladies, listen up! Despite all the crazy advertising you see in the media, or women in movies that somehow have those flawless, huge breasts, you’re really okay without them (or at least without them being a prominent purpose of your being). Granted, I had mine removed and then had implants replace them, but it was humbling to realize how much they didn’t and still don’t define me. My now husband looks at me the same as always, and anyone that doesn’t, doesn’t deserve to look my way in the first place. Plus, it’s important to remember that boobs are not what make you a woman. Many breast cancer survivors who’ve had mastectomies opt not to have implants; trans women are women with or without surgery. Breasts are not what make you you.
People are going to be awkward around you, but that’s OK
People are as comfortable as you make them feel, and unfortunately, it wasn’t always easy remembering not everyone has the background knowledge that myself and my close friends and family have in regards to my situation. A lot of people didn’t understand why I was having this surgery or what in the world BRCA was, so there was a decent amount of uncomfortableness surrounding me. And in the end, that was okay.
Did I understand that right away? Heck no! I’d get all wigged out on people, and random internet trolls’, naivete and think the world was out to get me just because they had a different opinion. And then I learned one of life’s most important lessons for us millennials: don’t read the comments. Don’t go searching for those who want to belittle you or judge you or make you feel bad. There are too many silver linings in life to get caught up in the clutter of bad juju. In the midst of learning this life lesson, I discovered I didn’t need others’ approval or praise, what I needed was the platform I stumbled upon that allowed me to educate so many women, and men, on preventative breast health and genetics. And luckily for me, I had enough well-wishers shouting up to my platform, “you go girl!” to turn one’s ignorance into my blissfulness.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
Once surgery and recovery hit like a ton of bricks, I was forced to get through each day mentally when I couldn’t quite yet physically. I set goals each day, whether that be to eat healthy and take a walk down the street, or get the nerve to call the friend I had been avoiding. Being mentally tough can be hard work so experiencing little achievements every day was a lifesaver. And then when I had the next physical challenge or setback, I could recall on those little wins for some added strength. And let’s be honest, nothing feels as good as a little boost of confidence.
Scars, outward and also inward, take time to heal
We all know that a physical scar can be a real annoyance. They go through stages, sometimes painful, and just take so freaking long to “go away.” But not all scars fade away completely. It’s taken a great amount of support and self-discovery to bring light to my hidden, emotional scars scars. It would be much easier to say the journey I’ve been on has been an easy one, but it’s been a lot more rewarding to acknowledge my trials and hard times, and move forward a stronger person, even if it’s taken a year to do so.
But at the end of the day, I’m grateful for all the love and support surrounding me. I got through it. If you have to, so can you. Trust me.
Molly McKnight is a 26-year-old self-proclaimed “YOLO’er” living post-grad married life in her hometown of Cincinnati, a place she considers only second to her undergrad home of Athens, Ohio. She’s a marketing professional by day, and a margarita loving, Pretty Little Liars obsessed, early morning workout enthusiast in her off hours. Her passion for bringing light to young women in the world of breast cancer is chronicled in her blog themollyeffect.com.