By Angela Tiu
June of 2017 my world was violently shoved off its axis. My ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear a single word past, “Angela I am so sorry to tell you this but you have tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation.” From that point forward, I had tunnel vision. After countless doctor appointments, MRIs, ultrasounds, bloodwork, and mammograms I was cleared for my prophylactic double mastectomy on Oct 27, 2017.
The weeks leading up to surgery and the impending doom of going under anesthesia was almost too much to handle. Shockingly enough, anesthesia with intubation was my biggest fear. During one of my initial appointments with my God sent plastic surgeon, I asked him if I could have twilight sedation for my upcoming surgery. While remaining kind and professional but also lightly giggling, he explained the reasons why that would be a big, fat, hard no!
When the big day came and the nurses called me back to pre-op, I cried like I’ve never cried before. Every emotion I had experienced and felt over these past three months came out in this moment. It was as if I was walking my own personal ‘Green Mile’. The nurses, medical techs and doctors were nothing short of angels. They were gentle and kind while comforting & so reassuring that everything was going to be ok! Minutes before I was about to be wheeled into surgery, I was given the relaxing cocktail drugs in my IV. Holy smokes, that stuff is magical! Every worry and fear was instantly wiped away. While feeling the breeze of being wheeled into the operating room, I specifically remember saying to myself, “it’s go-time Angela. You are strong. You are brave. You can do this.” The next thing I remember, my name was being called by a nurse telling me the surgery was over.
How could it be over? I just went to sleep (just under 6 hours ago - woah)!
The weeks following were rough but filled with so much love. The amount of compassion and support I received was unparalleled to anything I could have ever expected. My family and friends stopped their lives to make sure I was happy and taken care of. Surprisingly some of my most challenging moments during recovery were filled with tear streaming laughter. My "sistercousin" and Mom who have been with me every step of the way helped me shower and bandage my surgical wounds countless times. They have scrubbed areas that should never have been scrubbed. Slapping maxi pads (a nurse gave me this tip – maxi pads are better than gauze) over my leaking incisions, while I am standing in the bathtub, puking and streaming like one of those naked fountain statues. My husband emptying out my dreaded drains and laughing hysterically when we were delirious at 3 am. This wasn’t pretty but checking your pride and modesty at the door is rule number one of this journey! Once you let your guard down, you will find humor in the darkness.
What I wasn’t prepared for was my life after the surgery. I had tunnel vision going into October of 2017.
Make it to the surgery date. Wake up from surgery. Life will back to normal.
The abundance of complications I faced was something I wasn’t prepared for.
Infections, antibiotics, 103-degree fevers, and additional surgeries were becoming the norm. During one of my surgical escapades, I was expecting to wake up with a fresh new implant since the one I had was horribly infected. Welp, I woke up to my doctor explaining that there was a mistake, the wrong implant was ordered and we would not be proceeding with surgery.
Ummmm, excuse me?
Two days later I went back to the hospital, had a very routine, uncomplicated surgery and a new implant was placed in my body, phew!
Unfortunately, as time went on my body had additional complications & infections with my left implant. I decided to have the implant completely removed, my body needed some time to rest & heal. Now I am living with one very deflated/nonexistent boob and one perky foob. It’s definitely an adjustment but one day I will go back to my plastic surgeon to have myself put back together.
After everything that has happened these past two years, I can confidently say I wasn’t prepared for the internal changes I would face. As cliché as it sounds many things that were important to me before, simply do not matter now. I went in completely unknowing & naïve to how my life would change. I am still navigating this new normal that I have been thrust into but I can confidently say, I am stronger now than I was before! Making my mess my message is something that means the world to me.
My Instagram (Journeytoglam) has been an outlet for sharing the triumphs and troubles for this journey. The bonds and friendships I have gained during this chapter in life are truly amazing. One in particular who I am eternally grateful for! I’m often asked if I would do it all over again knowing the struggles I would face - my answer without a shadow of a doubt is always…
YES, ABSOLUTELY! Being ahead of the game with this disease is something that I will forever be thankful for. Cancer and medical appointments are always at the forefront of my mind since this is my world now but this has been a redefining moment for my life.
I am a previvor!
Lastly, to anyone who is walking this path, I am here for you and please do not hesitate to reach out! There is a community that is waiting to welcome you with open arms. Reaching out to a total stranger from the internet is weird and intimidating in its own regard but understand that my virtual door is always open!
It’s scary at times but YOU CAN DO IT! I am walking with you.